(and any other kind of fic, as well)


Their is the possessive of "they." They're is a contraction of "they are."  There is a location.
The people who live Below with their families and friends know they're lucky to live there.

You're is a contraction of "you are." Your is the possessive of "you."
"Catherine, you're working late.  Is there a problem with your new case?"

It's is a contraction of "it is." Its is a possessive pronoun, and like "his," "hers" and "ours," doesn't require an apostrophe.
"It's time Mouse took that creature back to its home," Father said, pointing to Arthur.

Who's is a contraction of "who is." Whose is the possessive form of "who."
"Who's serving on the Council? Whose turn is it?"

Breathe is a verb. Breath is a noun.
"Breathe," Vincent urged, his breath catching in his throat as Catherine coughed and opened her eyes.

Two is the number. Too means "also."  To is a preposition.
“I have two new cases,” Catherine told Vincent.  "I have to be in court tomorrow, too."

Alot is never, ever correct as a single word. A lot is the opposite of "a little."  Keep in mind you never see the word "alittle."

Lose (with a 'z' sound on the 's') is what happens when you don't win. Loose (with an 's' sound) means "not tight."
Catherine hadn't tried to lose weight, but her new suit was much too loose on her.

Choose is present tense.  (Listen for the  "oo" sound.)  Chose is past tense.  (Long "o" sound.)
"Catherine, when I was asked to choose between pleasing you or pleasing Father, I chose you."

Something that happened at an earlier time is in the past. Passed means "moved by" or “earned a passing grade in."
Catherine smiled and waved as she passed the sentry at the tunnel entrance.  The days of having to be guided were long past.

Advice is a noun with an "s" sound.  It can be given or taken. Advise is a verb with a "z" sound.
Father wanted to advise Vincent to stay away from Catherine.  He knew if his son took his advice, he would be much happier.


You're forgiven more easily for being confused about these words, but people still will be very disappointed if you use them incorrectly.

Both less and fewer are opposites of "more."  However, they are not interchangeable.
Less is used to describe things you cannot count. Fewer is the only correct word that should be used to describe countable things.
Vincent has less experience than Catherine.
Father has fewer books than the New York City Public Library.

Lie means to recline or be situated. Lay means to put or place.
"Lie down on the bed, Vincent. I'll lay a quilt over you."

That part is easy enough, but it all gets very confusing, because while Vincent can lie on the bed when he's sick, it's also possible that he'll fall into a coma and collapse on the floor, in which case Catherine will have to lay him on the bed. (Get your mind out of the gutter! I'm trying to teach grammar here!)

Confusion is further compounded by the fact that there is crossover in the past tense and past participle forms of the verbs.

For lie: Vincent lies down.  He is lying down. Yesterday he lay down.  He has lain down in the past.

For lay: Catherine lays the blanket over him. She is laying the blanket over him. Yesterday she laid the blanket over him.  She has laid the blanket over him in the past.

Affect is usually the word you want if it's a verb.  Effect is usually the word you want if it's a noun.
"How did this case affect you?" Vincent asked.  "Did it have an effect on your relationship with Joe Maxwell?"

Discreet means "private, reserved." Discrete means "entirely separate."
Vincent had learned to be discreet about his time Above. His time with Catherine and his other life were discrete entities.

Accept means "to take willingly." Except as a preposition means "with the exclusion of." (Except as a verb means "to exclude.")
Vincent learned to accept all of Father's quirks - except his habit of dozing off in mid-sentence.

That and which are not interchangeable. Here's a rule that's easy to follow: After a comma, which indicates a pause, use "which."
The chamber, which appeared empty, actually housed a raccoon that bore a remarkable resemblance to Arthur.

(They're used correctly in the sample sentences below.)

Catherine knew Father was a man of principle, but she wondered if the illness in the Tunnels was the principal reason he urged her to stay Above.

It didn't faze Mouse when Arthur ran away with a female raccoon.  He knew it was just a phase his pet was going through because of the phase of the moon.

Vincent’s shoulder muscles were taut as Catherine rubbed his back, but he knew she would not taunt him about his shyness.

Being without his cloak made Vincent feel bare, but for a chance to be with Catherine he would bear it.

Father hoped Mouse’s new invention had brakes so he wouldn’t break every bone in his body.

Father advised Vincent to be chaste -- even though he might wish to be caught when being chased by Catherine.

Catherine shuttered the windows and shuddered with pleasure at the feel of Vincent’s warm breath on her neck back.

Catherine inferred that Father wasn’t telling the truth.  When she asked him about it, he demanded to know what she was implying.


Sentences begin with a capital letter and end with some form of punctuation.  That rule is not open to interpretation!  Do you have any questions?

The apostrophe is not used for making words plural. It's used for showing ownership and for making contractions.  The books are on the table.  Each book’s cover has been removed.

The official "ellipsis" (...) consists of three dots in a row.  At the end of a sentence, however, a  period added to the three dots may make four dots total.  Generally, though, three dots is the most you'll need, because of the way an ellipsis is used.

You really shouldn't use too many exclamation marks!  That habit is the punctuation equivalent of crying wolf!  You can't be excited all the time!

"Don't forget," Catherine said, "that when you're writing dialogue, you have to follow very clear rules of punctuation."

"Yes," Vincent agreed.  “And don't you also have to start a new paragraph every time you introduce a new speaker?"

"Naturally.  Otherwise it gets too confusing to the reader."

If you want to use parentheses (and who doesn't?), punctuate the phrase inside the parentheses as if it stood alone - but leave off end punctuation except for question marks and exclamation points. Punctuate the surrounding sentence as it would be punctuated without the parenthetical phrase.

