Category Archives: writing and checking

Copy editing 3: ensuring consistency of story

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 the story.

One important tool for that is the timeline. Laying out actions step by step gives an overall view of the story. This can pick up on problems like six consecutive days at school, an activity on the wrong day of the week, an unreasonable amount of time for an event, or a split timeline where one strand passes two days while the second has only passed one.

Is there a pregnancy that lasts an unexpected amount of time? Is it snowing in the middle of summer? Is there time to make that journey in that way?

As well as the timeline, the editor will be picturing the action and checking it all makes sense. Who is attending this meeting? Who has been sent out, and to where? Who knew that information?

Again, errors can occur even in trad-published books – I know one where a character is sent off on an important errand, only to be joining in the conversation with the main group a few minutes later! Your reader might not notice, but if they do it will jolt them out of the story, and if that happens too often you’ve lost them completely.

If your work has been through a developmental editor, issues like theme, action, tension, balance of showing and telling etc should all have been sorted out, but if anything is still outstanding the copy editor should pick up on it and bring it to your attention.

So at the end of this round, is your book ready for publication?

Well, no. You will need to go through the edited manuscript, check you’re happy with amendments made by the editor, deal with any queries raised or problems that need to be solved, and make any further adjustments that have come to light. So the story should then be complete, but a few errors almost certainly remain, whether because the editor had so much to do that they couldn’t spot every single problem, or because between you adjustments haven’t been made perfectly. Track Changes can leave a document in a mess, and it can be easy to leave problems like incorrect spacing, or have some of your changes create a knock-on effect elsewhere.

So then it’s time for the formatting/proofreading stage.

Copy editing 2: ensuring consistency of characters and setting

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 characters and setting.

As well as the language itself, your copy editor will be checking the characters. Didn’t that blue-eyed character have brown eyes in the last chapter? Why is that only child talking about her brother? Why is that man arriving on his motorbike then driving two people home?

Is your character Isaac or Issac? Sheila or Shiela? Did you change someone’s name partway through the writing, only to miss one or two occurrences? or even change a character from male to female throughout, but still have them chatting with their male friends in the gents’ toilets?

If his defining characteristic is cowardice, why is he suddenly risking his life to stand up something trivial? If he’s known for his generosity, why is he not being generous this time, when it could be expected? How can he know that character’s name when they haven’t been introduced yet?

If the setting is a bungalow, why is someone walking upstairs? If the bathroom is on the left, why are they now turning right for it? If their garden was described as a perfectly laid out, formal garden, why is someone creeping through the long grass?

Has your town changed names halfway through the story? Is it a town in one chapter and a village in another? Are they travelling on cobblestones in the first half of the book, to have the paths revert to muddy tracks in the second half? Has town C suddenly shifted to being on the road between A and B, rather than beyond B?

Again, the style sheet is a vital tool for checking descriptions and situations and keeping everything straight, and can be passed forward to subsequent projects.

Copy editing 1: ensuring consistency of language

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!

What’s a fronted adverbial?

With many people having to support their children’s learning through homeschooling, I’m seeing many cries of “what’s a fronted adverbial, anyway?” There seems to be an underlying feeling of “If I don’t know what it is, why are they expecting my child to know?”

The simple answer is that it’s far easier to learn about something if you can name it. Can you imagine the problems with learning about that type of question where you don’t expect an answer but you’re asking it for the sake of moving an argument on, if you can’t refer to it as a rhetorical question?

Whether you remember, years down the line, what it’s called, or whether they start calling it something different, doesn’t really matter. The point is whether at the time of learning you can understand what you’re being asked to do if you’re asked to make your sentences more interesting by using fronted adverbials.

We do the same in fiction writing generally. We talk about point of view, or POV. We talk about 1st person or 3rd person. We discuss omniscient versus limited. We throw around terms like protagonist, antagonist, adverbs, imagery.

And it will be the same in any other activity that you look into – each has its specific terms, and use of those terms is a big step towards understanding what they are and how to use them. Naming something gives you power over it. It grants the ability to discuss it and focus on it.

So that fronted adverbial? It just means that instead of starting a sentence with the subject (John kicked the ball), you start with a word or phrase that describes the action that follows.

So you might get:

Early in the morning, John kicked the ball.

Angrily, John kicked the ball.

Unaware that it was directly in front of a glass window, John kicked the ball.

