Grammar: Things to Remember

Numbers:

  • All numbers between 21 and 99 (except 30, 40, 50, etc) should be hyphenated. Examples: Twenty-three and two hundred and eighty-nine.
  • Numbers should be written in full at the start of a sentence.

One or Two Words:

anyone = any person
Hint: Try replacing the word anyone with any person. If it sounds right, it’s the correct word. If it does not sound right, use any one.

everyday = normal
Hint: Try replacing the word everyday with normal. If it sounds right, it’s the correct word. If it does not sound right, use every day.

everyone = every person
Hint: Try replacing the word everyone with every person. If it sounds right, it’s the correct word. If it does not sound right, use every one.

maybe = perhaps
Hint: Try replacing the word maybe with perhaps. If it sounds right, it’s the correct word. If it does not sound right, use may be.

Okay, I think you get the gist of it. Do the same thing for the following words:

nobody = no person (if it doesn’t sound right use no body)
everybody = every person (if it doesn’t sound right use every body)
sometimes = occasionally (if it doesn’t sound right use some times)

Confusing Words:

Affect = to change (Hint: Try using to transform instead of affect.)
Effect = outcome, consequence or appearance (Hint: Try using either outcome, consequence or appearance instead of effect.)

Allude = refer to indirectly
Elude = to avoid

Already = prior to a specified time
All ready = completely prepared
Hint: The word ready can replace all ready but not already.

Alright = is a nonstandard variant of all right and all use of the word should be avoided.

Bare = exposed
Bear = for every other use except when the meaning is exposed

Breathe (rhymes with seethe) = inhale and expel air from the lungs
Breath (rhymes with death) = the air inhaled or exhaled during breathing

Fewer = not as many, when there is more than one item (i.e. fewer animals)
Less = not as much, when there is one item (i.e. less time)

Lead (rhymes with seed) = to lead, being in charge
Lead (rhymes with bed) = a metallic element
Led (rhymes with bed) = past tense of to lead

Licence = UK/Aus use this word, relates to card/papers
License = US only use this word, relates to allow
Hint: Try using card or papers. If it sounds right use licence. If it doesn’t, use license.

Passed = past tense of to pass
Past = used at all other times
Hint: Try using went past. If it sounds right use passed. If it doesn’t, use past.
But: If the word has is before passed (might be a word or two before), try using gone past instead. If it sounds right use passed. If not, use past.

Writing Course: Self-Editing Your Work

You have written a story – short story or novel, it doesn’t matter. Now it is time to self-edit it. It is easy to find flaws in other people’s work, but quite difficult to recognise them in your own.

There are three components of self-editing:

1. line/copy-editing,
2. sentence editing,
3. content editing.

Line/Copy-editing

A point to remember, whilst the spell check in word processors will identify some misspelt words, you should never rely on it when self-editing as they do not pick up words that are correctly spelled but used in the wrong context (such as to, too, two, their, there, would, wood).

However, you should use the ‘find and replace’ function to check the following:

[table style=”1″]

What to Look For What to Do
Words ending with ‘ly’ Adverbs tell rather than show. A lot of the time if you strengthen the verb, you can eliminate the adverb.
and, so, but, however, because Avoid connectives where possible. Try a full stop and make two sentences, or rearrange and shorten the sentence.
that If the sentence reads well without it, delete it.
thing, stuff Don’t be lazy! Be specific.
he, she, him, her, his, hers If you have two or more characters, don’t rely on pronouns as the reader can become confused as to who is doing/saying what.

[/table]

Sentence Editing

Once you’ve completed the basic line/copy-edit to correct spelling and grammar, you will need to examine your sentences and the words used. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the language specific, strong?
Do your words allow visualisation?
Is the main character well developed, convincing?
Will the reader sympathise with the main character?
Is there jargon or cliches that should be removed?
Are you too wordy or concise?
Is the word choice supportive of the setting?
Is the tone consistent?
Are there shifts in tone, tense, style or voice?
Is the dialogue convincing?
Does the dialogue move the story along?
Does the dialogue reveal character, conflict or emotion?

Content Editing

The course tackles this last but I feel this should be the first thing you do as major changes could result which may mean the work you’ve already completed in the line/copy-edit and sentence edit has been wasted.

