The Basics

It became apparent that this site lacks a basic guide to how to avoid the most common errors in writing that we see. While the information is scattered about in this section, especially in the grammar guide, it's not really accessible in one place. So, for what it's worth, here's a brief writeup on how to do it right. Read over this before you post a chapter, and check to make sure your writing follows these guidelines. If you do this, the vast majority of all technical matters will be prevented before they can attract snarky reviews.

Since it seems to need to be said: always spell-check your writing on your computer (or FFN's). With the ready availability of spelling checkers these days, in everything from free word processors like OpenOffice to every Web browser on the planet, there is no excuse for not doing so except sheer laziness. When I read a story and I realize the author was too lazy even to do the bare minimum of fixing spelling errors, it tells me that they don't really care much about their story, and if they don't, why should I? (of course, you need to know what a word really is; the spelling checker in EditPlus, the program I'm using to build this Web page, thinks I should change "OpenOffice" to "phenolic"). Always spell-check your writing.

Also, always have a proofreader, preferably one who hasn't seen that story before, check it for errors. Not sometimes. Not maybe. Not if you feel like it. Always. Nothing is a substitute for a human proofreader. Yes, you need one. I don't care if you're a 12-year-old kid who just failed English or this year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize, you need one. The only difference is that the Pulitzer prize winner already knows this. No matter who you are, no matter what you're writing, when you read it you read what you think you wrote, not what you really wrote. You can't see your own errors, whereas they'll pop right off the page to someone else. Always have someone else proofread your writing.

Formatting - Dialog - Punctuation - Capitalization - Other Issues

Story Formatting

Exact formatting styles vary by publication. FFN convention is that paragraphs should be separated by a single blank line. Major changes of place or time may optionally have some form of separator, such as a few centered dashes. For example:


Any change of person, change of place, or change of topic should have a change of paragraph. If this makes your paragraphs too short, that probably means that you need to expand some of your details. Are you giving the readers only dialog and perhaps action, and leaving out all the description?


Basic Punctuation

Sentences always end with periods.

WRONG: The man looked at the truck
RIGHT: The man looked at the truck.

A comma is used between a quote and its attribution (see dialog).

WRONG: "I like trucks." He said.
RIGHT: "I like trucks," he said.

The apostrophe is not used to make plurals

WRONG: There are two truck's here.
RIGHT: There are two trucks here.

This includes the names of families, despite what the people with routers who make wooden signs at flea markets seem to think.

WRONG: The Newkirk's (that would mean that it belongs to "the" Newkirk)
RIGHT: The Newkirks (the Newkirks live here)
RIGHT: The Newkirks' house (this house belongs to the Newkirks)

The position of an apostrophe determines whether a possessive is singular or plural.

His brother's truck (a truck belonging to his brother)
His brothers' truck (a truck belonging jointly to two or more of his brothers)

Quotation marks indicate direct quotes and non-factual uses of a word. They do not indicate some sort of emphasis. The easy way to remember this is to think of the following sentence:

I saw you with your "wife" last night.

It's a good bet that whoever you were with was someone you were not legally married to, and maybe not female either. Whatever the case, the person writing that definitely doesn't believe the person you were with was your legal wife.



The attribution of a quote is part of the same sentence.

WRONG: "I like trucks." He said.
RIGHT: "I like trucks," he said.

Every change of speaker requires a new paragraph.

"I like trucks," Fred said. "I prefer cars," Charlie said.

"I like trucks," Fred said.
"I prefer cars," Charlie said.


Proper Capitalization

Capitalize these words:

Do not capitalize these words:

*there are some gray areas in this. Colonel Hogan is certainly the Colonel, but General Smith is just a general.


Other Issues

The list of commonly confused words elsewhere on this site has a very comprehensive collection of homophones and other oft-mistaken words. However, for some reason (probably a reason related to not reading very much) some writers can't seem to get "your" and "their" and their homophones straight, so I'll duplicate that section here.

their — possessive of "them": That is their stuff. (easy: her, our, your, their)
there — location other than here: It's over there. (easy: T+here)
they're — contraction of "they are": They're reading too. (easy: they+are)

your — possessive of "you": This is your stuff. (easy: her, our, your, their)
you're — contraction of "you are": You're reading this. (easy: you+are)


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