In this way, you can vary sentence structure. You wouldn’t want every sentence to start that way, but it’s one of many techniques available, and the more a child has at their disposal, the more interesting they can make their writing. It’s far easier for a teacher to teach the children the name of the structure, and then encourage them to use it, than to try to refer to it without a name.

What type of editor do I need?

One important question to establish the answer to early on is what level of editing your work needs. Do you need a developmental editor, who can help you work on the structure of your book? Do you need a copy editor, who will make sure it follows a style guide and reads consistently? Or are you at the final stage, where it’s just a proofread to check for remaining errors?

But another important question is what the editor specialises in. There are many different types of writing – fiction, which subdivides by genre; self-help books; technical books; academic writing, and many more. And each editor will have their strengths and weaknesses and preferred types of project.

Personally, I’m well-versed in issues such as plot development, story arcs, and point of view issues, but show me a list of citations and I’ll struggle. For other editors, who are used to working on highly academic or technical texts, fiction might be their weakness.

Each editor will have their usual language to work in, as well. Believe it or not, there are definite differences between UK English, American English and Australian English, for example, and while some editors might well work competently in more than one variety, others will prefer to work in the one most familiar to them, while some localisms might well be overlooked or misunderstood if your editor is not familiar with them.

So when you’re looking for an editor, remember to check what type of writing they are used to editing, or prefer to edit, and then you’re more likely to find your perfect match.

How can you improve your novel opening?

One effective way to strengthen your own writing is to look at other people’s writing. Read the opening of a novel, or preferably several. How do they introduce the character? What idea do they give you of the character’s wants and needs? What promise do they make in the opening?

Now look at your writing. What do we learn about your character and the world they are in? Do we learn what they are missing in life? What lie are they telling themselves in order to feel happy? What do they think they need?

How does the setting relate to the content? Do we get a real sense of place, or could the events be happening anywhere?

How far does the story progress in the opening? Does anything actually happen, or is it all about introducing your world and the characters?

Years ago, a story might have started with a long preamble, setting the scene and mood. These days, the fashion is far more to start with action, and then cut back a little and fill in background once the reader is engaged.

Likewise, older stories might well use omniscient voice, but more modern stories tend towards close third point of view, so that the reader can really identify with your character and empathise with them.

Get into the habit of active reading – not just reading to enjoy the story, but to pull apart the storycraft and writing. What can you learn from any book that you can carry back to your own work? What pitfalls can you see and therefore avoid?

Using Track Changes in Word

When working with an editor, it’s very likely you’ll need to be able to use the Track Changes feature in Word. This feature allows you to see what changes the editor suggests/recommends, and to accept or reject them individually or in bulk.

Text where changes are tracked can look messy. Any changes are marked (usually but not always in red), with either underlining for added text or strikethrough for deleted text. If two people have worked on a document, the changes will be colour-coded for each person.

There may be other changes that aren’t immediately visible apart from the presence of the line on the left, such as paragraph endings added or removed. To see these, try turning on the invisible marks.

The easiest way to see the clean, edited version of the text is to select No Markup on the Track Changes toolbar, where in this example it says All Markup. This will display the text as though all changes have been accepted.

Use Previous and Next to step through the changes without taking action.

Accept and Reject will take action on the change under the cursor and move the cursor to the next action. If you’d rather see the effect of the action before moving on, then use the dropdown arrow underneath to take action but not move on.

Another action from the dropdown is Accept all Changes and Stop Tracking. Use this if you’re happy with all the changes suggested and want to accept them en bloc.

Be careful – Find and Replace won’t work properly if a word has changes tracked within it. For this reason, editors will often replace an entire word rather than changing one letter within it.

The page layout can also be affected by changes being tracked – for example, natural page breaks will move around.

If in doubt, save a new copy of your document before using the Accept All option. You can then compare versions if you need to.

Some editors may lock the document so you can’t make accept/reject or turn off tracking, especially if they need to do further passes. It’s important that they are aware of any changes made, so they can double-check they’ve been made properly. It’s very easy for spaces to creep in or disappear between words, for example! If you make changes to the edited document without tracking them, your editor might need to check the whole document again, incurring extra time and expense.

Once all changes have been accepted or rejected, it’s a good idea to have a proofreader cast a final eye over your text. This is best done once the text is typeset, as they can then check for layout issues as well.

Rein or Reign?

These two words are often confused. Rein is related to horses. Reign is related to kings and queens.

So where does the confusion lie?

In a phrase like reining in – he reined in his activities because he was exhausted – reining in refers to holding the horse back, restricting its movement.

