C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

A Quick Top Ten: Make revisions painless

Books in progress litter my desk. As I revise manuscripts, there are certain words I watch for. When I see them I ask, “Who cares and who needs it?”

Here are some of those watch words and cautions:

1. Sentences that begin with “And…” (It’s not that it’s wrong or bad, but it’s often not necessary.)

2. Sentences that begin with “And then…” Sentences are sequences and usually work without this tip to the reader.

3. He felt, she heard, he sensed, she saw… Just describe the scene. Not “She saw a crocodile rise from the swamp.” Instead, “A crocodile rose from the swamp.”

4. Was. This crops up a lot in most writers’ first drafts. “She was fighting,” becomes “she fought.”

Gerunds are passive and they are not our friends, especially when overused. I don’t use adverbs much, though I don’t ban them. It’s a novel, not a telegram. Besides, I’m suggesting crafty guidelines here, not edicts about what not to do.

5. Look out for: just, own, up, down, so, it. These are words that we add to sentences that sometimes fail to add meaning. 

Just surfaces a lot. We can often do without “just.” Or we might use only or merely. 

“He sat down in the chair,” becomes “He sat in the chair.”

“So, he murdered the butler,” becomes “He murdered the butler.”

“Their own boat,” becomes “Their boat.”

“It” often replaces the noun you should probably use. “It’s up to you,” could be, “This caper is up to you,” or “The fate of guinea pigs everywhere is up to you.” See how it’s better? I mean, see how specificity improves clarity?

6. Careful of exclamation points that hype excitement that does not exist.

7. Semi-colons have fallen so far out of use that they now stop readers cold. Punctuation should be visible, yet not visible. Punctuation marks are the life-preserver under your seat on the plane. You know it’s there, but you don’t want to pause a moment to think about why it’s there. 

8. Use dialogue tags besides “said” sparingly. Let what is said carry the weight of the message.

9. Empty pleasantries are death.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“How are you?”

“Good.”

This trite exchange is what we do every day. In a book, it’s a waste of time. Also note that those four lines possess no conflict. A better way to go would be to answer “How are you?” with “You’re late.”

Or try, “He greeted her at the conference room door with an officious sneer and ushered to her seat without a word.” 

If the dialogue isn’t clever or funny, or if the exchange fails to reveal character or advance the plot, skip it and go to the action.

Don’t count on readers’ patience. Tell the story.

10. Everyone watches for run-on sentences. We break those up, of course. Also consider varying sentence length.

Sentence length is not something many readers will register consciously, but lots of short sentences together can feel stilted and staccato. (This device can be used to great effect in an action sequence or to make a point, however.) Many long sentences in a row tire the reader and can feel like a drone.

This problem is easier to recognize when you read your manuscript aloud. If you run out of breath before the end of a sentence, it might be too long. Or you need to do more cardio.

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute hates to tell anyone what to do. Ever. He’s also a fan of the sentence fragment, so this isn’t about being the grammar police. It’s about helping writers and editors make books more readable. These are guidelines. The only rule is, if it plays, it plays.

FYI, the third book in the Hit Man Series is Hollywood Jesus, Rise of the Divine Assassin. This funny, gripping crime novel launches October 1, 2014. Early feedback says it’s the fastest pace to an adventure since you fell off your bike and got road rash when you were a kid.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

The Omnibus will be launched at the same time.

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL

 

Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Identifying a good editor is about chair placement

I’ve worked with several editors over the years. Mostly, the experience has been good. If you work with enough people though, you get a horror story. The bad editors have one thing in common: they think it’s about them and they bleed self-importance. (Beware: at the editing stage, it’s not generally about the author, either. It’s about the reader.)

 

Bad editors are: 

1. Belittling, condescending and even angry.

Let’s face it, for some people, editing is a power thing. They love to tell people what to do and where they are wrong because it feels great to be right. Editors like this don’t have a lot of authors who return to the whipping room for another go, however. Life’s too short. If you’re looking for a fight, there are better ways to use that energy.

