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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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.

 

 

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Writers: Clean your manuscript with these enema tricks

There are mistakes in every book, but there are tricks to avoid some pesky problems. For instance, I’m in the midst of proofing This Plague of Days. In Scrivener, I do a quick and easy

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.

Society collapses around a strange autistic boy with a deep love of odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father The plague is coming. Buckle up.

search for odd mistakes that creep in. Here are a few things I plug into the search box to search and destroy:

1. Hit the space bar twice and eliminate those pesky double spaces that find their way into your ebook (and look like chasms on a kindle.)

2. Put “the the” in the search box. Take one out unless it shows up as “the theme…” It’s startling how easy it is for the human eye to skip over a brain stutter like the the.

3. Search “awhile”. Change it to “a while” when appropriate. Here’s when it’s right to do so.

4. “Exact same” = A redundant expression we use in spoken language and in the excited flurry of our first drafts. Excise from later drafts.

5. Search “..” Double periods appear occasionally, usually from an edit you did instead of a typo. 

The fewer mistakes you give your editors, beta readers and proofers to find, the fewer mistakes they will miss.

When you get all your revisions back and make your changes, do these searches again (and whatever common mistakes you discover you are prone to.) After the edit, the act of going back to make corrections often introduces mistakes. This is especially true if you’re working with extensive edits using Track Changes. It’s often helpful to bump up the text size so you can better understand where all the little red lines are pointing for edits. I prefer Scrivener and recommend it for writing, editing, compiling and publishing.

Also check the copy again once it’s published. I have had some file management issues in the past with Scrivener where I published an earlier draft, not the final draft. It was frustrating and embarrassing, but fortunately it was easy to fix quickly. Now that I’m aware of that potential, I’m extra paranoid so things keep getting better. Editing and proofing these little details can be arduous but, like a 10k run uphill, you’ll feel great about your work when it’s done.

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How to edit without reading

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You: Edit without reading? How is that even possible? 

Me: You can tell when a story has problems at a glance if the page is too dark.

You: Um. What?

Me: This page. Look at all that unbroken text.

(HOLDS OUT A MANUSCRIPT AT ARM’S LENGTH)

It’s an intimidating, heavy block. Unless you are Proust—wait. Are you Proust?

You: (SURLY) No.

Me: Okay. When there are big unbroken blocks of text, you’re demanding a lot of the reader.

You: So I should assume my reader is too stupid to handle a long paragraph?

Me: Yes.

You: What?!

Me: Attention spans are shorter. Big blocks of text do not skip along. It’s hard to get a sense of making progress when faced with all that text. You need to break it up.

You: Show me.

Me: The first thing is, have you used paragraphs correctly? Maybe the unified sentences are there but you’ve missed opportunities to paragraph appropriately. Think of each paragraph as  one logically unified thought. Look for the flow, either progression or back and forth, to identify where the next paragraph proceeds.

You: Uh-huh. I’m not an idiot, you know.

Me: I’m sure you’re not. I didn’t create you to be an idiot, but a dialogue foil so I could parry back and forth a bit. Break up the didactic drudgery.

You: Wha–wait. What?

Me: (SMOOTHLY) So the next usual suspect is long speeches. Soliloquies usually need to be broken up with action, interaction and conflict from other characters.

You: Or?

Me: Or you get big blocks of text. Readers like white space, but this isn’t just an aesthetic issue. It’s an editorial issue. Shorter paragraphing looks more appealing, true, but when dialogue flies back and forth, shorter paragraphs are an indication of dynamism on the page.

You: And you think you don’t have to actually read the story to know it’s not dynamic enough?

Me: I don’t have to actually read the story to know that unless you get more white space on the page, no one will read it. I’m trying to give your story a chance at daylight. I haven’t read a word, but I’ve seen enough holding it at arm’s length and glancing through a few pages to see the pattern. If you send it to an editor or agent, they will heave a great sigh and turn away quickly. If you try to sell it yourself, it will not sell.

You: Do you actually talk to writers like this when you edit them?