In a phrase like free rein – he was given free rein to organise the office as he wished – free rein refers to slackening off the horse’s rein so that it can move more freely.

But confusion can arise when you consider that being given free reign could also refer to being free as the ruler to do what you want.

So consider whether you are talking about rein as in a horse-related metaphor or as in a king-related metaphor. There are places where either would be suitable, but there are definitely places when only the horse one makes sense!

Scrivener project targets

With nanowrimo coming up fast, it’s useful to know how to use the targets option in Scrivener. Please note: these instructions are for the PC version, but the process should be similar in Mac version.

To add the project targets option to your toolbar, click on Tools>Customise toolbar.

 

Choose the Main Toolbar as the destination, find the project targets button in the list on the left, and then click the right arrow to move it into the list. You can move it up or down to get it exactly where you want it.

 

If you don’t want the button on your toolbar, then it can be accessed at any time Under Project>Project targets.

 

The project target window looks like this – set up your draft target for the total number of words you’re aiming for overall. Tick the box for documents included in compile only if you don’t want to include any project notes you add.

 

The session target will count the number of words you add in any session – the session ends when you shut the file down. So if you jump from scene to scene, this will keep tally for you.

 

There’s also a document target. Click on the little circle on the bottom right of the window, and you’ll get the option to set a target for that specific scene, or document.

 

Once you’ve set up your targets, you’re ready to go!

 

 

 

The different types of publishing

Traditional Publishing

A traditional publisher will choose to invest in your work. They will help you to edit and polish your manuscript, organise a cover design and publish the book. They might or might not pay you an advance – a lump sum. Once the book’s royalties earn out that advance (if it ever does), you will receive royalties on sales, but the publisher will take their cut as well. They will almost certainly do some marketing, although they will still expect the author, especially if a first-time author, to do plenty of marketing of their own. They will be very fussy about who they take on – their goal is to run an efficient business. The biggest publishers will only accept work submitted by an agent, not work submitted directly from the author. The advantage of traditional publishing is the power of the publisher to promote the book and get it into bookstores.

Be aware:

If going with a traditional publisher, be aware of their reputation. How much marketing do they do? What quality editing do they provide? What is their quality control like? How fussy are they about who they pick up as an author? The main danger is signing your rights over to a publisher who does very little for you. Using an agent might help with this, but the agent will take a cut as well for the privilege.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has a bad reputation, but it has its place.  With vanity publishing, you pay the publisher to prepare and print copies of your book. Ideal for those with plenty of money, limited time and the wish to produce a one-off pet project, they are less than ideal for those actually seeking to earn through their writing, as they make their money from their writers and not for their writers. They might charge high prices for their services, and marketing may well be minimal or non-existent. They will probably take a large chunk of any royalties as well. The advantage of vanity publishing is the convenience.

Be aware:

The main danger is paying a large amount of money for services that at best you could have obtained cheaper elsewhere and at worst are poor quality as well.

Self Publishing*

With the ease of publishing these days, some people will finish a draft and immediately publish it, particularly as an ebook, with no quality control and with a cover design that marks the work out as amateur. Unfortunately, these tend to make little money and damage the reputation of ebooks generally, as well as producing a raft of scathing reviews that hurt the author. The advantage of self publishing is that it’s quick, easy and free.

Be aware:

It’s important not to rush a project out with no quality control, damaging your reputation as a writer. All the best-selling authors will have gone through a rigorous editing and proofreading, and professional cover design. That’s what your writing has to compete with if you’re trying to sell it.

Indie Publishing (Independent Publishing)*

An Indie publisher will also publish their own work, but will treat the whole thing as a business, investing in their writing via editing, proofreading, formatting and a professional cover. There are many writers who have chosen to publish independently after being traditionally published. There are some examples (but nowhere near as many) of writers going the other way – of being picked up by a trad publisher after publishing their own work. The advantage of Indie publishing is that the author maintains full control over the project and the end result.

Be aware:

You will need to act as a professional, investigating different editors, finding a cover designer who produces quality covers, and mastering marketing and other ancillary skills. An Indie publisher is a business person, handling all aspects of the publishing trade. It is hard work, but can also be very rewarding. An indie author does not do everything themselves, but engages other professionals to handle aspects of the publishing process, ensuring that each section is handled by someone who understands the job and can do their best for the project.

*Please note:

Not everyone makes the same distinction in terminology between self-publishers and indie publishers. The difference is in the attitude of the author, not in the term itself, but I find the distinction a useful one.