One person tried to be abusive with me once and their lure was a very low fee. “Wow! You mean I get the privilege of being your bitch for a very low fee? Gee, thanks, but no.” (Hint: if you try to sell your editorial services this way, that’s a paddlin’.)

2. Lazy.

One editor went through the last few pages of a manuscript in a sad effort to convince me she’d gone through the whole thing. That set my production schedule back three months.

3. Frustrated writers.

A friend of mine was an editor and I got a chance to see her in action. When she was done, the book still had the author’s name on it, but it should have been her name on the cover. When the edits are intrusive or delete the author’s voice, it’s time for the editor to write his or her own book instead of mucking up someone else’s dream.

I could go on with a long list of bad editing practices. Many of you probably have a horror story or two to share. Instead, let’s focus on what good (and great) editors have in common.

The good editors I’ve known all do the same thing:

Picture a desk. This is the work desk the editor and author will use, virtual or literal.

Visualize the chairs. See where the chairs are around said desk?

The skilled editor who works best with authors places the chair on the same side of the desk and works beside the writer.

Working with a good editor feels good.

 

The relationship does not devolve into a hostage negotiation. It’s a team effort and the author is the captain of the team because their name will be on the cover forever.

The good editor is honest, but flexible enough to allow for stylistic choices. Some choices are objectively right or wrong. A bunch aren’t. Suggestions are welcome, but the author gets the final say on what he or she wants to do. Rigidity is the enemy of Art and good editors and authors know that. (Hint: Sentence fragments can be cool. They are not worse than herpes plus Shia Labeouf compounded by our sun exploding on Thursday afternoon while Yoko Ono sings)

Good editors have a light touch on the text because they don’t start off assuming all writers are idiots in need of discipline and more education. They may end up there, of course. Some of us aren’t that bright. However, good editors aren’t so cynical that they begin Chapter 1 that way and they never let their eye rolls and contempt show.

Good and great editors have diplomatic skills as well as sharp eyes. Even when a heavier hand on the text is required, good authors can become great by accepting suggestions with grace.

Good and great editors are out there. When you find one, hold on tight.

~ Let’s cleanse the palate. Time for a sneak peek at This Plague of Days 3? Go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com for a new excerpt. TPOD3 and This Plague of Days, The Complete Three Seasons launches June 15th!

Filed under: Editing, Editors, , , , , , ,

Writing: Tics and traps to consider

We all have tics in our writing that show up as we revise our manuscripts. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said we shouldn’t use, “all hell broke loose,” and “suddenly.” I actually don’t see a problem with suddenly, but because Elmore Leonard didn’t like it, I’m too chicken to use it. I also think adverbs get a bad rap, though I use them sparingly.

Here are some more things that get repeated in manuscripts you should consider leaving out for a faster, easier and clearer read.

1. When you can say it in fewer words, do so. (General guideline. No, this doesn’t mean all novels should be reduced to their three-paragraph summaries. Yes, we’d all be better read, but it’s about the journey.)

2. When you can use a simpler word instead of an unfamiliar one, consider that. I use some Latin and unusual words in This Plague of Days, but all is explained and it all has a point.

3. The house across the street or right across the street? In Nova Scotia, we said “right across” often, which technically connotes “directly,” or “nearest.” But across the street will usually do. “Right over there,” becomes “Over there.” Nothing lost.

4. Eliminate gerunds where possible. This often accompanies a manuscript packed with “was.” “He was working on the plan”? Will “He worked on the plan,” serve your purpose with a more direct and muscular verb?

5. Felt. He felt this. He felt that. I’m not saying eliminate it completely. But showing is generally better than telling (though not always) and doing is better than feeling (often.) Feeling is passive. Demonstrate how he feels that his wife walked out and took the beloved dog he brought into the marriage.

6. Up and down. I go through my manuscripts looking for “up” because that’s my tic. He stood up? He stood is the same. And “she sat down in the purple chair”?  “She sat in the purple chair,” communicates the same thought, right?

