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Quill Quibbles

Vogel_von_Vogelstein,_Carl_Christian_-_Young_Lady_with_Drawing_Utensils_-_Google_Art_Project-1Do you have any writing quibbles? You know…those things you come upon in reading or writing that just bug you?

I have a few.

1. The use of “that” instead of “who.” Like, “I had a father that…..” or “She was a woman that….” When referring to people, “that” should be “who.” I see the use of “that” instead of “who” everywhere. In books, on TV, and in conversation. Sometimes it is all I can do to not correct a person who uses that.

2. Liberal use of “had.”  Fiction is usually written in the past tense, so to indicate something that happened in the story’s past, one must use  the past perfect tense, a verb preceded by “had.” Consequently, a book can be riddled with “hads.” Most are unnecessary, though. Once the past is established I think the “hads” ruin the flow of the prose.

3. Semicolons. One of the copy editors for my manuscripts adopted liberal use of semicolons–and not always correctly. My preference is to use semicolons very sparingly and only to connect two very closely related sentences. For me it is a rhythm thing. Using or not using a semicolon changes the rhythm of the prose.

4. Colons. If I dislike liberal use of semicolons in fiction, I loathe the use of colons. I know how to correctly use colons: To introduce or define something, to write time, to separate city and publisher in citations. I think they have a perfect place in business writing or other types of nonfiction, but I much prefer to use a dash instead.

How about you? Do you have any quill quibbles?


  1. On book I read had so many ‘that’s in one paragraph it looked like there was nothing else there. Was the editor on vacation or did they hate the author?

    When an author is attempting to be creative and use a completely different word. Sometimes this works, but a lot of times, I wonder if they know the definition. Sadly, a few times I’ve been pretty sure they meant something else that was similar. I’ve done it myself. I don’t like when I do it either. In fact, it’s one of my pet peeves with my own writing.

    Not using commas in the right place or leaving a comma out. I always think of the meme “‘Let’s eat Grampa.’ Save a life; use commas.” 😉

  2. I agree very strongly with no 1 – I just don’t understand how anyone can get that wrong! The others are more a matter of taste (and I agree with you), but this one is so clearly just wrong!!

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