Monday, January 13, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 5

Since this little editing series is clearly getting away from me, I'm just going to make these links to the previous entries a permanent fixture in the beginning of each one.  Yay for easy access!

Part 1:  Look it up!  

Part 2:  Read it out loud.  

Part 3:  Have someone who knows what they're doing read it.  

Part 4:  Consistency, consistency, consistency!

And now, introducing...

5) Dialogue're NOT it!

Have I mentioned I love puns?


A dialogue tag is a little verb that assigns speech to a character.  Here's a great article on them that's definitely worth the read, but I'm going to go over them in general terms.  I will also assume that whoever is reading this is reasonably skilled at writing and is now in the editing process.  This is, after all, an editing tips post, and I'm assuming that we're working with a finished manuscript and it's being edited and cleaned up.  I'm a big proponent of writing what comes out of your head and cleaning up your manuscript later.  Sometimes it's worth it to get those beautiful words down and make them shine afterwards.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with using dialogue tags (DTs), the two most common problems I encounter with them (as en editor) are:

1) Overuse
2) Redundancy

Let me explain what I mean by these things, and I think I'll do that best with an example.  I'm going to write a short scene between two characters, and then I'll critique it for you.

"I have a confession to make," whispered Kara as she leaned closer to Mary.  "I love watching cat videos on the Internet."

"Really?" asked Mary, frowning.  "What kind?"

"Any kind," confessed Kara, covering her face with her hands. "Maru. Grumpy Cat. Cats with string. Cats in boxes. Cats playing with laser pointers. It's gotten out of control!" she wailed.  

"Don't worry," Mary told her with a smile. "I watch them all too. So let's find some free WiFi and we can watch some together."

Okay.  Let me address the issue of "overuse" first.  A writer will often use DTs to help designate who is speaking, especially if there are more than two characters having a conversation.  And that's fine.  However, in the editing process, it's worth a look to see when (or even if) it's ever confusing for the reader to figure out who is speaking.  This may be a case for my Part Three post where you get another set of eyes on it, but an author should be able to do this reasonably well on their own.  Also, if paired with an action the speaking character is doing, a DT isn't really necessary.  And unnecessary DTs drag down the pace of your manuscript, especially in action scenes.  Don't get bogged down with them.

Redundancy.  Most often, TDs are rendered redundant by the actions of the characters or other punctuation the author decides to use.  The first DT I used above is "whispered", and while I'm a big fan of using specifically descriptive DTs (example: "whispered" instead of "said quietly"), this one isn't needed at all.  It's clear from the scene that Kara is speaking quietly...people don't usually shout a confession.  "Asked" was the second one, made redundant by the question mark at the end.  It's obvious Mary is asking something, and there's no character confusion here about who is speaking.  "Confessed" is the third, and again, it's obvious Kara is confessing to Mary about her cat video-watching obsession.  Not needed, AND it's too specific.  When you use dialogue tags, it's best to stick with the tried and true simple ones: said, asked, and similar ones.  Let your characters' actions do the talking.  Don't get over-flowery or you risk coming across as a writing amateur.  The same thing with "wailed."  It's pretty specific, and Kara's anguish comes across with her actions and the exclamation point at the end (which are fine to use sparingly).  "Told" is the last one, and just not necessary.  Once again, it's obvious who the speaker is when paired with the action.

Now here is the exact same scene, but with NO dialogue tags at all.  See the difference?

"I have a confession to make."  Kara leaned closer to Mary.  "I love watching cat videos on the Internet."

"Really?" Mary frowned. "What kind?"

"Any kind." Kara covered her face with her hands. "Maru. Grumpy Cat. Cats with string.  Cats in boxes.  Cats playing with laser pointers.  It's gotten out of control!"

"Don't worry." Mary smiled at Kara.  "I watch them all too. So let's find some free WiFi and we can watch some together."

The message of the scene is clear, and the actions speak loudly for themselves.  There is no confusion about who is speaking.  Could a writer use dialogue tags here?  Sure.  But sparingly.  Sprinkle them in your manuscript, don't shovel them.

What's your take on dialogue tags?  Love them?  Hate them?  Avoid them like the plague?  How about cat videos?  Do you like those as much as Kara?

Here are pictures of Maru and Grumpy Cat for good measure.  Because cats.

Maru in a box, like usual.

I hope you all are finding these editing tips and things to watch out for to be helpful!

xoxo Sarah

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 4

Whoa! Someone's on a blogging roll now!