7. Began. “He began to think about…” How about, “He thought about…”? Once you start thinking, you’re already into it, right?

8. Then. “She then lit the match. Then she lit the fuse and then it began to burn.” Things happen in sequence in the order you put it down  write. Then is often unnecessary.

9. And at the beginning of the sentence. It’s not that it’s wrong. Some of my old-school English teachers went hardcore on this point. It’s when it’s used too often, it becomes a placeholder that delays the action by three little letters. It’s often unnecessary.

10. So at the beginning of a sentence. It’s not wrong, but it’s a common tic. It’s often the writing equivalent of “um” in public speaking. “So, how are you doing?” versus, “How are you doing?” This can be a stylistic choice. In dialogue, maybe it’s a subtle cue to the reader that the speaker is attempting to appear casual or isn’t sure what to say.

BONUS

Look for opportunities to vary sentence length. It makes for an easier read. Run-on sentences intimidate, confuse and frustrate readers. 

~ Robert Chazz Chute is revising Season 3 of This Plague of Days. Season 3, and This Plague of Days, The Complete Series is scheduled for release June 15th, 2014.

Haven’t started Season 1 and Season 2, yet? There’s still time. Grab them here.

Filed under: Editing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

When editing, search for remnants

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

Here’s a secret about the first draft of This Plague of Days:

I started writing it in first person. For dramatic reasons (and other reasons I can’t reveal for fear of spoilers), I switched to third person, limited omniscient.

At the hub of this apocalyptic adventure is a young man who is on the autistic spectrum. We often see the world flu pandemic and the rise of the zombie horde through his eyes. However, to write the whole book that way would be too hard on the reader. Jaimie’s mind is not grounded in our reality. He sees significance in everything and is obsessed with dictionaries, English words and Latin phrases. To give the story a context of verisimilitude, I had to change how I told the story.

The change made for a better story but added more challenges.

Whatever writing choices you make as you revise and polish, remnants show up. Remnants appear in manuscripts when you make changes or corrections. When I edited other people’s manuscripts, I suggested changes for authors, but I also requested back up by proofreaders after my edit.

Corrections introduce new errors.

The manuscript is not done when the edit is done. This is good advice you would think unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was occasionally ignored by some authors and even a small press on that score. We all need a stellar proofing team and/or beta team to help scour the book.

You can always depend on remnants appearing. For instance, in This Plague of Days, the character of the looter named Bentley changed to Bently. This Plague of Days is huge, so I found several examples of the earlier incarnation when I searched for “Bentley.” “The Bentley”  turned up a couple of times, too.

An old man named Douglas Oliver is a major character. I found several remnants from the previous draft that labeled him “The Oliver.” That’s probably a switch from “the old man” to the character’s name.

Look for more corrections after you think you’re done.

Always look for spelling variations even if you haven’t changed the character name. The autistic kid is Jaimie Spencer, but once or twice I lapsed into “Jamie” or “Jaime”.

Search “stood” and “rose”. Consider if you really want the word “up” to follow those words.

Always enter “the the” in the search box. Our brains are trained to skip over that error.

Always enter two spaces in the search box just before you hit “compile”. You’ll find spaces in your manuscript that look like huge gaps in the text when the manuscript is converted into an ebook.

When you correct a typo, reread what you just corrected to make sure you haven’t subtracted one typo and added another.

It will be okay. Don’t get frustrated. The process is worth it.

After your masterpiece is published, alert readers will email you with helpful notes about typos you missed so you can correct them in the next edition. You’ll take solace in the fact that, without all your preparation, the typo onslaught and readers’ annoyance could have been much worse.

 

 

Filed under: Books, Editing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A free and easy editing program that works

TPOD 0420 2As I revise my upcoming horror serial, This Plague of Days, I find some passages that I can’t wait to share. There are plenty of big reveals to come, but a few teasers along the way are fun (so click here to get a taste of horror and weirdness.) As I plod along, I’ve found a helpful way to polish the writing I want to share with you and improve my manuscript. The good news is there’s nothing to buy and you probably already have it but haven’t used the program in this way.

