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It’s been said by better people than me (over and over again) about many, many things: you have to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals to be able to do anything well. Why people think they can ignore it about writing and language is beyond me.

I recently joined a writing group. I was shocked by myself when I started reading others’ writing. Honestly, I didn’t think I was that guy. I thought I was more concerned with the stories than the grammar rules. However, I found myself floundering to get to the story because of the misuse of the words involved.

This is not another rant about comma use. No this is much more fundamental. This is about the misuse of language.

For instance (and every writer struggles with this one), passivity. Passive verb forms keep an action from fully forming (and people could argue that they keep a character and, more importantly, a story from fully developing as well). Examples of a passive sentence: Jenna was starting to understand. Active sentence: Jenna started to understand. Even better: Jenna understood now. You need your characters doing things otherwise you have a story that might have been instead of a story that is.

Another specific example of things that can muddle the pace of the story and put off your reader is prepositional phrases. Not that you shouldn’t use these, but over using them can cause sentence to keep going well past their intended point. Example: “ It’s not my fault,” said Johnny, who had to let the ball go in order to hang on. This is a speech tag, yet the sentence doesn’t just tell us who’s talking it goes into action too…except it doesn’t, because there are three prepositional phrases strung together. This is an example of overcomplicating a sentence.

Like I said, I really didn’t want to be this guy but I found myself missing the story being told because of constant misuses like these. It’s like seeing someone with matted hair, dirty t-shirt, and ripped jeans walking down the street. Is that a person you’d randomly stop so you could talk to them? It’s entirely possible that this person is a sensitive poet who’s had a bad couple of weeks and is on the way to do laundry and a shower, but are you going to test those odds?

The story actually has it worse than the afore mentioned person. If you did take the chance and stop to talk to the person, and they did turn out to be a down on their luck poet you might be able to look past the unkempt appearance. With the story though (and this is my point), the words are the story and the story is the words you use to tell it. Make sure your story is presentable.