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Rain's Writing Seminar

Often I have been asked to critique and offer advice from friends and peers on their writing. So often, in fact, that I decided to go through the incredible, truly mindblowingly immense effort to start this thread. My hope is that by providing both my own personal advice as well as laying out all of the ground rules there are to writing in areas that I feel that people are most often weak in, not only would people strive to improve themselves in a more constructive and focused manner, but I can then slap them with this passion project whenever the next person asks me to look at their threads.

It's a win-win for you and me!

I will be covering a wide array of topics, both of my own choosing and by other writer's requests. From grammar to plotting, pacing to character design, and all the little stuff in-between, I hope to address all the most important questions that go into writing a story. That is not to say that I am an expert on every topic I will be covering. Far from it, I will instead strive to provide information that is factually accurate and separate of my opinions, derived from research I will conduct myself. The goal is to both teach and provoke thought, not for me to boast about me being a better writer. Most likely, I am not. In truth, I am doing this not only for your benefit, but also for my own, as what knowledge I uncover and provide to you is knowledge I also can use to improve myself. In helping others, I seek to also help myself.

So take that into consideration as you continue onward and if you find any inconsistency or have questions pertaining to the information I provide, feel free to PM me or DM me on Discord.

Also, seeing as this is an informal seminar on writing rules, no, I will not be performing citations or providing a list of sources. If you need to know then Google is your friend. Most likely any information I provide comes from places like Perdue Owl, which are well-known for their comprehensive explanations of grammar rules.

Lastly, I will eventually add in a table of contents to this page when I am finished with it, to facilitate easier browsing.

Table of Contents:

Grammar Instruction
  • On the subject of Periods
  • On the subject of Commas
  • On the subject of Semicolons
  • On the subject of Parentheses and Dashes
  • On the subject of Paragraphs
  • On the subject of Quotations
  • Final Thoughts on Grammar


Grammar Instruction

Far too many people talk about how bad their grammar is, how they don’t know where to put commas, or the ever-infamous question, “When do I use a semicolon?” This entire section will be dedicated to teaching you, the magnificent reader that you are, the many rules of grammar and my general advice.

On the subject of Periods

One of the things I have noticed when reading other writer’s stories is their proclivity to run on with an idea, hardly ever taking a break, and jumping from topic to topic without any regard for a reader’s requirement to breathe in order to even continue living; let alone for their ability to continue reading the beautiful, outright breathtaking scenery you have painstakingly provided to your audience for their eyes’ consumption.

Put simply, you need to use periods. Just put ‘em there. Don’t be like, “oh, another comma would be fine, nobody will mind.” No. Use some periods, break up your story by mixing in all forms of rests (being periods, commas, and semicolons), and your audience will thank you for sparing their lungs.

On the subject of Commas

That also brings us to another matter, commas. The favorite of every author, and the bane of our existence, either through their absence or their abundance. As a rule, a comma is a short rest useful for when you want to connect two ideas directly, but don’t want to bust a lung reading it. You use commas after a transition phrase, after an interjection, as an alternative to parentheses, for numbers, before a quotation, to separate a title and name, to separate list items, in a long sentence if you require a break, and before using conjunctions. If you are uncertain about whether you need a comma, read out what you have written, and your shortness of breath will tell you if you do.

On the subject of Semicolons

That brings us to the infamous semicolon. No, not its big brother, the colon ( : ), but instead this one ( ; ). The one that bothers and confounds writers so much that they casually forget its existence on their keyboards. If you want to use a semicolon, you must understand that it is used for four specific reasons: when you want to connect two independent clauses; when you want to connect two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase; when you want to connect two independent clauses that has a conjunction which already has commas; or when you want to separate items in a list, but only if any one of the items already makes use of a comma.

Now if that confuses you, just know that it’s okay. I’m here to ease your confusion and show you the light. Of course, by that I mean I will show you examples of how to use it, just so that you can improperly use it a little better next time.

