Dear Writers

dear author

of the 3200-page fantasy epic I just finished rereading and quite enjoyed even while marvelling that it seems a kind of Ur-text for Diana Wynne Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland and despite my frequent grumbles that you don’t need a strained “evocative” simile every. other. damned. paragraph and though I died a little with each comic-book !?,

I will pass over your struggles with transitive lay and intransitive lie. Evidence suggests you or your copyeditor were aware of the problem and you did get it correct roughly half the time.


In English the third-person personal pronouns (she, he, they…but not it, poor it), like the first person (I, we), retain case markings as the vast majority of nouns do not. If you are going to name numinous personages with pronoun phrases—She Who Must Be Obeyed, let’s say—those numinous pronouns really ought still to behave like pronouns.

That is, when in a sentence said numinous personage is the object of a verb or preposition She becomes Her, He becomes Him, They become Them. Simply substitute the pronoun alone for the entire name to see how, honestly, stupid it sounds when done wrong (i.e., how you did it): She asked He to deliver a thing to They.

No no no.

She Who Must Be Obeyed required Him Who Always Follows to convey a quest object to Them Who Stand in the Background.

And if one of your mortal characters addresses such a numinous personage directly, let’s say in prayer, for clarity’s, grace’s, and syntax’s sake third person really should become second: Oh, You Who Must Be Obeyed, hear my plea!

Also finally, although my unabridged assures me the battle was lost years ago and mutter living language mutter, I personally was for precious seconds thrown entirely out of your imagined world every time a character flaunted the rules rather than flouting them.

Dear Writers

Dear Writers,

I used to do this on Facebook but I’m not really using Facebook these days and if (when, in all frankitude) I return I expect my, uh, social strategies will have changed. So we’ll do this here and, in the future, you may use the category Dear Writers to retrieve all the lessons.

That out of the way: jesusgod, people, stop. pushing. my. buttons.

everyday (one word) = adjective: ordinary, unexciting, habitual
He wore his everyday suit to the ball. Scandal!
I did the everyday cleanup of the cat box.
She had a ho-hum, everyday sort of face.

every day (two words) = adverbial phrase: recurring at twenty-four-hour intervals
We went to the beach every day last summer.
Every day she contemplates killing her boss.
Will you loathe me every day as you do today?

On another matter: If you type My short story, “The Best Piece of Fiction Ever Composed,” has been selected for reprint in a prestigious annual or Random House will publish my novel, You Can’t Even Imagine Writing Something This Good, next summer, your parenthesizing commas are saying you have only ever produced one short story/novel and will never write another. I hope this is not true. (…Or maybe I don’t, if you keep this up.) Deploy punctuation with discretion and care lest it bite it you.

Edited to add[endum] some hours later because jesusgod:

You do know, don’t you…. Oh, rats, I’m being disingenuous there. Some of you—some of you who write for well regarded outlets which might be assumed to employ copyeditors—clearly don’t know that populous and populace are not the same word. (My computer’s dictionary says they’re pronounced the same but not in my idiolect.) Different parts of speech even.

populous, adjective, referring to a location, meaning well peopled, heavily peopled, perhaps jam-packed with people

populace, noun, meaning the collective human persons who inhabit a location (which need not be populous)

A further note of caution. Populace and population are very nearly synonymous, but where population is a relatively neutral, value-judgment-free term that does not invariably refer to human persons, populace is not. The value judgment is right there in the etymology: from Italian popolaccio “common people,” from popolo “people” + the pejorative suffix -accio. In plain words, populace is rabble, the great unwashed, those people with whom we the élite do not associate and to whom we condescend. When, for example, you are speaking from your well regarded bully pulpit about the Great People of the United States of America (no, I do not plan to name my target but I do have one) and mean to be complimentary rather than snide, you should really think twice before calling them (us, frankly) the populace. Perhaps if you had thought twice you would not then have screwed up even further by typing populous.