Before I tell you about this helpful editing program…

I have to tell you there are other editing programs that aren’t nearly so helpful. They aren’t as good as human eyes (so always keep some human eyes in your pocket.) You can subscribe to these programs at varying rates, from cheap to expensive. Some are better than others. I tested one and it told me there were 43 areas of concern in the first paragraph. Of course, even a terrible writer probably doesn’t have 43 areas of concern in one paragraph. It wasn’t even a very long one! I shuddered, cursed and looked closer.

The problem was the program threw up red flags (as in vomited red flags) everywhere. In an effort to be thorough, it overshot into ridiculously unhelpful. The grammar problems weren’t grammar problems. The spelling suggestions were all just alternative words. Stylistic choices were only that. Of the 43 problems, I found two things I might change. Might! I get that from rereading any paragraph!

The signal to noise ratio was clearly way off in the program. If I ever hate a writer with OCD, I’ll be sure to gift him or her a subscription. We’ll never hear from them again and they’ll never write another book.

So, to the “new” suggestion

It’s not new, but it is useful. I write in Scrivener (which I love). When I find quotes and snippets I want to reveal as appetizers at ThisPlagueOfDays.com, naturally I post it into WordPress. I’ve found the WordPress editor has helped me reconsider some things. It suggests neither too much nor too little. It’s elegant, free and easy to use for that little added polish to make you feel excited about getting to your last draft and publishing your book. 

Grab a chapter from your WIP, paste it into WordPress, test it and consider adding it to your editorial production process. I like it.

 

Filed under: Editing, getting it done, grammar, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The sorts of people a writer needs

"A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction."

“A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.”

I used to have this fantasy about being a writer: I’d take vengeance on all my enemies through a thin veil. (Did that and continue to do so. Ha! Take that, Norman!) I’d make serious money. (Not yet. Working on it. So far, it’s just cartoon money.) And finally, instead of an acknowledgments page I’d have a “Ha! Told you so! Page”. I wanted to say I did it all on my own. I believed what Hitchcock said about film: A writer needs a pen, a painter a brush and a director, an army.” He was wrong. We write in solitude, but it takes an army to get it produced, pretty and read. Here, in no particular order, are my four-star generals and uber-admirals:

1. Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. He’s a graphic artist who is really good for indie authors (and trad authors, too). His book covers are great, but it’s his patience and determination to get it right that compel me to promote him at every opportunity.

2. Mark Young of MondaysAreMeatless.blogspot.ca. Mark is the fellow writer who read a twist in Higher Than Jesus and said, “I don’t buy it. Try again.” He’s the one who told me I was being too coy about the major sex scene. He also tells me what’s working so his edits and suggestions aren’t a moving target. Mark’s input has helped me make better books.

3. Brian Wright is one of my beta readers. When he came back with comments on Bigger Than Jesus, we talked for three hours and he gave me an idea for the most clever murder ever in Higher Than. It’s fun to know weapons and explosives experts. It’s scary what he knows…stuff people aren’t supposed to know.

4. Eden Baylee. Eden is an erotica writer who got me involved in the campaign to help Joshua, a young man with leukaemia, early this year. By participating in the campaign, I met a lot more great people. We helped Joshua (his father is the great Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl) and Eden is very supportive of my work, encouraging likes and follows and even interviewing me on her blog. (Fun interview. I was too honest. It’s NSFW.) Check out Eden’s books here. 

5. I wanted a radio show to reach out to strangers worldwide. Dave Jackson at the School of Podcasting helped me with my author website and got my podcast, All That Chazz, up and running.

6. She Who Must Be Obeyed. She makes Me at My Desk possible. That’s especially good because Me in the Real World doesn’t work so well. Plus she’s hot and right about everything. Can’t complain. 

7. Jeff Bennington, author of Reunion. Jeff was an ally early on. He designed my first book, Self-help for Stoners, in print and has given me a couple of great cover blurbs. I always make sure to read his informative and encouraging updates on The Writing Bomb. A good guy to know.

