Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

It’s the little things that make my eye twitch when I run across them in a published book. These are mistake such as misspelled words or wrong term usage (clinched instead of clenched when referring to a tightened fist or jaw, for example), and a myriad of tiny errors that can be and sometimes are missed even in the best of edits.

In a perfect world every book would be published without an error or two. We’d all like to say we could catch every missing comma in a manuscript, but if you think about it, the average novel consists of 60,000 words. Those words translate into approximately 272,000 characters. What are the odds? Authors can beat the odds if they take a proactive stance.

That’s why self-editing is so important. The job can’t be left only to the “professionals.” Any author who has submitted what they believe to be a near-perfect manuscript can attest to the fact that an editor will most likely find something to nitpick on every page of the story.

Authors who sweat those small thing are a great asset to an editor. No, they aren’t expected to catch everything in a novel, but when they do their best, that helps to produce a cleaner product, which helps eliminate reader eye twitches.

Here are some common mistakes that should be on every author’s style sheet or check list:

The aforesaid mentioned clinched versus clenched along with other difficult words, such as affect/effect, then/than, assure/ensure/insure, desert/dessert, hoard/horde, setup/set-up/set up, underway/under way and the one I struggle to grasp: further/farther.

Words that can be compounded but are not always so: a part/apart, a while/awhile, any more/anymore, every day/everyday.

Words that are often written as two words when the correct form is a compound: backseat, seatbelt, backyard.

Words that are always two words, unless hyphenated. For example, it is never goodnight, but good night or when used as an adjective describing a noun, good-night kiss. Also, it’s always good-bye.

Words that are often misspelled. For instance, it’s not hairbrained but harebrained. The word is tell-tale not tale-tell, tell-tell, or tale-tale, espresso and not expresso, and no matter how much anyone insists that it is working its way into the English language, it is never alright but all right.

Words that are often confused, such as anxious vs. eager, as vs. like, among vs. between.

Also, publisher preferences are good to note. Pelican Book Group prefers OK instead of okay
Because I personally prefer okay, I have to be very cautious about this. Noting it on my style sheet or checklist helps me to remember to check my edits when I’m working on a review or an acquisition. Other preferences might include blonde/blond and the various ways it can be used. Internet terms are also publisher preferences. Internet vs. internet, online vs. on-line, and e-mail vs. email.

I find collecting this information fun and useful. What I don’t collect, I make sure to look up in the Chicago Manual of Style. When I do look them up, I usually place them on my list.

These are just some of the ways that authors can help eliminate that eye twitch. Mine never twitches more than when I find a mistake I missed in my own work.

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ Monday - This Week's Writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term. It means writing what the publisher wants. Can you do it? In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements. The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view.

A city view
Two lost kittens
A flat tire

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

A myth exists that an author toils alone when he is taking words and forming them into sentences that make paragraphs, that turn into pages, which become scenes, and then morph into chapters that become a novel.

The truth: an author who works alone, who doesn’t seek out an objective voice, who doesn’t have to steel against the criticism of others, is a writer who is soon out of touch with the market, with fans, and with the reality of the condition of his work.

I was reminded of this recently when I submitted to my critique groups after a long hiatus from submissions. Yes, I knew the draft I sent was the first, but I did believe I’d caught the essence of the story. The characters were alive to me. Their story vivid.

I sent the chapters off with dreams of receiving accolades for my prose from my trusted writing pals. I imagined reviews such as “perfect, ready to print, and this work couldn’t get any better.”

I’ll pause here to give you time to get a grip and stop laughing.

Even I knew my dreams were not grounded in reality. I’m the author. I should think that my writing is where it needs to be. My characters need to become my best friends so that I know everything about them. My story should, in the very least, be formed inside my head.

The job of critique partners is to shake the author from the land of dreams and cause her to focus on the problems they find. In that regard, my critique pals did not fail.

Yes, I did receive some glowing feedback, but my critique partners would frighten me if they sent back a manuscript absent lines, filled with red and blue along with bubbled comments explaining why I need to delete or add or change portions of the manuscript, even a lengthy summary at the end of the document telling me what does and does not work. For the most part, I learned what I already knew deep down: I’d brought on too many characters at one time (a major flaw I work hard to overcome with my partners’ help). I’d used words that didn’t fit the description. Horror of horrors, I’d used telling rather than showing. My heroine was not grounded and at times not likable (no one wants an unlikable heroine), and overall, the chapters need lots of work.

After the first few minutes of staring opened mouthed at the comments, I smiled. Now, fully grounded, I could dig in and put the mess in order.

Criticism hurts, but a lack of criticism can destroy a career.

If an author toils alone, dismissing the critique process, he fails to taken into account that his own subjectivity might preclude him from publication. Before critique, I thought the heroine in my novel was completely likable, a sweet individual, who’d suffered some loss. For my critique partners, she had moved on too quickly from her loss, was a little unstable at times, and she just didn’t come across as the nice gal I wanted to depict, and once those flaws were pointed out to me, they glared from the page. Egad!

If I didn’t have critique partners to point that out, I shudder to think how my character’s life would have turned out.

An author does not want their first major criticism to come via an editor’s desk, provided after review of a submission. Joining with a critique partner or critique group can eliminate some of that criticism, and in the very least, it can help the author learn to accept criticism in a constructive way.