Me: Of course not. This is just a blog post between me and an imaginary writer…you know, for educational purposes.

You: Educa…. About what you…hey! You’re saying I’m not real?

Me: (PULLS A WOODEN STAKE FROM BENEATH A DARK CLOAK)

The problem is real. The editorial trick is real. You, I made up.

(PLUNGES STAKE INTO THE FICTION’S CHEST AND ROOTS AROUND FOR THE HEART IN QUICK, GRISLY CIRCLES)

You: Ouch. Hey, that was…surprisingly painless.

Me: It’s okay. Sh. I wrote your reality this way so it doesn’t hurt anyone.

You: Oh. Thanks.

Me: You’re welcome. You live in the Matrix. It’s a bitch, but I try to make it easy on everybody.

(PULLS OUT THE STAKE AND THE SOUND IS LIKE AIR FARTED OUT OF A PARTY BALLOON)

(THE FICTIONAL AUTHOR WHIZZES AWAY LIKE SAID PARTY BALLOON AND, AT FULL DEFLATION, DISAPPEARS INTO AN UNENDING GREEN SEA UNDER A CLOUDLESS NIGHT SKY AND A BLUE, TROPIC MOON.)

THE WARM BREEZE, SMELLING OF COLITAS AND CARRYING THE SOUNDS OF THE JUNGLE TO THE WEST WHISPERS STERNLY: “Stop now, Chazz! It’s overwritten already!

Me: FADE INTO DARKNESS. THEN GOES SHOPPING.

And that’s how you edit without reading. 

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Editing Part IV: Wording to avoid, uh, Words to avoid

This is a game of Snatch in progress. Snatch i...

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I’ve talked about editing out words to watch out for. Here are some more:

Use says or said for dialogue tags. Don’t use claim unless you want to cast doubt on what the speaker is saying.

Watch out for too qualifiers. They have their place, but when around, about, a bit, somewhat, sort of, and kind of crop too much, you’re hedging. and the Your reader will pick up on your Readers notice waffling.

Avoid tautology: actual facts, adequate enough, stand up, sit down, mix together, gather together. One right word is better than two words that repeat the same an idea.

That got meta.

 

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Editing Part III: The joy of editing

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 3rd...

I just received the gift of a book in the mail. I had already read this book but I was very pleased to receive it. In fact, I’d gone through this particular book in meticulous detail. The author signed the title page for me and graciously thanked me for my advice. The book in hand was a bonus for editing the work.

Editing is such picky work. I zip into and out of the on-line Chicago Manual of Style a lot. I tweak here and economize there. No matter the level of the edit, the key to good editing is asking the right questions.

Here’s a sample of the sorts of questions that run through my mind as I work:

Should that be 18th Century or Eighteenth century? Should I leave a quirky passage alone to keep the author’s voice or is the joke too much of a reach? Should I suggest new elements? Does the material make more sense if it is reorganized? Does this follow logically from that? Is that assertion a fact? Is that translation correct? What design elements could I suggest to make the book pop? What elements could I suggest that would convert a browser into a buyer? Is there an opportunity missed here? What marketing strategy could I suggest to make this a book with real long-tail potential? What’s missing? (That last one can take the work to a new level.)

In short, a good editor or proofreader will question everything.

An experienced editor will pick up on what’s on the page and what’s not there that’s hurting the book.

In the end, I let it go back to the author to decide which of my suggestions to act upon. When it’s done, the author’s name is on the front cover. I always say some variation of: “She’s still your baby. She’s healthy and you’ll recognize her. She wasn’t sick but she’s feeling even better now.” The reader will never know how much or how little I did. The job is to make the author look good. (And sell more books.)

And you know what? It’s fun. I’m not gleeful about it in the way I know some editors are. When I was in journalism school and when I worked for a daily newspaper, I ran into editors who were looking for stuff so they could catch you out. It was a game for them and they acted like it was the only way they could find to feel good about themselves. When they caught something—anything—writers got snarky remarks and not just a little passive aggressive indignation. Editors like that are sad and make me tired.