If the entire sentence is to be enclosed in parentheses, punctuate it as usual and keep the punctuation marks within the parentheses.  However, if a sentence ends with a phrase in parentheses (when the beginning and the middle of the sentence stands alone), put the end punctuation mark outside the parenthesis.

Here are some examples to illustrate those tongue-twisting directions.

Catherine glared at Lisa (the hussy!), and wondered what she should say to her.  She thought of Vincent’s concern for this woman (the tenderness, the compassion) and wished she could understand what good qualities he saw in her.  (She knew no one else understood it either.)  Lisa had never made a completely kind or caring gesture in her life (unless it was for her own benefit).


The over-use and the inappropriate use of gerunds are bad habits many beginning writers adopt, and they get old fast.  Sometimes it’s a case of beginning too many sentences with gerunds, to the point where your readers find themselves counting them rather than reading your story.  At other times, they describe actions that are physically impossible for one person to perform simultaneously.  Either way, it’s one of those intrusive things that eventually will pull your readers right out of their enjoyment of your story.

 Rising to his feet and reaching for his cloak, Vincent hurried from his chamber.  Feeling Catherine’s emotions calling to him urgently through their bond, he raced along the rocky corridor toward the tunnel entrance leading to the park.  Opening the metal gate, he moved forward quickly, feeling the cold winter wind brush his face.  Hearing Catherine’s rapid footsteps as she ran to him, he hurried forward, gathering her to his chest.  Sighing, he felt her tremble as his arms enclosed her, cradling her body gently against his.  Looking down at her, he nestled his head against her hair, pressing his lips to the silky strands and whispering her name.


The following examples are from actual fanfic.

The kiss, at first, is gentile, but suddenly we reach the point in which neither of us can hold back our emotions.

Lying on his couch with a cold sweat, he was in no shape to get the phone.  He let it ring until it stopped, and then threw up into a bowel beside his couch.

She is careful about her emotions, dolling them out in teaspoons rather than bowels.

This is my very first vinaigrette.

Without a word, the yogurt splattered on the tabletop.  (OK, so that one isn't a spelling error, but it's fun.)


Be on guard against injecting unintentional humor into your story.  If you’re writing a Vincent and Catherine love scene, you want your readers to smile and then sigh happily, not break into an ear-to-ear grin, followed by loud guffaws.  One of the most common ways to avoid making hilarious mistakes is to restrict the characters’ body parts to their basic functions, or your readers might very well read [the following] into your story.

Vincent’s eyes darted from one side of the chamber to the other.  [Hope they don’t hit the walls too hard - could be nasty.]  He lifted his shoulders with a heavy sigh.  [With shoulders like his, I would have thought he’d need a crane.] Although Catherine was Above, he could feel her deeply.  [He wishes.] He remembered the way she’d looked the night before when he found her alone on her balcony, her head in her hands.  [Rehearsing for this year’s production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?]  As her ears caught the sound of his footsteps [(with a net?)], she looked up at him.  Her eyes traveled the length of his body, starting at his feet and roaming slowly upward until they searched the planes and angles of his face.  [Lewis and Clark never explored such interesting territory as Catherine’s eyes did!]  “Oh, Vincent, I’m so glad you’re here.  I’ve missed you so!  Every minute we’re apart seems like a lifetime, but now that we’re together, nothing else matters,” she breathed.  [She must have tremendous lung capacity!]  Her unexpected ardor gripped his heart [(that has to hurt)] and he responded quickly without thinking.  [And Vincent is not a typical man because…? ] “Catherine, you are my life. You bring light to my world.  You give me hope,” he growled. [ (Okay, I have to try that one - nope, impossible!)] Standing, she raised on tiptoe to hold his face as their eyes met briefly, then parted on a heartbeat, only to return to speak the words of love that eyes alone can utter.  [BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!]

Remember that while you want to entertain your readers, being a stand-up comic just can’t be an appropriate method to use when writing “Beauty and the Beast” fiction.  Now, if you’re interested in “Seinfeld” fan fic…


There are no stupid questions.  If you’re not sure, ask.  Your readers will thank you; you’ll learn something valuable for your efforts; and you’ll be a better writer for it.


Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions.  (Paperback) Harry Shaw; Washington Square Press; 1975; ISBN 0671-54558-2.

Woe is I -- The Grammarophobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English.  Patricia T. O'Connor; Grosset/Putnam; 1996; ISBN 0-399-14196-0.

Grammatically Correct -- The Writer's Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, Style, Usage, and Grammar.   Anne Stillman; Writer's Digest Books; 1997; ISBN 0-89879-776-4.

Word Menu. (A combination dictionary, thesaurus, range of glossaries, reverse dictionary and almanac -- fully indexed); Stephen Glazier; Random House; 1992; ISBN 0679-40030-3.

Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus.  Merriam-Webster; 1988; ISBN 0-87779-069-8.

Webster's New World Dictionary. Prentice Hall; most recent edition available.

The Fiction Dictionary (A comprehensive collection of terms, from allegory to vignette, with hundreds of examples from contemporary and classic literature).  Laurie Henry; Story Press; 1995; ISBN 1-884910-05-X.


An Elementary Grammar -
The Editor's Pen -
Elements of Style -
The Semantic Rhyming Dictionary -
Wordsmyth English Dictionary-Thesaurus -
Guide to Grammar and Style -
The Writer's Toolbox -

Jessie Gurner
Linda S. Barth
July, 1999      With thanks to Kipler (