Some more questions you should ask yourself:

What is your story about?
Can you sum up, in one sentence, what you story is about?
Are you saying what you want to say?
What does the main character want? Is this clear from the start?
Where is the story set? Is it important?
Will the reader relate to the main character?
Does the story have direction?
Is there a catchy beginning?
Is the conflict clear from the beginning?
Do the characters face interesting obstacles and make difficult decisions?
Does every action have cause and effect?
Is the main character well developed and interesting?
What is the character’s ruling passion or fatal flaw?
Does the character struggle, grow, change, make a stand?
Is the right character telling the story?
Does the setting create the right mood, have a strong sense of time and place, further the theme and plot?
Is there continuance, consistency and credibility?
Has the point of view or tense changed?
Are the characters believable?
Is the narrative voice right for the story?

Professional Presentation

Once the story has been written, rewritten and edited until it is the best it can be, it is time to take steps to ‘present’ your work in a professional manner.

I would recommend you using William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format Website as a guide, but here’s a quick checklist:

  • Use A4 good quality white paper
  • Use no less than 12 point black font
  • Never use colour ink
  • Use double spacing for manuscript content
  • Use a title page, or more often these days, insert the following onto the first page of the manuscript:
      story title
      author’s name
      approximate word count
      full name, address and contact details
  • Insert into top header, except first page, right aligned, in the following format:
      story title/ author’s surname / page number
  • Left justify content.
  • Make sure there is no extra white space between paragraphs and the first line of each paragraph is indented up to five spaces (3 is a good number).
  • Never bind pages.
  • Always keep a backup copy on disk (or, do what I do, email yourself a copy for safe keeping).
  • Most important, always read the publisher guidelines and do as directed. Always!

 

Editing Course: Using Technology

Editing and proofreading is not just about printed matter/publications, it also involves working with other technology such as:

A website, where you would proof the pages on-screen and either email, fax or post back the corrections.

A PDF document, where you would proof the document on-screen and email back the corrections.

A Word, RTF or other soft document created in a word processor, where you would edit the document using “Track Changes” and email it back to the client.

An editor/proofreader must understand the processes of doing their work using technology. However, it is up to the individual if these services are offered. Of course, the more flexible you are, the better for you.

How Much to Charge

To start with you would probably charge about $20 – $25 per hour, but this will increase to $25 – $35 per hour as you gain experience. This is the same amount you would charge to edit/proofread hard copies.

Remember, proofreading attracts a lower fee – $20 – $25 per hour. Copyediting is around $25 – $35 per hour. And substantive editing is $40 upwards.

Keep in mind also that you will probably have to print out the soft document as it is usually easier to work with.

Technology Jargon

It is always helpful to know the jargon when using technology. Here is a short list of meanings:

These days it is not uncommon to see “e” in front of words (for example, email, e-zine, e-commerce, ebooks). The “e” means electronic.

“Uploading files” means sending files.

“Downloading files” means receiving files.

“PDF” means portable document format.

“RTF” means rich text format.

“Log in” means to access an account (and is two words).

When editing/proofreading, it is important to remember the following:

Internet should always be spelt with a capital “I” as it is a proper noun.

World Wide Web should always be capitalised too, for the same reason.

Web, when referring to the Internet, should be capitalised as it is the formal abbreviation of a proper noun.

Email can be hyphenated (e-mail) or can be written without the hyphen (email), but all other “e” words should be written with the hyphen, unless house-style dictates otherwise.

Using Spelling and Grammar Checkers

It is dicey to use spell checkers included in word processors as they are unreliable.

Use them only if you have the right one installed for your location (ie it is no use using a US spell checker if you are in Australia), and you only use it to pick up everyday typos at a glance. Do not depend on them and always edit your own work for errors.

Remember, these checkers are often wrong!

Learning to Detach Yourself when Receiving Critiques

April Hamilton wrote a very interesting post called When Editing & Critiquing, Check Your Personal Opinions At The Door. This reminder comes at a great time because yesterday I sent one of my older short stories to a critique group for the once over.

Luckily for me, I’m not new to the game of critiquing and I’m not in the habit of flaring up when someone tells me something I don’t want to hear. In fact, if I receive a “that’s good” I feel cheated because I want to know what’s wrong and “good” isn’t the same as “great” which isn’t the same as “excellent”, so I’m wondering what needs to be done to make the story better. I want to hear the details, I encourage the reader to tell me whatever they are thinking. And just as the critiquer should view someone else’s message without trying to inflict their own opinion on them, the person on the receiving end must learn how to decipher other people’s suggestions. Because not all suggestions should be taken to heart or implemented.

