For being such a small, seemingly-insignificant, four-letter, word, only is known for giving writers fits. Sometimes this little modifier gives a writer fits, but the writer is clueless. As a result the writing is ambiguous and unclear, and the writer never quite knows why.
Writing, it has been said, is clear thinking on paper. Clarity is key, because whatever can be misunderstood will be misunderstood.
Place modifiers as close as possible to the words they are intended to modify.
Therefore, in the title of this blog, the second placement of only is correct. The first choice – If only I knew… — denotes that I would be the only person who know where only belongs.
Let’s take a statement and let this crazy little four-letter word show just how wily he can be:
- Only Charles wept for the loss of his pet dog.
- Charles only wept for the loss of his pet dog.
- Charles wept only for the loss of his pet dog.
- Charles wept for the loss of his only pet dog.
- Charles wept for the loss of his pet dog only.
Each sentence give a different meaning, some almost imperceptibly, others more clearly.
I’m sure some who read this will say “So what? Isn’t this just a lot of nitpicking? Is it really worth all the bother?”
It’s worth the bother only if you are a lover of clear writing – and if you are concerned with accuracy, and if you have little patience with muddled sentences and ambiguity.
Causing confusion for your reader can be interpreted as your lack of concern for the reader. If the reader feels you care little about him or her; why should that reader feel compelled to trust you as author? Respect for reader should be uppermost in the mind of all professional authors/novelists/writers. (More about respect for reader HERE.)
The slippery little only is one of many such problem areas that demand the attention of the writer who is sold out to perfecting the craft of writing. Are you that sold-out writer? Then…
Pay attention only if you fit that description.
Pay attention if you only fit that description.
Pay attention if you fit only that description.
Okay, okay! You get the picture!
Strive to be the best writer you can be! You’ll never be sorry.
I trust the teaching and instruction given in this blog post was helpful in your goal to be a novelist. For more in-depth writer’s workshops, check out the wide variety offered at the Be A Novelist Website.
Are you one of those budding novelists who makes a great start but you can’t seem to finish? Then this is for you! Be A Novelist, Six-Month, Finish-My-Novel Challenge! Six full months of guidance and instruction. Guaranteed to light a fire under your novel-writing attempts and to launch you into a pattern of consistent writing! Check it out here!