I find editing fun because it’s an intellectual challenge and the collaborative process makes the book better than it otherwise would have been. Higher quality editorial work translates to more authority to the author, more sales for the current book and more sales for the author’s next book. A helpful edit can morph an experiment that didn’t quite come together into a legacy book that will delight, distract, elevate, educate, provoke, redeem and earn for years to come.

A good edit will pay for itself.

And generally? No, an unedited book doesn’t stand a chance.

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Editing Part II: Writerly idiosyncrasies

40 killer phrases

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There are words you can lose without losing meaning. For example, writers who repeatedly precede statements with “I think” generate in their readers a suspicion of insecurity or uncertainty. Make your assertions, state your arguments, declare your narrative.

Writers have idiosyncrasies. Repeated phrases crop up. As you revise your manuscript, look for them and make a note.

Take the example “my own.” That can — and should — be shortened to “my.” That’s my own business. See? You lose nothing by losing “own.” What you gain is economy with this small edit and your reader will appreciate it (though they won’t know why.) I’m an editor. It’s my own business to know.

When you identify your own idiosycrasies, use the search and replace feature and you’ll find the number of instances of the phrase. You may not want to replace them all. Idiosyncratic phrases can be fine in dialogue.

I think that’s right.

No.

That’s right.

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Editing Tips Part 1: Story bible

my eye

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Since I’m in heavy edit mode this week, it’s going to be all about editing all week. You asked. I give. And so:

A story bible is a document beside your manuscript where you keep track of characters’ names, ages and details. It will keep you from screwing up too much and make your revision process go faster. It’s very frustrating, for instance, to go through a 450-page manuscript looking for the hero’s little sister’s eye color page by page. It’s the equivalent of losing a productive hour to search the house for a misplaced checkbook.

Keep your story bible close so you can add to it without interrupting your writing flow. I use a yellow legal pad though if you have the document on-screen you could search it, I suppose. (A bible that is too long goes unread but is an excellent device to keep you procrastinating instead of writing and revising.)

Even if you’re less of a planner (the seat-of-the-pants writer) it helps to have some minimal plan or a story bible so you can keep track of characters and key details. It’s better than losing a character along the way. It is embarrassing to write an entire novel and think you’re done only to have one of your beta readers ask, “What happened to Mrs. Haversham? Did she survive the fall to the bottom of the stairs on page 139? And what happened to the alien prostitute who got locked in the truck?”

It’s a huge problem in self-publishing because there aren’t teams of editors and proofreaders combing manuscripts. It happens with traditional publishers, too (and will increase becaus of cutbacks.) For instance, in Lucifer’s Hammer, an astronaut is described as short, but by the end of the book he’s standing tall and commanding in the bow of a boat. In Under the Dome,  Stephen King introduces a supernatural element on the good guy’s side that is never explained and seems forgotten, as if the angels whispered in the hero’s ear and then got distracted and wandered away. (When you write a book that big, it’s easy to lose threads and drop stitches.)

As you edit, things will crop up and it will help you to add edit points to your bible. Edit points are policy issues. It saves you a lot of time, and money, to have a clean manuscript. Decide up front, are you basically going with the Chicago Manual of Style? AP Style? Canadian or American spelling? Serial commas or no?

By keeping a list, you’ll discover some idiosyncrasies will crop up and it may grow to a long list. For one instance, you might type gray when you mean to write grey. In your bible under a heading that reads Editing Points, write in bold GReY NOT GRaY!

When you think you’re done your manuscript, drag out your list of troublesome words.

Use the Search and Replace tool.

You thought you got them all.

You didn’t.

Nobody does.

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Editing: How to take advice

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Mostly people follow the advice that appeals to them. If five people give them the same uncomfortable advice, they’ll keep asking until lucky advisor number 15 tell them what they were hoping to hear. That’s not the way to progress.

Blogging about writing and publishing can be a quixotic adventure. For instance, I went through an entire short story one time and showed the writer precisely how he could improve his writing. These were very straight-forward craft issues that got in the way of readability. The next piece he sent me had the same problems.

