Daily Archives: January 31, 2013

Making Fewer Mistakes

Another grammar rant for you, this time one of my favourite English language confusions: the difference between less and fewer. Once again, it’s easy when you know how. Usually.


Let’s start with a maths lesson – don’t worry if you don’t like maths, just bear with me. Numbers come in many types, but the two types we’re interested in here are discrete (not discreet) versus continuous. Shoe sizes, for example, are discrete. You can be a size 7 or 7.5, but you can’t take a 7.2333 shoe (although I think my right foot probably would if it could) any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. On the other hand, you can have 7.2333 ounces of flour.

Right, now I’ve told you that, forget it. It’s probably only helpful if you’re me; I don’t think it’s going to help anyone else with less and fewer at all.

When it comes to words (nouns, specifically), what’s important is the difference between what I call Quantity Nouns and Numeric Nouns. Quantity Nouns are nouns which come in quantities, Numeric Nouns are nouns which can be counted.

For example, I might have some boys (boys being a numeric noun) but some flour (flour being a quantity noun – you can’t have a number of flours). If you came along with some boys and some flour and gave everything to me, I’d have more boys and more flour, because the word “more” works for both quantity and numeric nouns. But if you came back later and took away what you’d given me, I’d have fewer boys but less flour.



Here’s an even easier way of remembering it…



If you can replace the noun with “things” then you use fewer, if you would replace the noun with “stuff”, use less.

The only problem left to look out for is that quantity nouns often get mixed with numeric noun amounts. For example: bags of flour, ounces of sugar, loaves of bread. If I have three bags of flour and you take one away, I’ve got FEWER bags (things) but LESS flour (stuff).


And the checkout lines? Well they are just wrong. Items = Things, so you can’t have less items!


Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified

Editing The Phoenix Fire: The Plan

My first NaNoWriMo novel, The Phoenix Fire, was a real learning curve for me. I wrote it at speed, left it for a month or so and then tried to edit it. In terms of length, it was about right, the plot largely matched what I had planned, and after a month I was still far too close to it to do more than edit the text.

I let a few friends read it, and their response was mixed. The biggest issue they had was with the main character. I saw him as troubled but ultimately redeemable, they all hated him or, worse, didn’t give a damn about him. Still too close to it, I dealt with their more specific comments, picking at the text but ignoring the big issues of character and structure. Then I had a single copy printed, stuffed it on my bookshelf and left it there.


We’re now almost 3 years later and I’m going to let myself take it down from its shelf. Because, in spite of its clear failings, I believe it’s a story worth telling and I believe I have the skill to tell it. I’ve learned a lot about writing over the last couple of years, I’ve honed my craft and more importantly I’ve put a lot of mileage between myself and this novel.

I’m dreading reading it, because I think much of it will make me cringe. But I’m also looking forward to giving it another chance. My goal is to do this slowly, over the course of 2013, so I’m setting up some not-too-ambitious targets for each month. I’m going to try to post on the last day of each month with an update on how that’s going.

January: Plan the plan. So far so good, here it is!

February: Read through the whole thing once. If I spot any textual errors, I will pacify my inner editor by highlighting them, but this read-through is intended to reacquaint myself with the story, the plot and the characters. And to identify the big-picture problems. I’ll keep a notebook beside me to keep a record of anything that strikes me as wrong, then if I have time at the end of the month, I’ll try to organise what’s in it into different elements – plot, character, style, etc.

March: Complete steps 1-9 of the planning plan here (http://fandelyon.com/?p=329). This is about identifying problems, not fixing them, so by the end of March I don’t intend to have made a single change to the text of the novel.

April: Taking the notes from February and March, plan out the structure of the novel as if writing it afresh. Work out which scenes, chapters or subplots need to be cut / rewritten / added. Re-assess the character arcs and work out if characters need to be cut / changed / added. Again, this won’t involve any work on the text itself.

May – July: Rewrite, based on the plan from April. This is likely to involve quite a lot of new text, so I’m allowing three months.

August: Read through the whole piece. Again, I’ll have a highlighter for textual errors, but the focus will be on big-picture stuff and on making sure I’ve fixed everything identified in Feb – April.

September: Rewrites based on August’s read-through and picking up any textual errors highlighted in previous read-throughs.

October: Read through. Look for big and – in particular – little errors, check for things like: clichés, anachronisms, repetition, overuse of adverbs / adjectives.

November: Leave it alone. I’ll hopefully be doing NaNoWriMo again this year, and a month away from PF will give me the breather I need before December’s read-through.

December: Final read-through. Careful check for typos and minor textual issues.

Are you editing anything this year? Is there anything here you think I’ve missed or should do differently? I’d love to hear from you.


Filed under NaNoWriMo, Writing