Writing the “Great American Novel?” Here Are the Top Three Mistakes You’ll Make

by • December 29, 2013

writing, NaNoWriMo, GrammoWriMo, typewriter, writing, grammarAccording to an oft-quoted 2002 article from The New York Times, 81 percent of Americans believe they have a book in them – and that they should write it.

In November, 41,940 participants in National Novel Writing Month did just that when they successfully wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. At the same time, because not all novelists-to-be have the time to write a solo-book, the Grammarly team organized a group of authors to collaborate on one novel. Clocking in at a total of 130,927 unedited words, around 300 writers from 27 countries (and 44 U.S. states) participated in the group writing project.

And now, we’re editing.

As part of the editing process, Grammarly ran the text of the group novel through our automated grammar checker to analyze spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Here are the top three mistakes that our GrammoWriMo writers made, and that you’re probably making in your own writing.

Missing comma

While unnecessary commas can turn straightforward sentences into twisting labyrinths of syntactical confusion, missing a critical comma can change the entire meaning of your sentence. Missing commas often mean the difference between politely requesting that your friends continue to have a good time (“party on, friends”) and actually throwing a soiree on your friends (“party on friends”).

Run-on sentences

Many writers neglect to use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (“and,” “but,” “or,” etc.) – making their sentences long and confusing. However, run-on sentences are often a stylistic choice for novelists. Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner both won The Nobel Prize in Literature, yet they are both known for their long, run-on sentences – as is James Joyce. Contemporary writers like Cormac McCarthy and Tim O’Brien also have literary love affairs with the run-on sentence. Would their writing be so beautiful if they didn’t?

Comma splice

If you try to use a comma to do the work of a semicolon, you’ve created a comma splice. Comma splices may sound vaguely dangerous, but all they are is the misuse of a comma to hold two independent clauses together. Independent clauses are complete thoughts consisting of a subject (at its simplest, a noun) and a predicate (at minimum, a verb). If you want to string two independent clauses together you need either a semicolon or a comma plus a coordinating conjunction.

Now that the holiday season is winding down, you’ll probably have more time to edit that “Great American Novel” you’ve been working on. Pay attention special attention to the comma and run-on sentences!

Are you writing a novel? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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