Part 1 of this series of entries on how to do a great job of editing your manuscript to ready it for publication (self-pub or traditional publishing, makes no matter to me), discussed looking up things you don't know, or verifying information.

Part 2 was all about looking like a crazy person (hey, if you're a writer, you already hear voices in your head...) and reading your work out loud to yourself to catch errors, especially in dialogue.

Part 3 went over having someone who really knows what they're doing look your manuscript over.

And part 4 is about...

4)  Consistency, consistency, consistency!

Um, okay, but what the heck does that even mean?

One way to interpret that is to write consistently (a bit every day) and edit consistently as well.  And that's awesome advice, but that's not how I mean it.

Because this series is about editing, I'm begging you to use versions of words consistently.

For example, have you ever written "pony tail" to describe a woman's hairstyle?  Or maybe you wrote it as "ponytail" instead?  How about "no one" or "no-one"?  Do you write "OK" or "okay"?  Or maybe "Goddamn" or "goddam" or "God damn" or any of the other countless variations?  And did you write these words multiple times in your manuscript?  Probably yes, right?  Do you see my point?

Most of the time it doesn't matter how you write them (though some of these definitely have spellings that are more accepted than others) but you need to write these words the same each time you use them.  They can be tough to catch, and are often caught in the later stages of editing when your manuscript is (mostly) done, but it's worth paying attention to.

When I'm editing a manuscript, be it my own or someone else's, and I come across one of these, I'll do a global search for them.  I can hear you asking how you do that.  It's pretty simple.  In your Word doc, click "find" in the upper right of your "home" screen (or try "CTRL F") and type in the word you want to find. You'll be able to tab through each instance of the word.  Then do a search for the other variations of the word.  Didn't find any?  Good.  You've been writing it consistently.  Found some?  That's okay!  Just pick which one you want to use (or whichever one is "accepted" or "correct") and change them all to that one.

What it's like when you find the one time you spelled something differently, but less cute.

Why is this important?  After all, it reads the same whether you write "ponytail" or "pony tail", right?  Because it's about the integrity of your manuscript.  You want it to be all clean and matching and, whether you notice it or not, if you're not consistent in your wording, it'll come across like you didn't care about how polished your manuscript was.  Like you didn't bother to read it over before you sent it in.  And that can matter when you're querying agents or publishers or, if you're self-pubbing, it can matter if you want readers to return to your online outlets and buy and read more of your work.  I don't like to return to stores that look like they don't care (unless I absolutely have no choice), so why would I return to an author who doesn't either?

What your manuscript will bring to mind if it's not cleaned up.

I've done it too.  When I was starting Fate's Awakening, I didn't really pay attention and I ended up writing both "soul mate" and "soulmate".  Microsoft Word didn't seem to care either way, but I did, and I changed them all to the two word version for consistency's sake.

Don't like the idea of having to comb through your manuscript for these words?  When you're starting a new story, make note of which version of the word you're using, and reference that when you go to write it.

What are your thoughts on consistency in your wording?  Do you have a particular method of catching these "oopses"?  Tell me your strategy!

xoxo Sarah

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 3

To recap, the first tip for doing a good job on editing your own manuscript encouraged you lovely writers to look it up.  The second one wanted you to read your manuscript out loud to yourself.

Onward to the third one!

3) Have someone who knows what they're doing read it.

And by that, I mean a professional editor, or a beta reader, or a critique group in your local writer's association, or some form of one of these things.

I can't tell you the number of times I (and my fellow editors...yes, we talk about this stuff) have heard some variation of:  "Thanks, but I can't afford [your services] right now, so I'll have my friend who's an English major/English teacher/blogger friend/sister in high school who gets straight A's in English/etc. read it over for me. That's pretty much the same thing as what you do, right?"

There's a reason we charge what we do, and that's because we know what to look for in a manuscript.  Depending on the service you're paying for, we can help you with plot/character/writing style critique, grammar/spelling/punctuation issues--the list goes on.  You get what you pay for, and always ask for references.

Other ways to get good feedback are to take writing workshops.  Often there will be critique involved during the "classes" (even the online ones), and you'll get to work and study with other authors who write in your genre.  Sometimes there's a bonus for signing up for one, like the instructor will critique your first three chapters or first thirty pages or something along those lines.

On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to be able to trade services with someone who is familiar with these things, great!  That's a win/win.  You get a chance to learn and work with someone else who can help you as well.  It's much easier to find errors and patterns in another person's work, because you're not constantly reading it and immersed in it.  I've learned so much from editing others' manuscripts that I can apply to my own writing.  Editing has literally made me a better writer.

