Writing Tip: The Limits of Spellcheck

Probably you have realized that one of the limitations of spellcheck is that it doesn’t notice missed words or stray extraneous words. Perhaps more problematic is that it doesn’t do away with word confusions. One possibility is to have someone knowledgeable proofread your work. Another is to recognize that you need to shape up and do something about it.

For each of the following word pairs, write a sentence using each word correctly.

farther/further      mantel/mantle     anxious /eager.     lie /lay

can /may     accept/except     affect/effect    adverse/averse    elicit/illicit

among/between   advice/advise    complement/compliment

eminent/imminent   fewer/less    if/whether   imply/infer   liable/likely

nauseous/nauseated    morale/moral    precede/proceed   raise/rear

raise/rise    principal/principle    stationery/stationary    that/which

Check your sentences against a dictionary. Learn the differences. Even one misuse from this list is likely to get your entire manuscript tagged as amateur.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Reading and Signing

On Saturday, October 2, 1:00 p.m., my coauthor and I will be reading from our recently published book DARK HARBOR: A Chesapeake Bay Mystery. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Atlee Library in Atlee, Virginia, but it is open to the public, and free.

Writing Tip: Unnecessary details

Identifying unnecessary details is especially difficult for new writers. How do you separate the telling details that add realism and depth from those that distract the reader and slow the narrative?

There is no easy call. All you can do is examine descriptive phrases and ask yourself, “Does it matter?” For example, if a woman is reluctantly delving into a box of memorabilia, does it matter whether she sits down on the edge of a queen size bed? Whether she is sitting down on the beige carpet as she opens the box? Both instances are wordy and weak. They should be tightened up and included only if they contribute to the narrative.

Sometimes it’s a matter of placement: e.g., telling us a character is dressed in baggy jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt with the logo “Too God to be True,” and had hot chocolate made with whole milk and a slice of cold cheese pizza for breakfast could be great character notes. But if these details are tagged on to sentences about resenting a change in routine,  or a parent’s death, they feel distracting and irrelevant.

Bottom line: put in details that matter.