Aurora (auroraprimavera) wrote in spnroundtable,

Workshop: Grammar in Fanfic

Hi, I'm Aurora and I'll be hosting this month's workshop:

Grammar: Understanding it and making it work for your fic

Grammar can be a bit of a beast, but there's no reason to let it get the best of you. The five topics I've picked to focus on are based on some responses I've gotten from friends in fandom (both SPN and others) and what I felt were most important for this workshop. I'll try to make everything as clear as possible and avoid going into any overly long and boring explanations; and while some of it may seem quite elementary (and rather dry and boring), you'd all be surprised at just how much we don't actually pay attention to when writing.

Awesome, let's get started!

1 - Verb Tenses - In the English language there are 12 verb tenses, taking place in the past, the present, and the future. I always get a kick out of telling my students this.

We're going to be focusing on the two tenses that are used most when writing fanfic: the past and the present. We're also going to look at the proper way to talk about the past for each tense. This doesn't mean you can't use any of the others but, for the sake of all our sanities, we're going to skip them.

» the past: In the simple past, we add a -d or an -ed to most verbs. ** Keep in mind that there are specifice spelling rules for 3rd Person Singular. **

completed action in the past  Sam studied at Stanford.
a series of completed actions  Jared left the studio, arrived at his house, took out his dogs, and then went to bed.
duration in the past  Dean dated Cassie for two months.
habits in the past  Jensen rode horses when he was a boy.
past facts or generalizations  John served in the Marines as a young man.

» the present: In the simple present, we add an -s to most verbs. ** Keep in mind that there are specifice spelling rules for 3rd Person Singular. **

repeated actions  Bobby calls Sam and Dean 'idjits.'
facts or generalizations  Chris sings country music.
scheduled events in the near future  The show airs tomorrow at 9pm.
now (at this moment)  Sam and Dean are at the motel.

Talking about the past (in the past or in the present)

The most obvious would be to, of course, use the past tense. This works especially well when the story is being told in the present - simply switch to the past tense.

Another, easy, tense that is possible for both (and the one that would offer the most distinction between the story's past tense and a past event discussed within the story) would be the past perfect: we add the past form of the auxiliary have, had, before our past tense verb.

completed action before something in the past  Mary had made a deal to keep John alive.
duration before something in the past  Jensen had modeled before he became an actor.
specific times in the past  Sam had studied at Stanford for part of 2002.

Getting a handle on these verb tenses is pretty cut and dry. The most important things to remember are:

1) Stick to the same tense always - don't switch back and forth between them unless there is a clear and obvious change from the previous tense (i.e. during flashback scenes or when telling the story from different viewpoints).
2) There are rules for how the verbs are spelled when used in the 3rd Person Singular (he/she/it or a character's name) for any tense.
3) When in doubt, stick with what you know or ask your grammar beta.

2 - Possessive Case - Mine, my preciouuusss...

There are a few rules to keep in mind with this:

1) A noun that doesn't end in s takes an 's. - The Impala's lights.
2) When the noun is plural, just add an apostrophe. - The cars' lights.
3) A name that ends in s can use either an 's or an apostrophe. - Cas' trenchcoat is beige. or Cas's trenchcoat is beige.
4) If you're listing more than one person, the possessive form goes on the last name only. - Sam and Dean's car.

** Important: If adding an 's leads to three bunched together s or z sounds, only add an apostrophe

3 - A or An? - Nothing definite here.

The indefinite article doesn't refer to a specific/particular thing. It can be used when mentioning someone/something for the first time, to refer to a particular member of a group/class, to talk about price/weight/speed, certain numbers require it, with singular nouns - after the words "what" and "such," and referring to a single object or person.

The mistake I always see is not always being sure of which one to use when.

» a: used with nouns starting with a consonant, or a consonant sound
       a car
       a house
       a university (consonant sound)

» an: used with nouns starting with a vowel, or a vowel sound
        an umbrella
        an egg
        an hour (vowel sound)

4 - Punctuation - Commas? Ellipses? Colon or Semicolon?

Punctuation can be one of the toughest things to get right about grammar. It's something that I still struggle with to this day. The following are just very brief overviews of the rules with the ones I see the most mistakes with.

» commas
   - use to separate words & word groups with a series of three or more - The car belongs to Sam, Dean, John, and Mary.
   - use before or arround the name/title of the person being addressed - What do you think, Bobby, will it work?
   - use when giving the full date, otherwise omit - Dean learned to shoot a gun on September 18, 1987. or Dean learned to shoot in September 1987.
   - use for expressions that interrupt the sentence flow - As you can, so very obviously see, the house the ghost is haunting is old.
** Comma Splice: This is an error caused by joining to strong clauses with only a comma instead of separating with a conjuction, a semicolon, or a period.