Journey to Freedom is the title of the short story I have concerns with. It was originally written for a project that involved several writers, so it has had the benefit of other eyes apart from my own, but I’m still not 100% happy with it. For starters, it’s long for a short story. It comes in at almost 6,800 words and I’d like to cut it back to around 5,000 words. I’m hoping the critiques will help me work out where I’ve rambled on a bit much. I think the pace is OK, but I’m uncertain if readers will get the message behind the story, so I’m interested to see what comments are made (if any) about the theme/premise. And, of course, I want to be certain there’s no plot holes. To me, the story makes perfect sense, but what will other readers/writers think, see, not see? I eagerly await their responses.

Some Mad Hope: When Nothing Is Good

I often roam the internet, making my way from one website to another, reading hundreds of words written by other people.  Those words sometimes anger me, at other times they make me cry, but today I found words that inspire.

Some Mad Hope: When Nothing Is Good.

This is a post that reminds us about the small things in writing.  The things that can be tedious and time consuming, but are very important to all writers.  It reminds us that after hours and hours of sitting alone and writing, we then sit for hours and hours alone and edit, before we sit for hours and hours proofreading.

When I read, if I see a single mistake my reaction is, “haha, a mistake!”  When I write, I’m conscious of this but it doesn’t stop the errors getting through.

The author of the post “When Nothing is Good” is correct when she says that nobody notices when everything goes well, but those same people are quick to jump up and down when something turns pear shaped.

I’d like to be remembered for a good story, not for a story full of errors, so I edit and edit and edit some more.  When a story flows nicely, the reader is taken on a lovely journey.  As writers, we have to ensure the reader is so absorbed in the story that nothing can distract them, especially typos, poor formatting and bad grammar.

How Do I Edit?

Benjamin Solah added a post by the same name – How Do I Edit? – to his blog earlier in the week. I found it interesting to read about how someone else tackles the editing process and then I started thinking about how I would answer the same question. I admit it isn’t easy to answer but I’m going to have an attempt at doing so. This might end up being a long post.

My answer relates to novel length manuscripts. To make my answer less complicated I will talk primarily about my current project – Mirror Image – but the steps below are generally what I do for all my projects.

When I start a new project I usually create a document, setting the page specifications to conform to publisher requirements, and save the document in a folder with the same title as the manuscript – in this case Mirror Image. This folder will be found within My Writing folder. So the location would be… My Writing>Mirror Image and the saved document would look like this… Mirror Image V1 10.1.09. I like including the date as it is a reminder of when I started writing the story.

When I move onto the second draft (or first edit of the completed manuscript) I will save the document as Mirror Image V2 29.5.09 and version 1 will be moved into a new folder within the Mirror Image folder called Old Versions. I don’t like clutter or the risk that I might open the wrong version by mistake and not realise what I’ve done. However, I do like to keep old versions in case I go mental and ruin a story by over editing it…or heaven forbid, I delete it by mistake (this hasn’t happened yet, but the possibility is always there). All future edits will be handled in the same way until I end up with a lone document entitled Mirror Image Final 15.7.09. This is the version that will be submitted to publishers.

But how do I get to that version?

The first edit is always done on screen. I read through the document making minute changes such as typos and easy to fix plot errors. I make notes about the not so easy to fix plot errors or character inconsistencies. My only thought in this first edit is to get a handle on how the story reads and you can’t do that if you spend months fixing mistakes, so I want to read the story through in no longer than a week or two.

The story firmly planted in my mind – major mistakes and all – I then let the story sit for a while. Not too long as I find I lose momentum. A couple of weeks to a month is generally long enough. During this time, I’m still working on the story mentally. I’m thinking about how those major inconsistencies and errors can be fixed. Do I need to do a bit of replanning? Or do I need to rethink my characters? Is more research required? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions then I’ll get started on that, otherwise, I’ll just think about how to make everything more realistic, smoother and truer to what has been planned.

The second edit is where the major changes take place. Depending on what the problem is I might follow a single thread and change it before turning my attention to something else or I might attempt to make all changes as I work my way through the manuscript. In the past I have removed characters, inserted new ones, deleted plot threads as well as created them and I have deleted entire scenes, rewritten others completely from scratch and adding new ones. Editing can be a complex, time consuming procedure, but a writer must be prepared to do whatever it takes to improve the storylines and plots within a manuscript. It is hard work and often monotonous.

At the completion of the second edit, I’ll move quickly into the third edit, which is a repeat of the first edit – mainly fixing up typos and minor errors. Again, I’m concentrating on how the story reads and how everything fits together.

Once this is done, I will consider asking readers opinions. With Mirror Image, someone I trust to be honest and constructive has asked to read it when I’m ready to share it. However, with other projects, I normally turn to writers I know and places like Critique Circle (which was more than helpful when I got to this stage with Cat’s Eyes). I find the feedback from readers invaluable and the manuscript always improves because of it.

