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Sat versus Sitting … and Stood versus Standing

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Sat versus Sitting . . . and Stood versus Standing

I cannot count the number of times I have heard a reporter use the phrase was sat instead of the correct phrase was sitting. And here’s another incorrect phrase: he was stood at the bus stop instead of he was standing at the bus stop (unless, of course, he was physically put there!). Broadcasters, newspapers, and writers, it seems, are at fault for the misuse of these verbs. So do people say these phrases because they do not realise they are speaking ungrammatically, or do they say them because they are seen as an acceptable form of speech?

Personally, and this is anecdotal, I feel these words have crept into misuse only in the last few years. And as more and more people see these words in print or they are heard on the airwaves, they will be accepted as correct. As far as dialogue is concerned, if this accurately portrays the person, I haven’t a problem with it, but I feel writers have a duty to write correctly in narrative.

Here are some examples I have read. Both books, incidentally, are published by worldwide publishing companies. God help us all!


Daisy was sat on the edge of her bed, done up to the nines.

Her children were sat at the table behind her, throwing their food around like hand grenades, and she just didn’t have the energy to stop them.

Saskia was sat bolt upright in the single easy chair . . .

But right now she was sat in the kitchen of a man who’d said his wife was out . . .

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The Hunted

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The Hunted is the first novel written by Kerry Barnes in the Mike Regan and Zara Ezra trilogy.

Having spent her life watching her father run his East London firm, Zara Ezra has learned a thing or two about being a gangster, and she’s ready to take over when the time comes.

Mike Regan, a blast from Zara’s past, is the head of his own firm, but when his son is kidnapped in the middle of a gangland feud, Mike has no choice but to accept help from the Ezras to get his little boy back alive.

With a rival firm playing increasingly dirty, murder moves to the top of the agenda, and Zara has some big choices to make. It seems that the only way to come out on top is to play them at their own game . . .

But will she become The Hunter or The Hunted?

Using advanced punctuation in direct speech

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Should punctuation in direct speech mirror that of punctuation in the narrative of novels?

Firstly, it needs to be made clear that the kind of punctuation being discussed here applies only to semicolons and colons — in other words advanced punctuation. Secondly, other punctuation (such as the comma, full stop, em dash, and exclamation mark) appear so regularly in novels that it is pointless to argue against the inclusion of these forms of punctuation.

So back to the use of semicolons and colons.

For my part, I do not see why they are entirely necessary, although, on occasions, I understand they do provide another way of communicating an author’s thoughts through their characters. And, when the dialogue is lengthy, varying the punctuation (by using a semicolon for example) may help to communicate the character’s thoughts better.

One reason why I do not think they are necessary in the main is that the comma and full stop do an adequate job of addressing the punctuation of phrases, clauses, and sentences themselves. Another reason is that when I read what a character is saying, I am also putting myself in the place of that character, and I would not speak in such a way that semicolons and colons were necessary — for the most part.

But some authors use advanced punctuation and it appears to work — notwithstanding the point that a comma and a full stop might do the job just as adequately. And here is a final thought that I found on the internet referring to the use of advanced punctuation in dialogue: there is no sense in buying a specialised tool when you can use a general one just as effectively.


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Deceit is the first stand-alone novel written by Kerry Barnes.

Someone’s watching you . . .

Living in a beautiful home on the edge of a council estate, Kara Bannon can’t imagine what it’s like to have nothing.

An eerie phone call plays on her mind, and within three days, she loses everything — her job, her home, and Justin, the only person she thought she could trust.

Alone and terrified, she makes a decision that will change her life forever.

Suddenly she has to enter a new world — prison.

Revenge is not always so sweet . . .

The Direct Object, the Indirect Object, and the Object of the Preposition

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The eye and the ear: a short analysis of the direct object, the indirect object, and the object of the preposition

This post will not cover in detail issues relating to the direct object, the indirect object, and the object of preposition. I like to write short posts, and so perhaps, at another time, I will return to this area of grammar.

Sometimes a sentence seems to work semantically but not grammatically. It is the way the sentence is constructed that is the problem. Many books can now be bought in an audio format. Listening to a sentence that on the face of it is not constructed grammatically but which sounds fine to the ear shouldn’t be an issue for the narrator of the story or for the person listening to it. This will certainly be the case if the sentence makes perfect sense semantically but not grammatically. I have given an example below of what I mean.