Otherwise, good luck with asking for help from your English major cousin who posts things like this on Facebook:

Keep in mind that it's awesome to have pre-readers of any kind.  They can give you valuable feedback on whether your manuscript is boring, if it drags in parts, whether your action sequences are exciting enough, if your sci-fi aliens are plausible, etc.  And that's all good stuff.  But they, in no way, should substitute for a quality editing job.

How would I know this is important?  Because a professional editor looked over the first fifty pages of my manuscript (I'd taken a workshop with her and this was a "bonus" for signing up for it), and immediately pointed out that I used the word "some" far too much.  She'd even highlighted every time I'd used it...and WHOA.  There were too many yellow words in my manuscript for my liking.  Did I really use "some" that much?  Apparently.  I was shocked, but it was something I'd never caught in all my read-throughs.  Why?  Because of author blindness, plain and simple.  She brought many other things to my attention as well that helped me immensely with my manuscript, but this one really made me realize that author blindness is a real thing, alive and well.

Let me tell you a little story to illustrate the cumulative importance of all of these editing posts.  I was at a book fair with my publisher last year.  I even had a sweet little badge that said "editor" on it, which was simultaneously exciting and terrifying.  Keep in mind that I am no way in charge of accepting/rejecting manuscripts.  That's for our acquisitions department.  This event was more for industry professionals and networking than for authors, but there were a few writer workshops going on and a bunch of authors were making the rounds at the (many) publishing booths.  Once in a while one of them would stop by our booth, all nervous and excited and, after they found out what we published, would hand us a synopsis of their manuscript and their contact information.  We'd always politely thank them and take the synopsis no matter what.

During some down time we started to read through some of the synopses, and I was shocked at how many of them had glaring problems.  Not wonky formatting or anything like that, but spelling errors, run-on sentences, grammar issues, you name it.  I literally couldn't make myself finish reading some of them (and keep in mind that a synopsis is short--typically 1-3 pages).  And this is the piece that they're handing to publishers in hopes that someone will fall in love with their story--likely something they've been slaving over for a long time--and want to put it out into the world.  Out of the few I read, I probably wouldn't have requested any of the manuscripts based on the errors in the synopses alone.  Think about it--if this piece is their selling point, what condition is the actual manuscript in?  I'd never want to subject an editor to that kind of a job.

You never want to put someone off your work before they've even actually read it, plain and simple.

Have you worked with a professional editor before?  Do you trade critique services with someone?  Is there a point I missed that's good editing advice?  I may address it in another entry.

Tell me your editing strategy!

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 2

So my first tip in this series was to look things up if you don't know them.  Seems intuitive enough, right?  Well, my second tip for effectively editing your own work might not be as obvious...

2)  Read it out loud.

I mean exactly what this your work out loud to yourself.  Or you can read it out loud to some lucky person you've suckered into listening.  Doesn't really matter.  Just make sure you read it--ALL of it--out loud.  Slowly.

Why do this, you ask?  Won't this take forever?

Yes, it can.  But reading your manuscript aloud to yourself can help you find errors, particularly of the kind that result in wonky-sounding sentences, that you wouldn't find otherwise.  Trust me on this.  Something about hearing it for real rather than in your head makes you process the words in a different way.  If it sounds strange out loud, it sounds strange on paper and you can fix it.  This is especially effective with dialogue--if it doesn't sound natural (or sounds like something George Lucas would write) when it leaves your own lips, think how wooden and clunky it's going to sound in the reader's head.

George, we must work on that dialogue.  Try reading it aloud first, okay?
I know, I know.  You have questions...

"Can I read it in my head-voice that sounds like Morgan Freeman?"

No.  It has to be aloud.  You need to hear the words with your real ears.  But if you can get Morgan Freeman to read it to you, that would also work.

"Can I just mouth the words so I don't sound like a crazy person talking to themselves?"

Again, you need to hear the words you've written for this to be of any help to you.  Otherwise you'll have just spent hours mouthing and/or silently reading your own manuscript over again and won't have had any of the extra benefit from this exercise to you or your work.  Any read-through is helpful, but out loud is especially so.

"Okay, then.  Can I read it out loud to my cat/dog/invisible friend/life-size cut-out of Thor?"

Yes. This you can do. Though if any of these things start talking back to you, you may want to take a break for a little while.  Just sayin'.

