So, you've completed Lesson 1 of Creators Academy. You've heard from our Creators and staff about what inspires them to write, and absorbed their quick–fire tips for creating killer posts. You should also have a headline, discussion points and an article summary written, as well as a writers checklist to consult throughout the course. Now it's time to apply these tools for the second phase of your training, young Padawan: style and grammar.
The word “grammar” is enough to make many grown adults break out in hives. It brings back visions of classrooms, of cluelessly staring up while teachers seem to place commas in sentences on a whim, and of total and utter confusion. Grammar and style have a bad rep, and we’re here to change that. They’re not designed to trip you up — grammar adds drama, excitement and rhythm to your writing, while style adds a professional polish and a touch of finesse. Mastering both is not as hard as you'd think, and it can really take your writing to the next level.
Still not convinced? Here's a helpful video hosted by our Sr. Copy Editor Alexandra to guide you through. If you're worried about using up all your cell data, we've covered some of the important rules below for you as well.
Dates & Numbers
Let’s start off nice and easy: the amazing image above was taken in the 1990s, or the ‘90s — not the 1990’s or the 90’s. Full date: no apostrophe, abbreviated date: an apostrophe at the abbreviation (just like in “can’t” or “don’t”). Pretty simple, right?
On MP, we write numbers up to nine (one, two, three, etc.) and use the numerical characters for 10 and above (11, 12, 13, etc.). This is one of our style rules, but it's commonly used by other publications too!
Simply put, if you’re referring to more than one thing (e.g. two Kryptonians), you don’t need an apostrophe. If you’re referring to something that belongs to someone else, (e.g. The Justice League’s secret headquarters), you use an apostrophe. The apostrophe moves to the end of the word if you’re referring to more than one owner, (e.g. the heroes’ headquarters).
If you’re still a tad confused or ever need a refresher, The Oatmeal has a dazzlingly comprehensive flowchart about apostrophes that should sort you out!
One last thing: muddling “it’s” and “its” is one of the most common errors we encounter on MP. As a rule:
“Its” = something that belongs to, or refers to “it.” For example, “Superman chose the Fortress of Solitude for its interior charm and air conditioning.” If you can reword the sentence with “of it” (“the interior charm of it”), go for “its.”
“It’s” = it is. The apostrophe here signifies it’s an abbreviation, just like “don’t” or “can’t.” For example, “It’s unusual for Hawkman to be someone’s favorite superhero.” If you can reword the sentence with “it is” (“It is unusual…”), go for “it’s.”
Commas have a wide variety of uses (you can find a pretty comprehensive list of them here!), but there are three main ones:
- In lists. E.g. "Han Solo, Rey and Finn climbed aboard the Millennium Falcon."
- To split up clauses. E.g. "Han Solo exited the Millennium Falcon, and Chewie followed." Clauses that give extra information in the middle of a sentence (parenthetical clauses, if you want to be fancy) also get commas. E.g. "Han Solo, played by debonair silver fox Harrison Ford, gave a great performance."
- Introductory phrases, e.g. "Luckily for him, Han Solo made it onto the ship just in time."
That’s the basics covered. If you want to give a more emphatic pause — as I am doing here — dashes can also be used!
The titles of most things — video games, movies, TV shows and books — should be italicized. There are a couple of exceptions — franchises (Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.) are written in plain text, as are the names of companies, movie studios, and celebrities.
An example putting that all together: Jon Bernthal gave a fantastic performance in Penny and Dime, the fourth episode in this season of Daredevil. (This may just be an example, but it is also very true).
In terms of the titles and subheadings in your own work, these should always have every word capitalized.
Mad Nerd Knowledge
With great geekiness comes great responsibility. Comics and sci–fi franchises are particularly notorious for having their own weird rules about hyphens and capitals. Here are the most common ones:
- Marvel’s universe is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). DC’s is the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).
- For Flash fans: Earth–1 and Earth–2 have hyphens. So does meta–human :)
- For the Star Wars geeks: Force is capitalized, light side and dark side are not.
- “Easter Eggs” also needs capitals.
- The image above will help you remember Spider-Man has a web — but don’t forget Star–Lord and Ant–Man have webs too! (I know it doesn’t quite work with the metaphor — blame Marvel, not me).
- Also, remember that it might be Superman, Batman and Aquaman, but it’s Iron Man. I wish the whole space/no space thing fit neatly between DC and Marvel, but alas, we get characters like Wonder Woman and Hawkeye who mess that whole theory up. When in doubt, Google is your friend ;)
- “Supervillain” and “antihero” are both one word — no need for dashes or spaces
- An “Issue” of a comic book and an “Episode” or a “Season” of a TV show are all capitalized. If you're talking about an issue/episode/season in the abstract, such as 'the latest episode of Jane the Virgin...', you don't need to capitalize. But if you're using one of these terms in a specific, numerical context, like 'Season 2, Episode 12 of Jane the Virgin', that's where you use the capitals.
- Job titles (like writer, director, etc.) do not need to be capitalized.
- Writing about a superhero with an alias? Make sure to use a.k.a., not aka. Likewise, it is S.H.I.E.L.D. The only acronyms that don’t need full stops are place names, like the UK and LA, and the aforementioned MCU and DCEU.
So, there you have it! See, that wasn't so bad, was it? Using these tools properly will help give your posts clarity and confidence, and will really help your writing shine. If you're ever in quandary about comma placement or where to put your apostrophes, I would highly recommend Grammarist — it is a treasure trove of grammar usage and style insights. Or, of course, you could always drop me a line — as you may be able to tell, I kind of enjoy talking about grammar :D
And Finally - Sourcing
We're almost at the end of this journey into grammar and style, but first - an important practice every writer needs to nail down from the very first article: sourcing. Here's the simple rule: if you have taken an idea, piece of news, a theory, fact or observation from any other source, even if you modify or re-word it - you must always list the original source within your article. At Creators, we do this by hyperlinking the source(s) at the bottom of the article. For example: Movie Pilot, Rotten Tomatoes, Deadline.
Chapter 2 Assignment
To demonstrate your understanding of this lesson, your assignment is to write a flawless article using each of the tools, techniques and stylistic methods we've described within this chapter and video. You already know how to create the basis for your article after having completed Lesson 1. Now, use the outline you made there (or a new one, if you like) and apply all the new-found style and grammar advice we've shared here.
Sanity Check Tip:
Once you've finished writing your article, make sure to go away for a few minutes - don't worry, your article will be auto saved and waiting for you on your return - do some sit ups or make a coffee. Come back to your article with fresh eyes, and read it ALOUD to yourself. You might sound a little crazy if you're in a cafe, but reading out loud is guaranteed to help you find those errors and problems with flow that you can't pick up when reading in your head. Then, read it once more and check for the little details - correct use of commas, capitalization, apostrophes and hyphons.
When you're satisfied that your article is in tip top shape - you're ready to hit PUBLISH.