How to Tighten Your Manuscript

writingI learned a new term recently: “Pleonasms.”

A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, “John walked to the chair and sat down.” Down is a pleonasm and can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Although I was not familiar with the term, I did know them when I saw them. In fact, part of my editing advice revolves around deleting extraneous words. Words such as “that,” “very,” “both,” “just,” and “there was.” Others might include “began,” “started,” or “continued.”

I also caution to watch use of “ly” words. These words are often used to prop up weak verbs. For example: “She walked quickly” can be stronger if written “She strode” (or bounded or rushed). Likewise with the “to be” verbs (was, were, had been, etc.) especially when used with an “ing” verb. “She was walking” is better as “She walked.”

Some authors like to use taglines (he said, she said) plus an action: …she said, taking a sip of coffee. The simple action is sufficient: She took a sip of coffee.

You also don’t need to describe two actions at once: She nodded and smiled. Or: He puffed himself up and took a swig...

NO symbolA writer friend of mine is looking at every sentence in her manuscript and challenging herself to remove at least one word from each. She cut 14,000 words from a 400-page manuscript.

I challenge you to go one step farther, see if you can delete an entire phrase from a sentence, an entire sentence from a paragraph, a paragraph from a scene. Exterminate those “Pesky Pleonasms.”

Sink, Sank, Sunk–Which do You Use?

I’ve been noticing more and more use of words like “sunk” as the simple past tense, by authors and even in newspaper writing. For example: I sunk into the easy chair.

Here are some other examples: I’ve heard people say I seen it, when they should say I saw it. Or they will use the past tense instead of the correct past participle: We could have went to the movie.

My editor’s hackles go up!

The simple past tense of “sink” is “sank.” The word “sunk” is used as the past participle (or past perfect) and always requires the “helper” word “has” or “had.”

Sinking shipSink: I sink the ship today.

I sank the ship yesterday.

I have sunk the ship many times.

 

See: I see it today.

I saw it yesterday.

I have seen it many times before.

 

Go: I go to the movie (or I’m going to the movie today).

I went to the movie yesterday.

I have gone to the movies many times.

Studying_4

I remember memorizing many of these verb forms when I was in grade school. Maybe they don’t teach that anymore?

Don’t even get me started on “snuck.” (A blog for another time!)

Published in: on June 2, 2017 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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National Punctuation Day

PINOLE, CA — Want to be recognized by your peers as the literary genius you are? Then enter this year’s National Punctuation Day contest — the Punctuation Paragraph Contest — and your masterpiece of prose will evaluated by an esteemed panel of judges following the September 24 celebration of the annual holiday that encourages worldwide literacy.

Entries will be accepted at Jeff@NationalPunctuationDay.com through September 30.

What is Editing?

There are several different types of editing:  For example I was the editor of the Women Writing the West catalog for three years. And basically what I did, was to organize all the information and prepare it for the designer and printer. I didn’t do much if any, changing of the copy that came in from the authors.

When working on someone’s manuscript, you have basically two types involved: line editing (copy editing) and conceptual (or substantive) editing.

Line editing: making changes on a sentence-to-sentence level. Taking a look at grammar, style, sentence structure, typos, punctuation. (I can hardly read a manuscript without marking commas)

Conceptual editing looks at the overall book to see what’s missing, what scenes can be intensified, and what sort of story-level changes could be made to strengthen a work.

Making a work better and stronger isn’t just about fixing the things that don’t work – it’s about strengthening the best parts as well. My job as editor is to think along with you, the writer, and help make your writing more effective.

A few things for writers to remember:

The better you are, the more criticism you’re likely to get. If your work sucks, it doesn’t take a lot of detail to tell you so. On the other hand, if you’re a terrific writer there may be lots of subtle improvements you’re capable of pulling off.

If lots of people don’t get what you’re doing, it’s you. If one person doesn’t understand what you’re trying to pull off, then maybe it’s that person, but if you get the same criticism repeatedly, then you’re not getting your point across. If you have to explain the joke before people get it, it’s not funny.

Don’t make corrections blindly. If you really feel that the editor doesn’t get what you’re trying to do, don’t jump in and make all the corrections anyway. Even when writer and editor are on the same page, you’ll probably only make about 50% of the editor’s suggestions. (Although you’ll address all of them, accomplishing some in different ways and deciding that others don’t actually help.)

Often the purpose of conceptual edits is to make you think about how a scene works and point out ways to make it stronger; it doesn’t mean you won’t find a better way to address those weaknesses than the ones I suggest. Just approach them with an open mind.

My favorite quote is from Ernest Hemingway: “There are no great writers, only great re-writers.”

10 Things You Might Not Know About Punctuation

There was big news on the punctuation front a few weeks ago: an unfounded rumor that the Oxford University Press was getting rid of the “serial comma.” That’s the final comma in a series, as used in most books but few newspapers. (The Tribune would write “blood, sweat and tears.”Most books would write “blood, sweat, and tears.”) If the uproar confounds you, read this article in the Chicago Tribune by Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer.

Why Do You Need an Editor?

Nabokov said, “My pencils outlast my erasers.”

Writing well means trial and error and learning to master the craft. And that’s an on-going journey. I keep learning new things every year. You’re never “there.” You’re never perfect. And sometimes I think the more I learn, the less I know.