8. Armand Rosamilia, zombie master and author of many, many booksArmand’s made it clear he’s a fan of this blog and he gave me a great cover blurb for Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. But there’s another reason I like Armand: He’s got a professional writer’s work and word count ethic to emulate. He doesn’t know it (until now) but he’s one to watch because he’s a pacer and regularly posts his progress on his blog. If you can keep up with Armand, you’re writing plenty.

9. Claude Bouchard, author of Vigilante. I’m pathologically shy about asking for cover blurbs. When I approached Claude, he couldn’t have been more friendly. He read, reviewed and ended up blurbing Bigger Than Jesus. He treats fellow writers as part of a community and he also took the time to teach me a few things about Amazon listings and building a following.

10. You. If you read this blog, buy my books, review my books or listen to my podcast, I appreciate it. You’re in the army now (for Art’s sake). Thank you for your service.

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Free tech tools to help you edit and proofread

Proofing and revising can be fun, especially if you have sharper tools to help you do the job better. I now have a new tech tool in my editing arsenal that’s a huge help: free text to speech (tts) software.

I’m in the last stages of revising Higher Than Jesus, the next instalment in The Hit Man Series. I had plot problems to review and choices to make about how fast the action would evolve for my Cuban hit man. Then there are the typos to catch, Chicago street names and geographical logistics to marry up and more jokes to make.

Necessary aside: The tech tool I’m about to recommend is not Scrivener, it’s text to speech software. However, if you aren’t already using Scrivener, I recommend it, not least because Scrivener already has tts built in. (Click speech on the Edit menu.) Last night I needed to know if I’d revealed a name in an earlier chapter. With Scrivener, it was easy. With Word, it would have been a time-consuming pain. Writing Higher Than Jesus is like putting together a puzzle and using Scrivener helped me make sure I wasn’t screwing up. Scrivener is $45 USD and compiles your book for manuscript, print or any ebook platform. This concludes the Scrivener PSA.

As I podcast Bigger Than Jesus, chapter by chapter, I find things that I’d like to change (and do so as I record.) At the microphone, some edits are clearer, especially when you have to speak them. Yes, I know editing never ends, but still, I find things that bug me. Finding those niggles on the mic, I make a note to edit the print and ebook edition. (That’s the beauty of ebook and print-on-demand publishing. I can go back and make those minor adjustments quite easily.)

One way people edit is to go through a draft reading backwards. That’s very tiring and I don’t know anyone who has actually accomplished that for a work of any length. For short stories, that’s reasonable. Another way is to read your book aloud. I do that, but one chapter at a time, one podcast at a time. When I read too long aloud, my throat gives out. TTS helps me catch problems by getting the computer to read the book to me and saves my vocal cords. 

I catch much more than I thought I would. As I prepare to hand the book off to my editorial team, I’m saving them a lot of time by giving them a more polished draft. I really don’t want to waste the team’s time. Perfection is impossible, but excellence we can reach.

The Read4Me app is free software that can read you your story, for instance. With tts apps you can, of course, control the speed of the narration. For editing, let it read slow. I listen at 141 – 149 words per minute and follow along as the highlighted text lights up.

One problem is the available voices can sound a bit too much like Stephen Hawking (who still hasn’t updated his speech software! I’d love to hear him talk about black holes as gateways to other universes in a Texas drawl, wouldn’t you?) I tried “Alex’s” voice. Alex is familiar to all Mac users as the computer voice that cuts in and says, “Excuse me,” when a program you don’t want to deal with now requires your attention. I switched to one of the female voices because it punched me in the ears less over time. If you’ve got a long book to read, you want a pleasant voice in your head.

I found another option that’s available free to Microsoft users: NaturalReaders.com. The voices are pleasant and you can easily test out that assertion on the landing page. I’m very impressed with what NaturalReaders.com offers, but here’s a much more extensive list of tts products on Squidoo for your evaluation. And yes, they’re all free.

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Author Blog Challenge 14: Eleven ways writers get surprised

Gremlins will push you 'round^ Look where you'...

