Today I went to work and looked at student essays, and said, "AARGH!"
Then I came home and looked at webpages, and said, "AARGH!"
Then I picked up a professionally published book and looked at it and said, "AARGH!"
flair/flare. These are NOT THE SAME FUCKING WORD. If you mean that something produced a great deal of light, especially a sudden glowing flash of it, use "flare." If you mean that someone has a gift or talent for doing something, or does it with panache, use "flair." When people mix this up, I have the odd mental image of the character sputtering in a bonfire.
This is non-negotiable. I will hunt you down if I see this:
"She always knew she had a flare for music."
My soul dies a little now every time I read it. And if you think I have a fragile soul, you should see how many times I've read it.
discreet/discrete. Suddenly this one is everywhere. NTSFW.
"Discreet" is the one that most people mean, quiet when need be and careful with secrets. "Discrete" means separated from other things. Walls divide houses into discrete sections, in which people can have sex if they're discreet. Not the other way around.
wonder/wander. One of the more common typos I've seen, but this is a case where the words don't even have the same spelling and simply need to be checked more carefully. The spell-checker does not cut it by itself. Look carefully at every instance of these words, and make sure that you don't have your hero "wondering off into the distance" or something equally nonsensical. ("Wander" is the one that people usually screw up, for some reason).
were/where. Another big typo. Really, is it that hard to run a search-and-replace if you know you have trouble with this, or just read something over before posting it? I know there are several words, especially "the" and "they," that I mistake for each other, so I'm very careful when I read the final copy over to make sure I haven't misused them. And "were" and "where" are not words that are close to each other in meaning, either, so I don't have the pleasure of thinking a sentence like "They where going to the grocery store" is a clever idea of the author's. It's just a typo, and one that jerks me out of the writing.
then/than. NTSFW. I've seen several people complain that there's too much fuss about these words, that the meanings aren't distinct enough to warrant comment. Oh, yes, they are.
"Then" is strictly a time or consequence word. "Then do it." "She did it then." "Than" in either of those contexts is inappropriate. Unfortunately, because "then" has the broader use, people start thinking they can use it anywhere. No. Life would certainly be simpler if that was the case, but this is English, not life, and English is trickier than Gollum on a speed high. You've got to watch the nasty little bugger.
"Than" is used in comparisons. "She was more upset than Scooby was about the ghost." Learn it, love it, use it. Every mistaken pair has one member that's favored disgustingly and one that's stuck out in the cold, and than happens to be the one of this pair in desperate need of some good leg-warmers.
capital letters in dialogue tags. Only use this when you end a sentence of dialogue with a final punctuation mark- period, question mark, or exclamation point. If you end a sentence of dialogue with a comma, do not capitalize the dialogue tag. I beg of you. Yes, Mercedes Lackey does it, but to quote erythros, she will not ever get it. You don't need to do the same thing.
"I think that's everything," Said Samantha.
"Yes, I'm pretty sure it is," He nodded.
(Remind me to rant on ridiculous dialogue tags like that "nodded" later).
This is basic, basic stuff. If they made you sit through any English classes in high school- hell, if you've read more than three books in English that are not by Mercedes Lackey- you should know it.
comma misuse. Supposedly no one knows how to use these correctly anyway. I can tell you the simple way: Commas are for slight pauses of breath.
When you're looking at written language, you have none of the spoken cues that tell you where someone means to pause, come to a full stop, or invite you to share their pain over bad dialogue tags. That's what punctuation is for, and why half the time no one will have any idea what you're saying if you misuse it.
Commas are for slight pauses, semicolons and periods for lengthier ones, and exclamation points for extreme pain over "flair/flare." If you're in doubt about where to put a punctuation mark, read the sentence aloud and notice where your voice pauses.
This doesn't make sense:
He bought flowers to, put in water.
Your breath might possibly pause after "flowers," but why after "to"? No need. Similarly, this doesn't make sense:
I can't date her, she's not my type.
It's very hard to read that aloud with your breath only lightly pausing on the comma. You need a semicolon or period. It may be slightly easier in dialogue, and it's very easy as part of a list. ("I can't date her, she's not my type, and she smells funny.") Also, it's supposedly a bad thing to use semicolons in dialogue. But I find it better to use periods:
I can't date her. She's not my type.
Just the right amount of disbelief comes through on that, I think, especially if you're trying to convey the character being taken aback.
If you're in narration and not dialogue, do not type commas between complete thoughts. It sounds as though the setting is stuttering. Use semicolons or periods.
opal. Yes, opals shimmer with iridescent colors and look very pretty doing it.
That's because they're goddamned rocks.
If your character has opal eyes, it should not look like one color changing shades slightly, as hazel eyes do in different sorts of light. It should look like completely different colors sliding across a stony surface, and it should make strangers shudder and run away.
crescendo. This originated as a musical term, and still is most often applied to sound. That means that its sense as a gradual increase, not a climax, applies. "rose to a crescendo" would indicate that the sound in question was increasing steadily in volume or force, not coming to a high point. Outside sound, it's more often used the other way, but it technically shouldn't be. Watch it.
If I see one more "discrete lover," or one more "flare for art," I am going to hurt someone.