Not everyone has to write like I do. However, since he was so enthusiastic about my original suggestions, I wondered if it was a question of the writer needing more time to absorb the information and practice.

In a writing critique group, you can spot the defensive people quickly. They write Stet! beside each suggestion (including that tell-tale exclamation point.) Defensive writers spend a lot of time talking when their critique group colleagues ask questions or are confused. Instead, they should be listening. Any writer is free to disregard suggestions, but not during the explanation of the concern.

Is advice all for naught? Sometimes. But professional writers take advice most of the time. They aren’t so attached to their writing that they expect it will be 100% perfect on the first draft. That’s crazy-talk. Professional writers respect writing too much to make that assumption.

Just remember: an editor’s focus is the text. They’re trying to help you.

However, if you sense an editor is looking at it as a game where they’re tracking points, zeroing in on every error as if it’s a moral victory…well. Delete them.

Also, I have to mention that sometimes the advice is just bad:

At Psychology Today I found a great post called 11 Types of Bad Writing Advice.

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Book Information Centre Blues

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Occasionally, you will run into someone who either expects you to know the unknowable or dismisses what you do know. When I worked at The Canadian Book Information Centre, it happened all the time.

Case #1: One fellow, so very arch and British one might think he was sent over from Central Casting, asked what Canada’s top cookbooks were.

You might be able to google such information now, but back then we were expected to somehow pull the numbers and titles from the ether. Or from our asses.

I told him I didn’t have those numbers.

“I would have thought that would be general industry knowledge,” he replied.

“No,” I said. “The publishers don’t supply us with those numbers. Only their accountants know the truth. You could go back through old Globe & Mail newspapers and find the top cookbooks by going through top ten lists, I suppose.”

“You can’t do that for me?”

“Uh, no. Head to your local library.” Where people are actually paid to help you find the data for your book proposal, I thought.

He hung up in a huff before I could explain that I worked for publishers as an editor and publicist. My title was Project Manager, not Phone Monkey for Anyone Who Owns a Telephone. (Did you know they’ll give just about anyone a phone? I know! Exactly!)

Case #2: Another aspiring author asked me about copyright. He was desperately worried some evil editor would steal his idea.

This is a common concern, but it’s a nearly invalid one since it happens so rarely. As it happens, I knew a lot about copyright. And so:

No, you can’t copyright an idea alone. If you could, the guy who got to Good versus Evil and Boy Gets Girl first would be rich, rich, rich.

No, you don’t have to send your manuscript to some office in Ottawa or Washington. You wrote it. Your name is on it. It’s yours worldwide (except for parts of Asia.)

No, putting the copyright symbol on a manuscript is considered unnecessary, amateurish and insulting to the editor or agent who receives it.

No, you don’t have to mail your manuscript to yourself. The idea is to get the post office’s official stamp on the sealed envelope containing your treasure (as if that couldn’t be faked.) You can if you want to, but the trick is having something worth stealing. Besides, to my knowledge, any plagiarism case that’s ever made it to court doesn’t hinge on whether you’ve got a stamp on a sealed envelope.

“Well, I assure you my manuscript is worth stealing and I will mail it to myself!” Click!

Me to fellow harried Project Manager: “If he had already made up his mind what he was going to do anyway, why call us?”

The misunderstanding of our role wasn’t the callers’ fault. We were named The Canadian Book Information Centre. However, we worked for publishers to promote their books to media.

We cut the wayward calls in half the following year by getting our listing out of the Yellow Pages.

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How to be a Bad Editor

The phrase that pays.

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Most editors are pretty good to great. Then there are the others. Here’s how to be one of those bad editors:

1. Edit without being asked. A copy editor I knew came up with a detailed critique of small advertisement I had for one of my businesses. I hadn’t asked and his manner was that he had caught me out at something. He hadn’t, actually. He didn’t like the paragraph’s wording but everyone else was okay with it. At best, his editorial suggestion was a lateral move. Worse, when I gently brushed him off, he didn’t have the grace to shut up. Then I had to brush him off with force.