When you want to connect two related independent clauses:
“I’m writing tips for how to write properly; some writers do not know the rules.”
(It fulfills the role of a period in this example.)

When you want to connect two related independent clauses with a transitional phrase:
“I am spending hours researching these topics; as a result, most of the information here is accurate.”
(It fulfills the role of a period in this example.)

When you want to connect two related independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb:
“You’re reading a thread about writing tips; accordingly, you will get better at writing.”
(It fulfills the role of a period in this example.)

When you want to connect two related independent clauses with a conjunction that already has commas:
“Often times people ask me about grammar, plot, and even character ideas; but often times, I can only point out their errors.”
(It fulfills the role of a comma in this example.)

Separating items in a list when one of the items uses a comma:
“There are many facets to being a good writer: an extensive vocabulary; a unique, expansive, and thought-provoking idea; the ability to properly use grammar; the willingness to research, learn, and experiment; and the willingness to break a few rules sometimes for dramatic effect.”
(It fulfills the role of a comma in this example.)

Other notable rules may include the following:

Do not use a conjunction with a semicolon!
“I am purposefully writing bad here; and I regret nothing about doing so!”
(It cannot be used to outright replace commas or periods in every situation.)

Do not treat the proud Semicolon as an alternative to a period!
“I am a terrific writer; I am going to drink this soda!”
(It can only be used to connect two related ideas.)

Do not capitalize after a semicolon unless it is a proper noun!
“Here we see the semicolon in their natural habitat; They are powerful and mysterious creatures.”
(It is not a direct replacement to the period. You should never capitalize after it unless it is a proper noun or acronym.)

On the subject of Parentheses and Dashes

Ah, the parentheses, the red-headed stepchild of punctuation and grammar. If there was a competition for most abused punctuation, the semicolon would rank at the top, but the parentheses would be a close second. However, both are still more well-known and understood than the dash!

Parentheses, brackets, and dashes all serve the same purpose in this punctuation game we play. They are there to separate any additional, relevant information from the rest of the sentence that it is relevant towards. As I noted prior, commas can be used for the same purpose. Here’s some examples to consider:

“Behold my magnificent writing skills, which comes from years of practice, put into action here!”
“Behold my magnificent writing skills (which comes from years of practice) put into action here!”
“Behold my magnificent writing skills – which comes from years of practice – put into action here!"

Now in story writing, parentheses are frowned upon in favor of the traditional workhorse of your average author, the comma! However, it would be prudent to learn the dash, as it is also a nifty tool to throw in just to show your mastery of grammar and offers you the choice of variety! As seen above, they are relatively simple to use, but beware.

You should not use the same technique within itself. It just looks weird:
“I can write so well – due to my great writing skills – which I earned through hard work – – that I can write about anything!”

“I can write so well – due to my great writing skills, which I earned through hard work – that I can write about anything!”

Or if you must:
“I can write so well (due to my great writing skills (which I earned through hard work) and natural talent) that I can write about anything!”

Do note that the above can only be done with brackets, and no other form of punctuation. Given that, I do still consider that rather odd looking.

Parenthetical punctuation does not have to be in the middle of a sentence:
“Writing is really easy to learn – after a bit of practice.”
“If I can learn how to write, you can learn how to write, after some effort.”
“Believe me when I say, the rules are not overly complex (just a little archaic in some places).”

When specifically using parentheses (or brackets as are they are also called), and you are using a conjunction along with it, the comma goes after the closing bracket. Do not place it before the opening bracket.

When you place the entire sentence in brackets, the punctuation goes within the brackets as well and not after the closing bracket. It is only when used in parenthetical punctuation that punctuation goes outside of the brackets. That is, unless you don’t want it to, but that’s getting into the subject of purposeful rule breaking, and there are rules for that even.

On the subject of paragraphs

Ah, paragraphs, the walls of text with spaces in between. The rogue blocks of words seen flying through space in Star Wars. The backbone of writing. The literal spine of a story. How often thou art misunderstood.