Gremlins will push you ’round^ Look where you’re going^ Back up our battleskies^ – NARA – 535380 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some surprises you’re in for when you publish your book

Please note: This list of surprises for writers is not meant to be comprehensive. The worst surprises, like dying by flaming harpoon attack to the forehead (before you finish your novel) or a hard drive exploding and taking out two floors of your house are not included. Those circumstances just aren’t lighthearted enough for my intent here. Oops. Well, I guess you’re worried about that stuff now, too.

1. You thought your manuscript was clean and it was, it was! Gremlins went in and put those ugly typos in there! That’s the only reasonable explanation.

2. Publishing your book is a huge event in your life. Remember when you had a baby and you expected the world to pause to acknowledge your contribution to, and sacrifice for, the human race? Wars should stop and the earth’s rotation should cease for a moment, if only so we can all bow. Sadly, it’s not a huge event in everyone’s else’s life. Many people are indifferent and it’s just not efficient to go out and kill all of them with a rusty axe.

3. The people you thought would love your book? They don’t. My dad still hasn’t read anything I’ve written. He’s waiting for me to write about him. (What he doesn’t know is that he really doesn’t want that!)

4. Lots of people are readers but they do not write reviews. You’ll expect reviews. Eventually you probably beg for reviews. Worse? You still won’t get them, even from friends and family! I thought about it, but there is no joke I can tag on this item that will soothe the sting. It’s more tragic than a flaming harpoon to the crotch.

5. Someone will object to something you wrote. What will surprise you is what they object to. For example, some people get riled up about which font you chose for your cover. You’ll assume that joke your main character made about religion was, at most, funny. At worst? Somewhat innocuous. Some blogger, somewhere, will call you the Anti-Christ and call on Jesus to smite you because, apparently, Jesus loved capital punishment. Oh, wait… (At least outrage and threats of censorship increase sales, so there’s that.)

6. Some people will treat you better, briefly, because you’re an author. Then they’ll treat you worse when they find out you’re a self-published author. For some reason, you have to answer for every grammatical mistake and every (so-called) undeserved success of your breed. Corollary: If you become a very successful traditionally published author, some people will hate you because lots of people read your books. Or the haters will hate because they aren’t you. Suggestion: A dog is reliably faithful. Definitely buy a dog. They can’t read so they’re blameless.

7. Formatting will be tough the first time. The first time, you’re a dim-witted chimpanzee with a keyboard. The second time you do it, you’ll be surprised how easy it is. You will have evolved to a very intelligent Rhesus monkey.

8. By the time you’re through revisions and formatting, you and your editorial team will have gone through the manuscript so many times you’ll be sick of it. This is the story you loved so much. Now your cute baby has grown into an angry, gangly, acne-scarred teenager and you just want them out of the house they can go make money and so you can make room for a sweet new baby who loves to cuddle.

9. Actual publication won’t be quite as momentous as you anticipated. How could it equal all those dreams you’ve had since childhood? You pictured a limo and an elegant cocktail party. Instead, it’s you in sweats, late at night and a little drunk on weighty potential and rum and Coke, debating if you’ve done everything you can before pushing a button. It will feel more like pulling a trigger. You may be filled with more dread of bloody failure than anticipation of success. I’m about to push that button and I’ve had stress headaches all week. I just want to sleep instead of poking around Scrivener‘s bowels to prep the manuscript for Amazon and CreateSpace. You’re not alone in the struggle, but that’s of little solace because you are alone in the room.

10. Getting someone to read your book is harder than writing your book. You’ll spend more time marketing than you ever dreamed necessary, even if you figured it would take a lot of time. Triple your marketing expectations and get a treadmill desk so your ass won’t get as big and wide as your hopes and dreams for your writing career.

11. But here’s the biggest surprise: Though you will get luckier the harder you work, it’s still a lot about luck and timing and some happenstance. Nobody admits this variable. When you win, it’s all attributable your meteoric wisdom. When you succeed, you’ll figure it’s because you made all the right moves and you knew what you were doing with every step. Revising history and shining up the truth is natural. Everybody does that. It keeps us from running away screaming from that “Click to Publish” button.