On the other hand, when a sentence is written in a book that is grammatically incorrect, there is the potential for the reader to focus on the error rather than on the intent of the sentence. Rather like a poorly placed piece of punctuation – or even a lack of it – the reader may find their enjoyment of the story spoiled if the construction of the sentence lacks grammatical polish.

Skip this part, if you want to get to the thrust of the post

Were any of us taught anything about the direct object, the indirect object, and the object of the preposition, I wonder? It is quite possible you weren’t. I know I wasn’t!

In the examples below (just two), I am going into a little detail to define what is meant by these terms.

Example 1

I baked Margaret a cake.

[wp_table id=1066/]

Here the direct object cake is the result of the action performed by the subject I. It answers the question ‘what?’ or, in this case, ‘who?’ after an action verb.

An indirect object precedes the direct object and tells ‘to whom’ or ‘for whom’ the action of the verb is done and ‘who’ is receiving the direct object. And an indirect object is always a noun or pronoun that is not part of a prepositional phrase. The indirect object refers to Margaret as she is the one receiving the direct object. She is therefore the beneficiary of the direct object.

Example 2

I baked a cake for Margaret.

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Notice the sentence is almost identical, but Margaret appears at the end of the sentence, and the preposition for precedes Margaret. In this case Margaret becomes the object of the preposition.

How can you tell if a word is an indirect object or the object of a preposition? If the noun or pronoun comes just after a preposition, then it is the object of a preposition. If it does not come just after a preposition, then it is an indirect object. The indirect object is usually followed by a direct object. The object of a preposition is not and is often found at the end of a sentence.

Hopefully, it is now clear how these three elements of grammar work in a sentence.

Back to the focus of the post

So to the point of the post. The sentence below focuses on the incorrect position of the indirect object.

Then she pulled from under her bed a photo album.

To me, this seems perfectly understandable. Semantically, I don’t have a problem with it. If I heard this said in an audiobook, I would be fine with it. But grammatically, it is expressed incorrectly. And it becomes a problem when the sentence appears in a book. It sticks out like a sore thumb. This is because bed, the object of the preposition in the phrase from under her bed, precedes the direct object photo album.

To express this sentence correctly, the prepositional phrase should come after the direct object. Like this:

Then she pulled a photo album from under her bed.

Examining the sentence in detail we have the following:

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But now, the sentence below has been rewritten grammatically.

Then she pulled a photo album from under her bed.

The principal constituents of this sentence to focus on are the words photo album, from, and bed. The way this part of grammar works is as follows:

The direct object photo album receives the action performed by the subject she. It shows the result of the action. It answers the question ‘What?’ or, in this case, ‘Who?’ after an action verb. The phrase ‘from under her bed’ is a prepositional one; so it would be correct to refer to the word bed as the object of the preposition.

Pulling it all together

There may be people who disagree, but for me — and leaving aside direct speech, which has its own form of language depending on the genre — what is audibly expressed in the story does not matter to anything like the same extent as to what is read in the story.

Perhaps it is because when we listen to what the narrator is saying, we do not have time to think about the grammatical aspect so much. Or could it be that the narrator’s skill masks the incorrect grammar used?

However, when we read the story for ourselves, the author cannot hide their incorrect use of the English language!

So, I for one, do not mind at all seeing the following sentence said in an audiobook:

She pulled from under her bed a photo album.

In fact, as it is being said in the story, I can quite easily see in my mind what is happening.

However, I can also see why grammarians and those who do not consider themselves as such but who do know the principles of grammar may wish to see the sentence expressed correctly:

She pulled a photo album from under her bed.

Useful websites




Parallelism and Fiction Writing

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Sometimes while reading novels I find myself stopping at the end of a sentence and saying to myself, ‘What is going on here?’  The problem isn’t necessarily because of the story itself. No, it’s more a question of the placement of words in the sentence that don’t seem to relate properly to one another.

Here are some examples:

A friend of mine likes singing, acting, and to read.

The policeman walked down the street, jumped over a fence, and sprinted away.

He ran after her, grabbing her by the arm and turned her around to find her face tear-stained and shiny.

Each of these sentences poses problems in the way they are written.

The first one would read better if the two gerunds singing and acting, which work well together, were linked by the last action read as reading (a noun) to produce three gerunds all linked with the same verb form likes.