A paragraph is truthfully rather simple. It is often 3-5 sentences, but it could be more or less as necessary, and it takes up anywhere from 2 to 10 lines on a page, depending on the margins of the page. However, these rules do not apply to us writers. No siree, we are not writing high school essays here.

Instead, what we are doing are writing stories, and for that reason alone, the length of a paragraph does not matter. The content is what is most important. A paragraph is meant to be centered around a single subject or idea. Once that idea is covered, and you are ready to transition to the next one that needs to be written about, a new paragraph is required. You can also transition to a new paragraph if, for no other reason, it just feels right to do so. That’s all there is to it.

Paragraphs are strictly for separating unrelated ideas from one another, or for breaking up rather lengthy ideas into manageable blocks. In either case, how you want to go about the matter is up to you. There is no wrong way to use paragraphs, there is only the annoying way. Try not to be annoying. Try also to not infrequently use paragraphs. Try instead to escort your reader through your story as cleanly and smoothly as you can manage without overloading them. If that means your paragraph is only a single word, put there for the sheer drama of it…


So be it.

On the subject of Quotations

Dialogue is the bread and butter of a story. You know, because talking is rather important. Although a story about a bunch of mute heroes may be interesting, generally such a gimmick doesn’t work out well for writers. As a result of this, we writers make extensive use of the quotation marks ( “ ). I would like to think everyone knows how to use these, but it may surprise you to learn that it’s a tad more complicated than it initially may seem. Surely that’s such a shock to anyone who knows about the English language.

Now, normally your country of origin wouldn’t apply to these rules, but as it turns out, the initial disdain between Americans and British just had to go further than taking the letter “u” out of certain words. For our purposes, however, we will stick with the American grammar rules only for this foray into quotations.

In American English, the double quotation marks ( “ ) are used for standard dialogue or word for word quotes. The single quotation mark ( ‘ ) is used for quotes within quotes, or if the person speaking then also quotes someone else.  Punctuation relevant to the quote or piece of dialogue goes within the quotation marks it is contained in.

If the dialogue in question is an internal thought, it is most appropriate to italicize it instead.

Thirdly, if the dialogue in question is broken into two paragraphs, do not use a closing quotation mark in between, but rather only when the person is done speaking.

Lastly, use commas to introduce dialogue or separate it out with a descriptive tagline.

There are, of course, plenty of other subtle rules, so I shall provide an ample number of examples to try and show all these rules in action.

Example 1, Basic Dialogue:
Wesley moved forward and whispered, “We should learn how to speak more eloquently.”

Example 2, Internal Thoughts:
English really is a complicated language. she thought to herself.

Example 3 Broken Dialogue:
“Man that escalated quickly.

I mean, that really got out of hand fast.”

Example 4, Taglines:
“Have you ever once,” Ada started with her lecturing tone, “taken the time to proofread your work?”

Example 5, Quote within Quote:
“After all, she did say, ‘double-check everything you do!’ Isn’t that the point here?”

On the subject of applying this knowledge, and making Rain happy

I know what you’re going to say, “But Rain, I know all that already. Tell me how to learn to use it naturally!” To which I must unfortunately respond with, “That’s impossible to do.”

Yes, I know, that’s not the answer you want to hear, but it’s true. Almost every writer is going to have grammar errors in their writing, especially if you’re like me and only ever make the first draft. You really have only three options when it comes to learning how to “apply it naturally.”

You can either reread your work, learn to actively catch your errors in the writing process, or have someone else proofread your work. There are no alternatives and no easy answers to this problem, and it’s not something to be embarrassed about either.

Your most famous writers are probably notorious for spelling and grammar errors, but they have an advantage that you lack. They have a professional editing team in their corner. You’ve just got a pair of eyes, potentially with the Glasses DLC installed onto them because life is unfair like that. It’s nothing to beat yourself up about; you were never expected to be perfect. If anything, you’re only requested to do slightly better than your last attempt, and that’s not difficult at all. Just keep at it and you’ll make it.

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