"Thor, why is this ignorant mortal
reading us her
pathetic romance novel?"
"Brother, I promised that
we would silently listen.
Behave yourself or you're getting the muzzle again."

Sorry.  That got away from me for a second.

Another way to go about this is to have someone else (like the above-mentioned Morgan Freeman) read your work to you.  It will accomplish the same thing, though you might have less control over the pace and how things sound.  Recently I tried reading a paper out loud while the author was in the room. It was obviously a very early first draft because he actually got annoyed with me while I verbally stumbled over his wording.  I then very nicely suggested that he read it aloud to himself in order to fix the wonkiness before having me look at it again.

Have you tried reading your work out loud?  Did you find it helpful?

Until part #3...

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 1

In this new year, I'd like to do more to help my fellow writers.  I've always been inspired by the lovely Susan Kaye Quinn, who has always been so open to assisting other authors who ask for it.  She even compiled a new ebook that combines a series of blog entries (along with new material) to help folks make up their mind whether they want to self-publish or not, and how to do just that.

But what to help other authors with, exactly?  What skill set do I have that I can use for the greater good?

Well, I'm an editor.  A real-life professional one.  So we'll start there.  I'll give a few credentials to start...I'm contracted with a mid-size publisher to edit with them. I do free-lance editing, as well as critiquing in various forms for people.  I've also been part of a team that accepts/rejects online submissions to an online story archive.  So I've been editing in some form or another since 2008.  This ain't my first rodeo.

So, editing...  One of the hardest things to do is edit your own manuscript--or really your own work in general--because of author bias.  We (as authors) are naturally blind to certain things, and have read our own work over so many times that we don't even catch things like missing words.  Feel free to laugh...I've done that myself.  But we're obviously forced to do some editing before anyone who belongs to the publishing industry powers-that-be (an agent or acquisitions editor, for example) sees our work.  It needs to be in excellent shape to be considered for publication, though it is understood that it'll have to go through further editing during the publication process if it's lucky enough to get that far.  But you want to give your manuscript the best chance possible, right?

But then how do authors get their own work in shape to go out into the world? That's where I come in.  These tips are in no particular order, and are a guide to those of you who want to do a good job at self-editing (and good editing ideas in general) before you start querying or officially self-publish your book on Amazon or Smashwords or wherever you're doing it.  Especially with self-publishing, a quality product will translate into higher sales.  Readers have high standards, so strive to meet them.

I'm even going to split this into multiple parts, because I got a bit carried away and this entry became far more detailed than I'd expected.

So onward to the first point...

1)  Look it up.

This may seem intuitive, but we all make common writing errors.  All of us.  No one is immune.  Let me repeat that: NO ONE IS IMMUNE, even you, Super Writer.  So if you're using one of the many commonly misused words, or like to use (or abuse) semi-colons, look it up to make sure you're using them correctly, even if you're pretty sure you are.

Where do I find this information?  Well, when I edit, I reference the incredibly clunky Chicago Manual of Style.  But it's not user-friendly, even for those of us who know what section we're looking for.  Honestly, for most grammar issues, I use Painless Grammar.  The examples in it are easy to understand, and none of it is overly complicated.  However, there are countless grammar books like that one, so find one that works best for you.  And there's always Google, though I'd be more careful with that, unless you're one of those people who trusts everything they read on the interwebs.

"But," you may ask, "don't most manuscripts you see already have this kind of stuff ironed out?"  Well, no.  They don't.  And sometimes I want to put the Cone of Shame on an author.

When I edit a manuscript and return the work to the author, I always include a list of repeated issues I've come across.  By that point I've spent hours--sometimes it cumulatively adds up to days--reading their work over and over, and I feel it's partly my job to point these things out because it can help the author learn and they'll be less likely to repeat these things in future manuscripts.  It makes less work for me (or whoever the editor is who's editing their new work) and the author learns something valuable.  It's a win/win.  In one recent manuscript I had, the author constantly confused further/farther, and I had to do a global search in the document for both words to make sure the correct one was used (or fix it if it was incorrect).  So I made sure to let her know about that when I returned it to her.  This is something that would have easily been fixed by the author taking a few minutes to check which word would have been appropriate.

And before you ask, yes, I do it too. Even with as long as I've been editing, one thing that still trips me up is affect/effect and every damn time I write one of them I have to make sure I'm using the correct one.

What's your favorite reference to use when writing?  Internet?  A particular book?

Point #2 is coming up shortly, so stay tuned!

xoxo Sarah