In the second sentence, the verb endings are the same throughout, but the third action of the policeman would have been more interesting had we been told where he had sprinted.

In the final sentence, another mix of tenses is being used, the past participle tense grabbing and the past tense turned. And note there are actually three actions going on here, not two, so they would read better if they were all separated by commas.

Reviewing these sentences once more, they would read better as follows:

A friend of mine likes singing, acting, and reading.

The policeman walked down the street, jumped over a fence, and sprinted through a hedge.

He ran after her, grabbed her by the arm, and turned her around, to find her face tear-stained and shiny.

Mixing words that don’t quite work spoils the writing, in my opinion. To quote Alice E. M. Underwood from the link below:

A sentence with parallel construction makes your writing effective. A sentence with parallel construction makes your writing classy. A sentence with parallel construction makes your writing certain to impress anyone who reads your stuff.

I think that advice makes sense and I commend it to writers.

Useful website



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Where two nouns or two noun phrases are placed side by side they are said to be in apposition. In writing fiction and in academic articles, the identification and renaming assumes great importance.

They are often introduced by such words as namely, or for example, or that is, or in other words. They help clarification.

The main issue for the writer is whether the second noun or noun phrase needs to be set off with commas. In other words, is the second noun or noun phrase essential to the meaning of the sentence? If it is, then commas serve no useful purpose because they would otherwise suggest that what is enclosed in parentheses is not strictly necessary, when, in fact, it is. If, on the other hand, the noun or noun phrase is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, they can be set off with commas.

Examples: non-restrictive appositive noun

My sister-in-law, Pauline, is experiencing problems with her car not starting properly.

Usain Bolt, Olympic champion, and a member of the Jamaican team, has fans across the world.

In both the above cases, the noun (first example) and the noun phrase (second example) illustrate how to use the appositive correctly. Each appositive is non-essential to the sentence. In the first case, the person in question is my sister-in-law, and she is the only sister-in-law I have. Readers who are unfamiliar with my family would assume, quite correctly in this case, that I have included Pauline’s name in the sentence to provide additional information, not essential information. In the second example, the person reading this sentence would have had to live under a rock all the time that Usain Bolt has been in action for them not to be aware of how well known Bolt is. So, placing his fame in parentheses is correct.

Examples: restrictive appositive noun

There are, however, occasions when the noun or noun phrase cannot be separated with commas because the information is essential for it to make sense to the reader. Here are some examples:

My friend Peter Thomas has his sixty-sixth birthday next April.

The story The Winner is written by David Baldacci. It is about a woman who cheats the United States Lottery.

The author Kerry Barnes has written a trilogy about the Vincent family.

There is another test that the writer can use to check whether they have punctuated the appositive noun or noun phrase in the sentence correctly. When the sentence is read either silently or aloud, the reader can often judge where a comma is required, just by the pronounced emphasis on where the comma needs to be placed.

Test yourself:

A Alex, one of my brothers, sang in the choir this morning.
B Athlete Iona Lake won the 3000-metre race last week.
C My friend John has bought over one hundred and twenty cars in his lifetime.
D Ernest Hemingway, the American novelist, is often referred to as a minimalist writer.

Answers are as follows:

A Alex, one of my brothers, sang in the choir this morning. [non-restrictive]B Athlete Iona Lake won the 3,000-metre race last week. [restrictive]C My friend John has bought over one hundred and twenty cars in his lifetime. [restrictive]D Ernest Hemingway, the American novelist, is often referred to as a minimalist writer.  [non-restrictive]

Rationale for this on request.

Useful websites




Wicked Lies

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Wicked Lies is the second book in a trilogy of novels written by Kerry Barnes about the Raven and River families.

It is now ready for you to read on Amazon. Incredibly, Wicked Lies has achieved over fifty consecutive five-star reviews on Amazon’s website.

Behind the cold damp walls of the cottage, seventeen-year-old Malakai River is left to fend for his younger sisters. In her selfish quest for freedom, his mother shacks up with a small-time gangster and recklessly leaves the children behind.

When Jean River returns a year later, she makes two shocking discoveries: a decomposing body of a young woman in her cottage . . . and Kelly Raven.

