When contributing to a writing project, comment types are used to tell authors about good and bad elements within their manuscript.
This is a list of comment types to provide a common frame of reference for all writers.
Compiled by Ranee Clark.
Use strong, specific language when writing so writing is concise.
Instead of “car,” write, “the Ford Taurus.”
Use the strong, specific language to tell something about the character or the situation. What does it say if a character drives a Taurus? What does it say if they drive a BMW? Differences all conveyed by simple words, without having a description of the person.
Instead of “walk,” write, “strut” or “marched” or “shuffled.”
With one word they all convey different ways of moving.
Define “It” - It can be used just like a pronoun. Make sure it’s not ambiguous or confusing. Be specific.
When using a title as a name, it should be capitalized.
Mom, how are you doing?
President Obama signed the new law.
I ran into Aunt Elizabeth at the store.
When the title is not used as a name, do not capitalize.
My mom is doing well since the surgery.
The president signed the new law.
I ran into my aunt, Elizabeth, at the store.
When two independent clauses are joined by a comma without using proper coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, yet), it results in a comma splice.
I jammed the paper in the folder, it got stuck
I jammed the paper in the folder. It got stuck.
I jammed the paper in the folder; it got stuck.
I jammed the paper in the folder, but it got stuck.
Use commas between all items in a series to avoid confusion. While it is not incorrect, leaving thecomma out may cause unintended groupings and associations in the list.
(No comma) I bought the soda, chips and hot dogs.
(Comma) I bought the soda, chips, and hot dogs.
Whatever style the author chooses, it should be consistent throughout the manuscript.
It is unclear who is speaking. Often, to avoid overuse of the words said, asked, etc., writers useactions to tag speeches by characters. Be sure that the actions used to tag the speeches are the actions of the character speaking.
When Jane came home, Bob was sitting in a chair near the fireplace. Jane set down her bag and turned to him. He stood. “I think we should break up.” Jane’s mouth dropped open.
In this case, since actions by both characters surround the speech, it’s unclear who spoke. Never make readers guess at something like this. There are several ways to fix it.
. . . He stood. “I think we should break up,” he said. Jane’s mouth dropped open.
OR . . . He stood. “I think we should break up.”
[New paragraph] Jane’s mouth dropped open.
Ellipses are used to denote pauses in dialog or a sentence faltering off.
“I wish . . . he would learn how to love again,” she said wistfully.
Or “I wish he would learn how to love again. . . .,” she said wistfully
Tip: Do not confuse ellipses (used for pauses, hesitation, or trailing off) with em-dashes. Em-dashes (—) are used for abrupt breaks or interruptions.
A character’s reaction is presented before the motivation is clear, causing confusion.
Example: Ranee cringed as she saw the comma splice.
The reaction (cringed) is presented before what caused it (the comma splice.) As the reader begins he sentence, they’re unsure of why the reaction is happening.
Instead: Ranee` saw the comma splice and cringed.
Spell out numbers from 1-100 or a number at the beginning of a sentence. Spell out numbers that are simple, but avoid spelling out complicated, confusing numbers.
One hundred guests came to the party
We had a thousand and fifty invitations to accept.
Jane was born in 1983.
Self-explanatory. Just like every person acts and speaks differently, so should your character. Mannerisms, patterns of speech, and choices made are all different depending on the character. When they speak or act differently than the reader is accustomed, or make a choice that doesn’t make sense, it throws the reader and makes the story less believable.
Tip: Use a character bible to get to know your character.
Passive voice can become awkward and usually denotes that an author is telling the action to the reader instead of showing it. Use active voice unless vagueness is done on purpose, and even then, it’s not always necessary. Passive voice is an object being acted upon instead of a subject acting for itself.
The pencil was set down on the table.
The suitcase was ripped out of my hands.
I set the pencil down on the table. OR perhaps, The pencil dropped to the table.
The man ripped the suitcase out of my hands.
Show, don't tell is a technique often employed in various kinds of texts to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author's exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to interpret significant details in the text. The technique applies equally to nonfiction and all forms of fiction, including literature, speech, movie making, and playwriting.
RULE: Say everything as simply and concise as possible.
“To be” and its forms often denote that the narrator is telling the reader something rather than showing it. Of course in many cases using ‘was’ is okay; Never change the sentence if it will sound awkward, out of character, or change the meaning.
To be is used in many instances where you can change it.
Listen to people speaking around you. Nearly everyone speaks using contractions. When characters do not, it makes them sound snobby. If your character is not using contractions, make sure they have a good reason not to.
Example: Are you writing historical fiction? (Consider that many contractions were in common use by 1900, and even before. Do your word research.) Does your character intend to sound stiff and historical?
Use said and asked 99% of the time. Don’t use attribution words that a normal human can’t actually do, e.g. hiss, laugh, smile, etc. If you doubt me, try hissing and saying your sentence at the same time, try it with all the other words.
This is always a style choice, but the trend right now (and basically what editors, agents, and readers will expect) is to leave out attributions like shout, shriek, etc. A reader’s mind skips over “said” and “asked,” whereas using shriek, shout, hiss, etc. jars the readers mind and causes him to pause, which disrupts flow. Keep it simple and let the dialog drive it. Using “loud” attributives is another form of telling.
Example: “I never want to see you again!” she shouted.
The shouted is almost repetitive here. We know by what she said that she’s angry. If she did something other than shout a she said this, saying it in an unexpected way, you may want to tag it. For Example: “I never want to see you again,” she whimpered.
Using the same pattern of sentence structure becomes boring to a reader. Vary sentence construction.
Bad Example: I went to the store and bought food for the week. I drove home and fixed dinner. I ate dinner and went to bed. (Each sentence is constructed as I did something then I did something else. Each sentence starts with ‘I.’)
Better Example: I went to the store and bought for the week. After I finished, I drove home. I ate dinner. Finally I went to bed.