Hello, fellow writers in the editing trenches. Let's have a talk about noun-verb agreement.
Noun-verb agreement means that your subject noun of your sentence needs to agree, or match properly, with your verb. So if you use a first person singular noun, your verb needs to be in the first person singular form as well.
Examples: I ate the cookie.
They walked the dog.
Did you read the book?
Simple, right? Most of the time, we see problems with noun-verb agreement in more complicated sentences, like these:
They went to the store, shopped for groceries, and drove home.
She sang a song, skipping as she went.
Grabbing his coat, he said goodbye to his wife.
When there are multiple actions in a sentence, they each have to coordinate with their noun.
Things get even more complicated if you switch subjects partway through the sentence, and noun-verb agreement becomes extra important. Otherwise the reader can't tell who's doing what in the sentence. For example:
Jane sang a song, while the children danced wildly.
Here's a tricky format I've seen authors struggle with:
He listened to the music, his feet tapping, and smiled.
In this case, "he" is the subject of listened and smiled. "His feet" are the subject of tapping. Since I used a simple verb form for listen and smile, and a gerund (-ing) form for his feet, it should be pretty clear which verbs go with which nouns.
But what if I had written it as: He listened to the music, his feet tapping, and smiling. In that case, it suddenly sounds like his feet are smiling, since those verb forms match.
If I really wanted to use the gerund form of smile, I could clear up the confusing by changing the order so that smile comes before I change subject nouns: He listened to the music, smiling, his feet tapping.
This works because a verb refers back to the most recent noun that agrees with it. So if you love to write long, complicated sentences (like I do!), always remember to make sure that your nouns and verbs are in agreement. Otherwise, you might end up with smiling feet.
Who's ready for a few quick tips on how to pick out a title for your novel?
1. Remember that your title is probably going to change. So if you can't come up with The Absolute Perfect title, that's okay. Many publishers will want to have input on your title, and they know a lot about what sells across categories and genres. Come up with as good a title as you can, but be open to changing it.
2. Check out comp titles. Do you see any patterns? Some genres have different expectations for word length for titles. Fantasy is more willing to accept longer titles, for example. Romance titles often reference one of the characters somehow. Action-packed stories tend to have shorter, punchier titles. Mystery series' often have something in common across all their titles.
3. Shoot for a word count title in the right range. For most genres and age categories, titles fall within one to six words.
4. Avoid subtitles. Especially if they're redundant or overly-explanatory. An info dump in the title is not a good sign. For example, if I wrote a serious novel and titled it The Sleeping Cat: A Novel About Naptime, Purring, and Forgiveness, you probably would back away slowly. Some kinds of non-fiction books can get away with this sort of title, but it's much rarer in fiction.
5. Don't chase trends. Remember a couple years ago when so many hit books had "girl" in the title? It became a joke. And if someone tried to capitalize on that trend and titled their book accordingly, by the time the book was actually published, the trend would be long over.
6. Look at your manuscript for repeated themes and imagery, important lines, or significant places or characters. Most books draw on these elements for their titles. It's often rewarding for a reader to discover the passage a title is taken from.
7. When in doubt, keep it simple.
That's it for today. Have fun editing, and as always, let us know if you have any thoughts or suggestions in the comments!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!