» semicolon
   - use in place of a period or a conjuction - Jared leaned against the wall and let out a breath; however, it was late and he still had so much to do.
   - preferable to use before introductory words (however, for example, etc.) - see above example

» colon
   - use after a complete sentence introducing a list where an introductory word doesn't appear - Cas handed Lucifer the paper, his handwriting small and terse: book, tape, ash, blood, holy water.

» ellipsis - the most common is the three-dot (...) method
   - use when omitting a word, phrase, line, or more from a quoted passage (or in our case, when our character trails off) - Jensen sighed, "Jared, you don't get it. It's just..."

5 - Wrong Word Usage - I would except your excuse, accept it is to crazy fore me too believe. or I would accept your excuse, except it is too crazy for me to believe.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in fanfic is the abundant misuse of words. The following is a list of the most common that I've run across and a definition of each word.

** All definitions obtained from: **

   accept: to take or receive (something offered); receive with approval
   except: with the exclusion of; excluding

   affect: to act on; produce an effect or change in
   effect: something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence

   breath: the air inhaled and exhaled in respiration
   breathe: to take air, oxygen, etc., into the lungs and expel it
   breadth: the measure of the second largest dimension of a plane or solid figure; width

   choose: to select from a number of possibilities
   chose: past form of choose

   cite: to quote (a passage, book, author, etc.), esp. as an authority
   site: the position or location of a town, building, etc., esp. as to its environment
   sight: an act, fact, or instance of seeing; vision

   clench to close (the hands, teeth, etc.) tightly; to grasp firmly; grip
   clinch to settle (a matter) decisively; to fasten (objects) together by nails, screws, etc.

   cloth: a fabric formed by weaving, felting, etc.
   cloths: the plural form of cloth
   clothe: to dress; attire
   clothes: garments for the body; articles of dress; wearing apparel
   close: to put (something) in a position to obstruct an entrance, opening, etc.; shut

   for: with the object or purpose of; intended to belong to, or be used in connection with
   fore: situated at or toward the front, as compared with something else
   four: a cardinal number, three plus one; a symbol of this number, 4 or IV or IIII

   its: the possessive form of it
   it's: contraction of it is; contraction of it has

   lick: to pass the tongue over the surface of, as to moisten, taste, or eat
   like: of the same form, appearance, kind, character, amount, etc.; resembling (someone or something)

   lose: to suffer the deprivation of; to fail to keep, preserve, or maintain
   loose: free or released from fastening or attachment
   loss: something that is lost

   quit: to stop, cease, or discontinue
   quiet: making no noise or sound
   quite: completely, wholly, or entirely; actually, really, or truly

   their: a form of the possessive case of they
   there: in or at that place
   they're: contraction of they are

   to: used for expressing motion or direction toward a point, person, place, or thing
   too: in addition; also; furthermore; moreover; to an excessive degree
   two: a cardinal number, 1 plus 1; a symbol for this number, as 2 or II

   who's: contraction of who is; contraction of who has
   whose: the possessive case of who/which used as an adjective; the one or ones belonging to what person or persons

   wrapped: to enclose in something wound or folded about
   rapped: the past form of rap; to strike, esp. with a quick, smart, or light blow
   rapt: deeply engrossed or absorbed

   your: a form of the possessive case of you
   you're: contraction of you are

For a more complete list, visit: Common Errors in English Usage

Putting it all together - Two quick examples with a bit of all five topics covered.

« Jared looks down at his hands and smiles. There is a warm feeling building up inside and he can't help the blush that builds up. When he glances back up, Jensen is smiling softly. They met a mere week ago, but all Jared can think about is Jensen. He wants to spend every possible moment he can with him. He reaches out and takes Jensen's hand in his; it's crazy, how nice if feels to do just this. »

« Sam sighed and rolled his eyes. Dean was being obnoxious, wrapped up in his own thoughts and not caring one bit about what anyone else thought. Usually, he admired this in his brother. Except right at this moment, he wanted nothing more than to throttle him and shove him into a deep, unscalable hole. Things had been going well for a while; that is, until they had run into some crazy old witch and who knew what spell she had cast on Dean. »

And that's it! Remember, this is a very, very, very brief overview of only some points of grammar. Just the quick and dirty of it, you may say. There is a lot more and, while writing fanfic gives us some liberties, it is still good to stick to some of the most basic of rules so that our readers can better enjoy what we write. If there's any confusion with anything, feel free to ask. I'm a big grammar geek and I spend pretty much my entire day answering all sorts of questions - and I enjoy it way too much! :D

Useful websites:
Learn English Online Network
Online Etymology Dictionary
Letting Punctuation Do Its Job: The Dash, The Ellipse, and a Bit on the Semi-Colon
Trying to crack the comma conundrum
Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
Index to: Guide to Grammar and Writing and Principles of Composoition ** This is my all time favorite resource, lots of useful information here!
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