Grammar last: Write the story first

When I worked with children as an artist-in-the-schools teaching writing, I would disconcert teachers by announcing that grammar, spelling and punctuation did not count during writing. The teacher would always interrupt me to say that right now they were studying commas, or semicolons, or spelling, etc.

I would reply that yes all of those elements count in delivery but during the writing process they can be ignored.  Writing and editing are two separate processes. In fact, somebody else can edit your writing for grammar and punctuation correctness. Writing comes from imagination.

The same process holds true for adults writing a story. When you have finished your final rewrite and feel that the story is solid with no extraneous scenes, dialogue or action you are ready to check for the grammar, spelling and punctuation errors that can keep your story from being read for the wrong reasons.

Here are some points to check before you send your script out for a read.

  • Take out wishy-washy qualifiers like quite, sort of, almost, kind of, a bit, pretty, somewhat, rather, usually, basically, generally, probably, mostly, really, etc. Forget “He was quite brave,” or “She was pretty intelligent” or “It was almost scary.” These qualifiers dilute your message, reduce the impact, and make the imagery weaker. Take them out. Even very is to be avoided – it’s like you’re saying the word after it needs reinforcing. “She was beautiful” packs more punch than “She was very beautiful.”
  • Avoid colorless, overused verbs like walked, ran, went, saw, talked, ate, did, got, put, took. Get out your thesaurus (or use the MS Word one. Hint: look up the present tense: walk, run, eat, say, etc.) to find more expressive, powerful verbs instead, like crept, loped, stumbled, stomped, glimpsed, noticed, observed, witnessed, spied, grunted, whimpered, devoured, consumed, gobbled, wolfed, munched, or bolted.
  • Keep adverbs to a minimum. Instead of propping up a boring, anemic verb with an adverb, look for strong, descriptive, powerful verbs. Instead of “He walked slowly” go for “He plodded” or “He trudged” or “He dawdled.” Instead of “She ate hungrily” say “She devoured the bag of chips,” or “She wolfed down the pizza.” Instead of “They talked quickly,” say “They babbled.”
  • Read your script for spelling errors. It is very difficult to correct your own work because your brain plays a trick: you often see the word you meant rather than what is written on the page. So, ask a friend.
  • Finally, check for grammar and punctuation. If grammar is not your strong suite, find a friend or hire an editor to double check for grammar.

These final checks will result in a polished and professional script with no distractions to keep a reader from getting into your story and reading to the end.

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