An editor will ensure your writing is grammatically correct, and that punctuation is used accurately, but what else will they do? In this series of posts I’ll be exploring other aspects of the copy editing stage.
The key to a copy editor’s job is ensuring consistency in the writing itself, in the characters and settings portrayed and in the story/piece of writing as a whole. Here I explore what’s meant by consistency of language.
You might think that your writing is consistent, but have you really analysed it?
Some spellings and versions of a word are style issues rather than actual errors. Are you sticking to one version of halfway, half way, half-way, or mixing and matching? Do you use sir or Sir? Is it a rear view mirror, a rear-view mirror or a rearview mirror? Is it the US, the United States or America?
Are you using tenses consistently, or are you mixing up present and past? In writing we tend to use past tense when telling a story, while in spoken language we tend to use present tense: “so I tell him no, and he says…”, so it is easy to get carried away and slip into present tense when a story gets exciting.
Are you using your pronouns consistently? We might talk about “you” or “they” or “it” when discussing some things, so again it’s all too easy to mix them up, with one paragraph talking about what “it” does and the next discussing “them”.
This style sheet can be passed forward to other projects as well, to ensure consistency between as well as within. This helps to avoid mistakes like the shocking one I found in a trad published sci-fi series from a famous author, where in book 1 the author invented a new term that was essential to the plot, making the meaning clear through the story, while in book 2 the spelling had been altered to a familiar word that completely lost its meaning in the story!*
These are just some of the issues around language that your copy editor will look at, building and using a style sheet to monitor decisions made, and then checking that the decision has been applied consistently throughout the work.
*The series is set in a world where everyone lives in space, one family per ship. To avoid issues like inbreeding, it’s the custom to zog a bride from a different ship. In book 2, they were suddenly talking about snogging brides!