Depending on the feedback given, I may have to repeat edits two and three above.

When I’m satisfied that the manuscript has been polished to printing stage, then that’s what I do. I print it out and read it (with red pen in hand). I’m always surprised by the number of typos I still find, but that’s the way of a writer.

Unless I discover something terribly wrong with the manuscript, in which case I could possibly have to do edits two and three all over again, which would be unfortunately at this stage, I would now move onto what I would hope is the final edit stage.

This is when I read through the manuscript, yet again (usually on screen), and make adjustments to anything that I feel isn’t quite up to standard. I will make the changes noted on the printed copy and I might even try to improve word usage (if I think it’s required). With luck, I will be happy and that will be the end of the editing, however, sometimes more read throughs are necessary. How many? As many as it takes!

So, for me, it wouldn’t be unusual to do at least six edits on a novel length manuscript. This is, of course, if I get the storylines and plots just about right on the first draft. Major problems will mean additional edits have to be done. I think I average eight edits for most of my projects.

Planning a Scene

I was recently at Jim Butcher’s blog – author of the Dresden Files. There is a lot to read there, but I was especially interested in the article about using an arc to plan a story. His suggestion is to simply draw an arc on a piece of paper. Naturally, the beginning of the arc is the beginning of the story and the end of the arc is the end of the story. Then you place “markers” across the arc which coincides with crucial events in your story. Finally you add in more markers for other important scenes and anything else that moves your story forward. This is a good idea.

Anyway, I don’t need an arc for my current manuscript – Mirror Image. It’s well and truly passed the arc stage. Not being one to pass up a good idea, I figured that the most important scene in my manuscript – the climax, which is long and complicated – needs a lot of work and I could adapt the arc for improving that scene.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been drawing arcs everywhere. But something good came from all that physical labour. I realised that the scene has to be cut down into four crucial sections and each section needs an arc of its own. This will enable me to focus on the emotions of the MC and therefore build the tension accordingly, which is something that didn’t quite happen in the first draft.

What I did was, in blue, put in essential “events” from the character’s viewpoint including what the character was feeling at the time. These were added to the top of the arc. Then, in red, I added events that other characters contributed to the scene, which affected the MC and in turn affected the overall scene. I added these to the underside of the arc. I’ve done this for Section 1 of the scene and will do the same for the other three sections over the next few days. Then I’ll have a comprehensive plan for the climax. However, I will not be tackling the edit of this scene for some time yet. I am currently working through each character’s storyline and I need to finish doing that because I might find other things that must be added to the arcs. However, it was because of this that I discovered missing elements for the characters I have done. The storylines feel unfinished yet once the climax has been reached I cannot go back to these other characters and give them their required resolution. In other words, this information must be added to the climax. I have no choice. I did say the scene was complicated, but hopefully using the arcs will help me get it right eventually.

The Lure of a New Project

If you visit a lot of writers’ websites, you’ll soon find a large majority of them openly admit to starting more stories than they finish. There are several reasons for this, but I’m going to talk about only one of those reasons today – the lure of a new project.

Yesterday, after a strong fight against it, I allowed the lure of a new project to take hold of me. I must say that the feeling is quite overwhelming and I can attest that the excitement of working on something new and fresh is what forces writers to stray from their current project. The writer has not stopped loving the old project; they just need a complete change of scenery. We do this all the time in everyday life. We change jobs when we start feeling bored and depressed with the old one. We seem to change partners at the drop of a hat these days. So why can’t a writer change projects too?

We spend many long months, even years, planning and writing a project (this is especially true when writing a series). Is it any wonder that we grow a little tired of the … well, same old, same old? To me, it’s not surprising at all. New ideas are always surfacing. We might write the idea down, but we will usually return to the job at hand. However, as the months tick by, the lure is more tempting and then…before we realise what’s happening, we have strayed.

Be warned, if you allow the lure to take you too often, then you will be one of the writers who openly admit to starting more stories than they finish. Do you want to fall into that category? I believe none of us do.

A serious writer will discipline themselves against the lure. They will set up guards to force the enemy back. They will build traps to stop the evilness from approaching their sanctuary. They will do whatever it takes to see their current project completed and submitted. That’s how a writer becomes an author. They submit completed manuscripts for publication, which is something you cannot do if you never finish a manuscript.

So, take this as a warning. The lure of a new project feels great. It’s exciting. It’s even inspiring and motivational. But if you give in to this weakness too often, you’ll never finish a project…and you’ll never become a published author.