Malakai, battling to keep his sisters safe, steps into a world he knows nothing about, but he soon realises he has what most men fear— the face of his father. Yet even that won’t stop the enemy in the wings trying to destroy everything and everyone Malakai holds dear to him.

Four children . . . four fathers . . . four lies.

Placement of Adverbs

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Adverbs are incredibly useful instruments writers can employ in their work. Let’s consider them in three ways: function, form, and position.


The main way they are used is in modifying verbs.

Noisily, the woman ran down the street.
The athlete was fully focused on the start of the race.
Sarah practises golf locally at her club.

Taking a moment to study these examples, they each describe a specific function: the how, the when, and the where.

Adverbs have other functions, of course. These are in modifying an adjective, another adverb, and the entire sentence.

After taking off his helmet, following the end of the race, the racing driver was very red in the face.
The child walked down the stairs incredibly quietly, so as not to disturb her family.
Stealthily, Adam crept up behind his girlfriend and gave her a huge hug, much to her delight.


Most adverbs are easily recognisable by their ly ending. A comprehensive list of these is given at the end of this post.
But, of course, some words which end in ly are not adverbs . . . and some adverbs do not have the ly ending.
And some adverbs are not easily recognisable as such. Examples are after, now, soon, and then.

Table 1 [wp_table id=947/]

One point to note in Table 1 is the presence of what might be classed as adjectives in the right-hand column. These words are known as hard adverbs in that they can be used as an adjective as well as an adverb.
Editing Kerry Barnes’s books, I sometimes come across the phrase he held her tight. While tightly would be the usual adverb to describe the verb held, the phrase is correct in this instance.
Then there are adverbs which act as conjunctions as one word or as a phrase. Rather than use a classification from someone else, I have put together my own list of categories, taken from what I consider the best I have seen on websites.

Table 2[wp_table id=928/]

Position in a sentence

For the writer, this post now gets to the heart of the issue. Where should the adverb be placed? Does it really matter if the sentence seems to work semantically? Having trawled many websites to find a way of covering the ground rules for the placement of adverbs, most having a different way of approaching this issue, I decided to mix and match.

Examples are mainly taken from Cruel Secrets by Kerry Barnes, with the author’s permission.

When the writer wishes to emphasise the adverb, place it directly before the subject:

Incredibly, Jordan pulled a gun from the back of his trousers and pointed it at Legend.
Tomorrow, I will be reading Kerry Barnes’s new book.
Usually, it’s the heroin addicts who buy a few ounces, here and there.
Kelly was relieved she shared similar features to her mother, particularly her nose and eyes; however, her own skin was darker, and more like her father’s.

Where the adverb needs no emphasis, it comes after the subject and before the main verb.

Keffa, nevertheless, held the gun and pointed it in front of him.

Avoid placing an adverb between a verb and its object.

She hadn’t noticed Jody and her mates standing outside the school, and of course she had completely forgotten about the incident getting on the bus two days ago. [correct]
She hadn’t noticed Jody and her mates standing outside the school, and of course she had forgotten completely about the incident getting on the bus two days ago. [incorrect]

Where there is a sentence containing an auxiliary verb and the main verb, the adverb is placed between the two.

Kelly could only imagine what it would be like to go to a party, a barbecue, or even just to hang out over at the park with friends.

When it comes to an adverbial phrase or expression, this is placed outside the compound sentence.

In the meantime, think of a list of mags, and I will see what I can do.’

With more complex sentences involving more than one verb, the writer should place the adverb after the first auxiliary verb.

Patrick stared at the nutter. ‘You should never have done that, Eddie Raven.’

If an adverb strongly modifies a main verb place the adverb before the main verb.

‘Get back. Ditto has been badly hurt by Keffa’s soldiers.’

Useful websites




Dialogue in Fiction Writing

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The basics

For all direct speech, quotation marks are used. The central question is to decide on whether the novel will use double or single quotation marks. Once this decision has been reached, the format to use single or double quotation marks for speech within speech can be made. Use single quotation marks for a person being quoted within a sentence which contains double quotation marks and vice versa for quoted material that uses single quotation marks as the main style. A preference for double quotation marks in the main dialogue and single quotation marks within has one advantage at least: if a sentence concludes with an apostrophe, it is easier to see the possessive punctuation.