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Writing: The Rule of Three & the peril of semi-colons

Massey Hall, Toronto

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday night I saw Bill Maher at Massey Hall in Toronto. Good show, fun time. Bill is known for Real time with Bill Maher, his documentary Religulous, his comedy and his New Rules books. Watching him perform, I noticed he never breaks the Rule of Three. It is a good rule, an effective rule and a memorable rule that I just demonstrated with this very sentence.

Wikipedia puts it like this: The “Rule of Three” is a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.”

Of course, you will write longer lists, but when you use a colon, do so sparingly unless you’re composing a scientific paper. Semi-colons can be very useful in separating elements in a list after a colon. However, if you use the semi-colon to separate related clauses, please do so sparingly. Wikipedia says, “According to the British writer on grammar, Lynne Truss, many non writers avoid the colon and semicolon…”

I disagree. It’s not just non-writers who avoid the semi-colon to separate interdependent clauses. 

The semi-colon can be a useful device occasionally, but as a punctuation mark, it is often either misused or has fallen out of favor.

When Lynne Truss refers to “non-writers”, does she not also mean people who are readers? Shouldn’t it be the common reader who sets the standard for what’s easily read and understood? I invoke the common usage rule here. When something has fallen out of common use, it’s too rusty to use without a lot of irritating squeaking. For instance, if a writer uses the word “behooves,” he sounds like he’s trying to be Charles Dickens. You just aren’t old enough for that.

Similarly, the semi-colon has fallen so far out of common use that when a reader encounters one, it pulls them out of the narrative to think, “Hey, look! A semi-colon! Why did the author feel it was necessary to separate related thoughts with a semi-colon, instead of separating those ideas with a simple period? Anything that stops me from breezing along through a novel is a speed bump that I would prefer shaved down so I can speed along and focus on content instead of transmission static.

I have never read a sentence with a semi-colon that I did not reread at least twice.

I’m not saying  you shouldn’t use semi-colons, if they suit you; I am saying, I won’t use the semi-colon.

Anymore.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing tools and typo tips

Book cover (Dust jacket) for the 15th edition ...

Image via Wikipedia

Write_your_book
EDIT YOUR BOOK!

When you’re checking your manuscript, use your word processor’s Spellcheck. Some editors turn up their snobby little noses at Spellcheck, but it can flag problems you might otherwise miss. Nobody’s perfect and problems will always appear once you’ve published your book (yes, in both traditional and self-published books). Don’t take every suggestion; Spellcheck isn’t always right. It’s a tool, not a panacea. You can also use Find and Replace to look for problems Spellcheck misses: its, it’s, there, their and so on. Spellcheck doesn’t replace editors and they don’t replace thinking. But you’ll catch more using it.

To the rude editor I met at the conference who said she never used Spellcheck: Yes, I’m saying that was arrogant and, just like the rest of us, you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are. Or funny. And you need to work on your social skills. (Now I’m worried that I’m projecting.)

I don’t edit blog posts obsessively, but when I’m working on a book, I have several websites up on my browser: Chicago Manual of Style, Wikipedia, and dictionary.com. I also use Autocrit for more input.

For me, yesterday was single quote day. I wrote parts of my books with Open Office, so I had to go through the manuscript and make all my single quotes curly…and curly in the right direction. I was cross-eyed and HULK ANGRY by 5 pm.

PentecostSelf-publishing guru and author of Pentecost, Joanna Penn, has a great suggestion to deal with typos: Publish your ebook first. Your readers will let you know (politely or not) about your book’s typos. Corrections to the ebook are easier than correcting your printed book. Corrections to print books are called “second editions.” Great tip! For more information from Joanna, check out this very useful interview. I loved this inspiring interview and it helped me calm down after Curly Quote Day. Well…much later, after the photo below.

Me after Curly Quote Day

Filed under: Books, DIY, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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