Happy editing.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Too much information, what does that mean? Can an author have too much information about his characters, his story world, or too much research about the era or the background central to the story’s plot?

No. The more an author knows about his characters, the more realistic they become for the reader. An author’s imagination filled with a story world only brings about vivid pictures for his audience. A vast knowledge of the era and area in which the story revolves keeps both editors and readers from pulling out their hair simply because the information provided is viable.

The problem with “too much information” is not in the knowing of it but in the sharing of it. Beginning authors tend to want to share everything with the reader. I’d like to say that I’m exaggerating when I mention that some authors want to provide every detail about a character from the moment said character is born right up until the time the front story begins.

The reader does not need that information. Leave out the cute little scene where the heroine walks for the first time. Really, it’s not needed unless that is the last time the heroine ever walked.

Part of an author’s job is to wade through the extensive back story a character brings to the table and to pick out what it was in the character’s past that brought her to the reason the story is being told. That—and only that—is what needs to be included in the novel, and not in a large block of information dump. The relevant portions of the character’s past need to be woven into the story and brought out only when necessary. Back story is an author’s best friend when it comes to providing twists and turns in the plot.

What about the elaborate maps or house designs or the paintings of a scene so vividly etched into the writer’s mind? Again, description isn’t something that should be plastered on the page for description’s sake. Yes, the author can and should have a firm picture in his mind about every location in a scene, even the small things we call props. If a lamp shade with an old world map depicted upon it in a traveler’s library is actually a map to hidden treasure, that’s something the author will want to relay, but it needs to be brought in at an opportune moment. When the traveler’s niece has arrived because Uncle Horton has gone missing, have her turn on the light and think of Uncle Horton and everywhere he’s gone. Let her trace a route from Cairo to Istanbul with her finger. Not only is that description, but if the treasure lies on that route, it’s called foreshadowing.

Then we have research. The author has explored everything he knows about the space industry. He knows each fact about every key player in the race to gain the upper hand in technology. He understands every component of unmanned and manned transportation into outer space. He knows the trajectory that made it possible for the early astronauts to circle the globe. He even understands the phenomenon known as solar flares and the danger they pose for space travel. Unless that author is James A. Michener and the novel is entitled Space, all of that information is unnecessary.

Research is done in order to convey the truth to the reader. As a horrid example of a writer’s lack of research, I had the misfortune of reading a work of fictorial (yes, a word I made up to denote a manuscript that is supposed to be historical fiction, but even the history is fiction). This work was pre-Civil War. Every Southerner hated slaves, misused slaves, used foul language, scratched in the wrong places, spit every few seconds, and all of the men wanted to run off to war to fight for the Confederacy. He didn’t simply pick on the white Southerners. The slaves were also caricatures. If that wasn’t enough, the KKK was introduced pre-Civil War. They were lynching and cross burning and wearing their hoods long before the six veterans of the Confederate Army founded the Klan and had their first meeting in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865.

The author didn’t need to share the above research (had he done the research), but he did need to know it. If he had done a little research, he would have discovered that this information wasn’t necessary for a Pre-Civil War novel.

However, research would have proven to the author that not all white Southerners were slaveholders. Not all white Southerners were radical about state’s rights. Slaves would have been depicted with intelligence and keen observation about what was going on around them. He might have even discovered some interesting facts that could have brought a dimension to each character, both the good and the bad, slave, slaveholder, and Southerners who didn’t own slaves, that would have added layers to the story.

The bottom line is an author needs to research for facts, and just as it is with back story and description, only that which is imperative to the story needs to be introduced … correctly.
When self-editing search for areas where the back story, the description, and the research introduced are irrelevant to the manuscript. Then delete it.

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ - Monday's writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term. It means writing what the publisher wants. Can you do it? In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements. The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view.

A beehive
A stolen valentine
20 pairs of shoes

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Lately, when reading, italicized internal monologue jumps right out at me. Literally. The words jar me, and I’m sure they jar the majority of readers. Why? How can I put this?
  • Internal monologue is shown via italicization. The reader is going along in the normal font, and then it slants. Then it returns to normal. Then it slants again.
  • When used in third-person viewpoint the italics are joined by a sudden switch to first-person viewpoint.
  • When used in a first-person viewpoint, the italics have no reason for being there. Italics announce to the reader that the point of view wasn’t deep enough in the first place.
  • Internal thought is used as a shortcut in fiction, and as such, it becomes a tool for telling rather than showing.

As with all style issues in fiction, overuse of italics is tiresome and ineffective and should be used sparingly. I believe that internal thought has two functions: 1) to place emphasis on an important thought; or 2) for relevant silent prayer.

When self-editing for areas where telling versus showing are the focus, italicized internal monologue is a great place for an author to search.

In the evaluation of these areas, here are some questions that should be asked:
  • Is the internal monologue important enough that it needs special emphasis (and if that is true more than twice in a manuscript, the author may want to determine another way to get this emphasis across)?
  • If internal monologue is included in a scene, can the first paragraph be set stronger to clearly define the point-of-view character and to allow his or her thoughts to flow in the narrative, drawing the reader closer to that character?
  • If the story is being told in first-person point of view and internal monologue is being used does that mean that the first person, point-of-view character’s voice is not strong enough for the reader to realize that the thoughts are flowing from that character into the narrative?

Internal monologue has a place in fiction. It can be used to great effect, but only if it used minimally and for the greatest impact.

Happy editing.