Let’s use the rules

1 Keep punctuation within the quotation marks

“Good morning,” said John. “How’s it going?” [correct]
“Good morning”, said John. “How’s it going”? [incorrect]

2 When a new speaker starts a new line of dialogue, a new paragraph begins at the same time. Even if the other speaker isn’t shown, it is best to place them on a new line:

“I’m off to the cinema this evening,” Sally informed Helen.
“That sounds nice. Can I come along?”
“Only if you’re buying the popcorn,” replied Sally, rather cheekily.

3 Long dialogue

Keeping the dialogue short is best, if you want it to be punchy most of the time. Where the dialogue becomes quite lengthy, you need a dialogue tag in early. Here is an example:

“Now we are ready to start the lesson, I suggest you all listen up, if you want to pass this exam,” Mrs McFadden said to her class. “Right, the relevant section is on page 134, so everyone, find it quickly, please.”

If it needs to be any longer, you omit the speech marks at the end of the first paragraph like this:

“My father was an intellectual prig, who thought he could win every time at poker, and usually he did. He had a knack for bluffing his opponents, but he really came into his own when he kept the game going so long everyone needed plenty of drinks to keep them refreshed.
“What they didn’t realise, though, was that he was adept with drugs. A chemist by profession, he was able to mix the drugs himself and slip them into his opponents’ drinks without them having a clue what was going on. The drugs would work their magic, making the players lethargic and unable to concentrate properly.”

4 The em dash and ellipsis

The em dash is useful when speech is truncated for some reason, perhaps due to an interruption by another person.

The ellipsis is also a powerful weapon for the writer in that it can be used for pauses in conversation (and in the narrative) and also for conversation trailing off at the end of a sentence. In effect, the ellipsis is standing in for a word. The ellipsis usually shows three equally spaced dots, with a space between the last word and the first dot and a space after the last dot and the next word or a form of punctuation. A final full stop or other form of punctuation may be used or not, depending on the writer’s choice.

“Please, please . . . listen, I don’t want to fight, I came to . . . ”
On entering the interview room, if looks could kill . . .
“But I thought we were meeting on Saturday . . . ?”
As they descended the underground staircase, the victims were all lined up . . . .
“Jenny, I’ve a house in London, a nice place. I’ll put it in your name. It was out of Ruth’s estate, and besides, I owe you half of everything—”

5 The use of flashy dialogue tags

Let me be clear. There is no rule here, more of a suggestion. The number of alternatives to the word said is mind-blowing. There is a case for pointing out that using anything other than said distracts the reader from what is being said. On the other hand, using said alternatives provides variation.

6 When things aren’t so simple

Quoting inside the main quote

First consider whether what is quoted is a full sentence or a phrase.

A full sentence:

Sometimes, you come up against a straightforward sentence in dialogue which includes the person quoting something that someone has said. Here are two ways of showing this, the British English way and the US method.

Jim said, ‘That guy Malcolm is a right card. He said to me, “You don’t want to buy that designer five-grand handbag from that shop because I know a guy who can get you one that looks exactly the same for twenty quid”.’ [UK]

Jim said, ‘That guy Malcolm is a right card. He said to me, “You don’t want to buy that designer five-grand handbag from that shop because I know a guy who can get you one that looks exactly the same for twenty quid.”’ [US]

The US convention would have the full stop placed inside the quotation marks (as for quoted speech) while the British English method in theory is to place them outside the quotation marks.

In my experience, however, I have not seen much evidence of the British English method being used. And it is likely that the US method would be used here simply because what is quoted is a full sentence.

When it comes to a word or phrase, though, the two methods do differ.

A word or phrase:

Where the quoted material is a word or phrase, the full stop would be placed outside the quotation marks using the British English method and inside the quotation marks using the US method. For example:

Richard dismissed David’s allegations as merely ‘wicked lies’. British English method.

Richard dismissed David’s allegations as merely ‘wicked lies.’ US method.

Quoting titles of certain publications 

Where the writer is referring to the title of the song, record (CD) titles are written inside quotation marks.

For example:

She turned on the radio and sang along to the new song ‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran.

Both the British English and US styles, though, agree on the same rules for colons, semicolons, exclamation marks, and question marks.

Dialogue is an interesting area of fiction writing, and I will probably return to this topic in the future.

Useful websites

The following websites give very helpful information for further reference. The second one includes practice exercises to test your ability.