I once read of a famous writer of the past who would simply scribble out his manuscripts on whatever paper surface he might have at hand, give the pile to his editor at the publishing house, and that person made everything come together for lasting, classic fiction works.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Or if it does, it’s rare. As you probably know, publishing houses are now big conglomerates, with the “bean counters” more in charge than the “pencil pushers.” And the editors at these houses are usually underpaid and overworked. I had a young college-age friend who interned at a New York publisher one summer in recent years. She and other interns were in charge of wading through the slush piles. The job was daunting. She (and the interns—mostly volunteer) sent out the rejection form letters. She said there was even a room filled with agented manuscripts, some that had been there as long as a year.

It’s a discouraging picture. And I’m not telling you this to discourage you, but rather to EN-courage you. What this means is that these interns/editors—or whoever might read your manuscript—are looking for any reason to reject it, just to get through that pile faster. You have to be able to overcome those reasons.

So if they aren’t totally engrossed by your first line, first paragraph, or first page, chances are they won’t read any further. If they see typos, spelling errors, bad grammar—chuck it. Strange-looking fonts or lavender-colored paper—it’s out (they read so many, please spare their failing eyesight!) Formatting errors (single instead of double-spaced), no headers, chapters that begin at the top of the page instead of 1/3 down. Seemingly minor things, but…

This is where hiring an independent editor can help. And this is especially true if you are planning to self-publish. I don’t know about you, but after I’ve worked on a manuscript for weeks, months, even years, I become so close to the work that I cannot look at it objectively anymore. You probably know too, that your eye will see a misspelled word or a typo and your brain registers the word that it’s supposed to be.

From the Associated Press, a reminder to always check this word if editing “public” documents:

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. – Ottawa County will pay about $40,000 to correct an embarrassing typo on its Nov. 7 election ballot: The “L” was left out of “public.”

A total of 170,000 ballots will have to be reprinted. The mistake appeared in the text of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban some types of affirmative action.

The word “public” was misspelled one of the six times it appears, county Clerk Daniel C. Krueger said Tuesday. Five or six people in his office had proofread the ballot, but it was an election clerk who found the mistake early last week.

“It’s just one of those words,” Krueger said. “Even after we told people it was in there, they still read over it.”

In the Seattle Times, a story about a new ramp at the ferry terminal explained that it was operated by a “system of wenches.”

And a headline on Google news: “Don Imus says he’s battling stage two prostrate cancer.”

So another pair of eyes can be most helpful. if you want to learn and grow and hopefully be published, you really want someone who is going to tell you the things you need to work on, to make your work stronger, to stand out.

The independent editor will be your friend as a writer – in the way that we all have one friend who tells us things we don’t want to hear and calls us on it when we’re not making sense. You know, the annoying friend. Your editor.

© Heidi M. Thomas

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 5:33 am  Comments (4)  
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If You Can Talk, You Can Write Dialogue, Right?

Dialogue is two or more characters talking to each other. Should be easy, shouldn’t it? Well, maybe not.

Here’s what dialogue is:

  • Talk is an ACTION. An ideal, compact way to advance your story by having one character tell the other what’s happening—to reveal, admit, incite, accuse, lie, etc. It can speed up a scene.
  • A way to define a character. The way someone speaks—accent, vocabulary, idiom, inflection—tells as much about what he is like as his actions do. And let’s us see him better than just using description. It can also reveal motive.
  • One way to show emotion and set a mood. Characters reveal themselves when under stress or angry. Dialogue is used to create an emotional effect in the reader.
  • Another way to show Point of View (POV).
  • Often used to get across what is NOT said. Example, if you want to show that someone wants to avoid an unpleasant encounter, you can show this by having them talk around the subject uppermost in their mind, but never quite touch it. In this way, you’re asking the reader to read between the lines. It’s tricky, but think about how you talk to someone yourself when you’re angry at them but don’t want to tell them exactly why—by being sarcastic, arch, nitpicky, oversolicitous, etc.
  • To intensify conflict. Dialogue is often adversarial or confrontational.

Dialogue should be natural, but never the way we really talk.

Example:

The minute the phone rang, Patty snatched the receiver, grateful for a distraction—any distraction. “Hello,” she said.

“Hey, Pat. It’s me, Cara.”

“Oh, hi. How are you?”

“Good,” replied Cara. “How about you?”

“Okay. What’re you up to?”

“Ah…you know,” said Cara. “Not much.”

“Yeah. Not much new on this end, either. I brought home a ton of case files to read.”

“Same here. We need a shift lieutenant who knows what a shift is.”

“You got that right,” Pat agreed. “But I almost wish we were still at the station. Maybe we could get some buzz on the new detective, that Ross. Supposedly he’s an investigative whiz.”

“Maybe not,” said Cara. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “He’s why I’m calling. Roger, the guy in records? He told me Ross comes with a lot of baggage—maybe even a criminal record.”

“Say what? That can’t be possible.”

Make sure your characters have something worth saying before they open their mouths, and get to the point quickly. What did Patty learn from Cara that moves the story along or tells us something critical about one or both characters?

Example rewrite:

The minute the phone rang, Patty snatched the receiver, grateful for a distraction from the case files she’d lugged home from the station.

Cara was on the other end. She said a fast hello, then dropped her voice to a whisper. “You lay eyes on that new detective yet? Ross?”

“Sure,” said Pat. “Supposedly he’s some kind of investigative whiz.”

“Maybe not. Roger, the guy in records? He told me Ross comes with a lot of baggage—maybe even a criminal record.”

“Say what? That can’t be possible.”

We’ve cut the conversation down from 17 lines to 8 and made it much more exciting. We know, without a lot of chit-chat, that she’s brought home extra work. Cara cuts right to the chase with her tidbit of gossip.

Next time, I’ll write about some of the common mistakes we all make in dialogue.

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 5:12 am  Comments (3)  
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