2. Treat catches like a moral victory. A newspaper editor descended on me because, on my first day, I wrote Sidney instead of Sydney, Nova Scotia. I thanked her for catching my error. “This is not a minor error!” she said. “I said thanks,” I replied. “Were you looking for? Blood? I’m fresh out.” Mistakes happen. It was her job to catch my errors. I owed her my gratitude, not an apology.

3. Be very sure, and pissy about it, even when you’re wrong. A teacher, who was presumably responsible for helping generations of students, circled a word in a business document. She used her red pen as if I were one of her unfortunate, young charges (though I was about 30 at the time.) “You got this wrong!” she said with delight. (See #2) By that time I’d already edited and/or proofread hundreds of books. I knew what I was talking about and here’s the rule: You affect the effect. This is a common mistake. She stayed sure I was wrong. It was just too delightful to think she was right, I guess. That’s another common mistake.

4. Treat your writers like crap. (And refer to them as “your” writers, as if we’re owned.) Working in a big daily’s newsroom was an intense environment, sometimes unnecessarily so. For some reason, the air was also very dry. You’d think all those tears would be humidifying. Anyway, I had a nosebleed and some assignment editor (who was all of a year or two my senior) walked up and dropped an assignment on the keyboard upon which I was trying not to bleed. He didn’t say a word about my hemorrhage and went on about his work. A year later I was working in publishing with someone who had worked at the Toronto Star and she told me she’d experienced the exact same story with a person who was just as uncaring about her welfare. Weird.

5. Be a strict grammarian. Insist on obsolete rules. Insist the legendary “to boldly go where no one has gone before” was a mistake in two Star Trek series, a crime worthy of beheading. And never allow anyone to start a sentence with “And.” Also, grow visibly nauseous when anyone dares to end a sentence with a preposition. That’s something up with which you will not put.

6. Insist that new word usage is the cause of all our economic, political and moral woes. Insist we should freeze the language at some arbitrary point that makes you comfortable. Verbing nouns particularly irks you. Exclaim your objections and try not to faint with the vapours when someone says, “I’ll google that.” Civilization began to end when we started using “impact” as a verb and texting abbreviations are not analogous to a new language. Texting is a sign of End Times.

7. Be a tyrant. Change your mind. A lot. This is particularly fun for assignment editors. Expect writers to read your mind about how you want the story to go. Don’t tell them what you want. That would ruin your fun. Instead, get angry when they guess wrong. For extra bonus douche points, decree that you loathe simultaneous submissions and take forever to answer queries (or don’t answer them at all.) Pay a pittance on publication. Better, pay in bird-cage liners and tell seasoned writers they should be grateful you’re allowing them to “pay their dues.”

8. Be cruel in your rejections. When work you’ve turned down succeeds elsewhere, never doubt your judgment. Sniff at the plebian tastes of the masses instead. Better, put up examples of queries you find execrable and hilarious on your website. Mock it mercilessly. Sure, you’re a ball breaker and a soul crusher, but if you call what you do helping, it’s okay.

9. When you edit, don’t focus on making the text better. Focus on making yourself feel better. It’s that kind of prioritizing that can make you a famous infamous editor. Be sure to crow to everyone how x,y, and z author owes everything to you because you gave them their big break. Act as if you did them a favour (instead of the business decision it really was.) When your fledgling authors come to their senses and flee to work with someone sane, declare them a bunch of ingrates and try to have them banned from ever making a living or even having lunch in your town again. (Yes, these legends aren’t just in New York. I’ve met a couple of these demons in Toronto’s publishing houses,too. They’re people who never figured out that it’s not how you treat your superiors and your supposed equals that defines you. How people see you is determined by how you treat your assistant and those lowly writers.)

10. Be a frustrated writer. I once knew an editor who worked in educational publishing. She was a nice person, or at least I thought so until I saw an example of her work. While it’s true, particularly of educational publishing, that there is a style to follow, her changes to copy were gratuitous. She wanted to write, not edit. It showed. 

Follow these ten examples and you will soon be recognized as an editor to fear, loathe and avoid. Congratulations!

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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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