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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Confession to readers: I love sound-sex

Stephen Fry invites us to enjoy literature more.

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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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Indie publishing is getting better

Grammar police

Grammar police (Photo credit: the_munificent_sasquatch)

First bold statement:

The quality of indie books has improved.

We’re maturing. Ludicrously, readers expected the indie ebook revolution to produce immediate perfection, some even demanding a higher quality than they get from trad publishing. As soon as I post this, I expect a deluge of naysayers racing to come up with examples to disprove my assertion. That’s a misguided instinct, by the way. Yes, you could come up with lots of examples both tragic and comedic and I’d counter with a plethora of examples in favour of the indies. So let’s skip that and settle on this: I have over 200 books on my Kindle and my impression is that there aren’t nearly so many grammatical errors or typos as one might expect if you believe all those rabid grammarians moaning over on the Kindle boards.

Recently, I read an Amazon book review where some bonehead’s  first observation was that he’d counted five grammatical errors. Note that this was a book that he liked, but he went straight for that in his review’s first sentence. He criticized not as a book lover interested in story (which most readers are) but as a raging grammarian who couldn’t bear five errors in 250 pages. (I clicked the “non-helpful” button after I read that review.)

Second bold statement:

Most readers aren’t nearly as sensitive to typos as some would have us believe. 

As a writer, I hate errors in my books when they occur.

As a reader, I notice errors but my world doesn’t explode when I see them, either. 

In traditional publishing in the late ’80s, editorial departments were swollen with employees. Mistakes still crept in. They still do, trad or indie. We can’t afford eight levels of defence against errors. No one can hire that many editors and proofreaders. Errors will occur. But you know what?  When I get a book for $2.99 or less (or free), expecting perfection seems petty and silly, like angrily demanding lower taxes yet more services. We do need many eyes on our manuscripts. Everyone tells you to hire an editor and well you should. However, the edit and suggested corrections will also introduce errors, so comb it again. If you’ve gone through a major edit using Track Changes, for instance, you know the maddening confusion of figuring out what’s underlined and what’s not, making the changes and going cross-eyed after a few hours of peering at comma placement and comment boxes.

Most grammatical errors don’t obscure meaning so much you don’t get what the author was going for. No, this is not a call to publish your first draft, damn of consequences to readers’ understanding and comfort and ease up on yourself as a writer. This is a call for us  to celebrate the many authors who are obviously working hard to write well. Many of us are getting help to catch us when we trip.

Don’t mind the naysayers. Most of those rabid grammarians aren’t writers and I’m not even sure a bunch of them even enjoy reading that much. It’s like they take a book as a test and each typo is some kind of moral victory. That’s the Internet for you: perfectionism as a weapon to make haters feel better. But perfection is unreachable. (I just started a sentence with the word “but”! Oh, no! Yes, some people are still clinging to that.)

Perfectionism is a sign of self-loathing. Instead, go for excellence.

And lighten up. We’re getting better!

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t listen to writers too much

The phrase that pays.

Image by pirateyjoe via Flickr

When I first graduated from massage school, I visited new massage therapists all the time. Too often, I didn’t enjoy the experience much. I was too evaluative of each therapist to just lay back and receive the treatment in the spirit in which it was given. I wasn’t concentrating on the feeling of the massage, but on the mechanics. It took me some time to get past that mindset.

You see the same thing with editors sometimes, too. A bad editor jumps straight to corrections too fast without reading for story first. Typos are the last thing you correct in the story construction process. You need to look at the big blocks in the structure first to see how it holds together. Developmental editing always happens before detailed copy editing.

You shouldn’t listen too much to other writers for similar reasons. They see your work through a prism that doesn’t necessarily match ordinary reader expectations.

Writers are great people, but they usually aren’t your market. We sometimes forget that there are a lot of people in the world who have no literary ambitions. They don’t want to write a book. They just want to read a good story.

Writers are readers, but they aren’t typical readers. Writers look at your work differently. Writers are not  the average reader.

Among writers, there is a higher percentage of people who will pick apart your mechanics. Any grammatical variation from what they expected (and there are variations) will provoke more irritation than may be warranted. They will be the readers who skip from irritation at your typos to outrage, indignation and threats to take away your writer’s license and livelihood. Some will want to burn down your house.

Writer friends and editors can help you develop your work, improve and self-publish. But because of the way we are wired, we might not enjoy your work as much as typical readers will.

BONUS: 

I’m networked with a lot of great writers who help me a lot. I like them, appreciate them and thank them.

However, you’ll run into some writers who are so competitive, they do not wish you well.

Either through jealousy or the misconception that your success takes something away from them, they want you to fail.

Watch out for the hypercritical, the rabid grammarians, the perfectionists, the haters and snipers. They mistake their subjective taste for law all the time.

By the way, I wish you every success.

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Writers: “Amount of” versus “number of”

Syrniki. Syrniki, fried quark cheese pancakes,...

Image via Wikipedia

There are a number of cheese pancakes in this picture: six.

The amount of cheese is in the recipe. You wouldn’t say the number of cheese or the amount of pancakes.

A number of mistakes in a book I read recently kind of bugged me. Overall, there weren’t that many mistakes in the book, but one kept coming up. The problem was that, while the author tried to quote statistics and make a compelling argument, she repeatedly undermined herself by misusing the phrase “an  amount of.”

“A  number of” things can be counted.

“An amount of” refers to a measure of volume.

For instance, there are a large number of armies on earth. The amount of their combined firepower is uncertain. There is a certain amount of apple sauce in this recipe. There are a number of apples in that recipe.

Is it a big deal? Not really, but it’s a distraction and your job, as a writer, is to eliminate distractions from your thesis or your story. As a reader, you’ll notice mistakes and that’s often what you’ll remember rather than the writer’s point.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , ,

Editing Part V: The Dead Grammar Rules Freedom Manifesto

William Shatner photographed by Jerry Avenaim

Image via Wikipedia

Certain grammar guidelines have changed. The classic one everyone knows is the death of the split infinitive rule. When I was a kid, some teachers were still strict grammarians on this point. I call that generational inertia (wherein one espouses the rules of the previous generation even though old rules no longer apply. Generational inertia shows up everywhere but has been particularly egregious in the publishing industry on the subject of digital books. (Chazz now dismounts from the usual hobby-horse and goes on with dead grammar rules. Ahem.)

William Shatner singlehandedly killed the split infinitive rule in the late 60s. At the opening of the original Star Trek, it was he who spoke the immortal split infinitive: “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” Patrick Stewart updated the phrase over the opening credits of Star Trek: The Next Generation with “To boldly go where no one has gone before!” The captains of the Enterprise changed things up from the proper, traditional (and stiff): “To go boldly.” After Star Trek, everyone eased up and some grammarians will still tell you that was an early sign of the decline of civilization.

Heavy-handed grammarians amuse me. Sometimes it seems like they fetishize the rules without respecting the point: effective communication. Usually traditional rules serve us well. However, rules shouldn’t get in the way of creativity just as expression shouldn’t get in the way of communication.

When expression doesn’t respect the reader’s right to clarity, it better be doing so intentionally for a particular effect. For instance, Michael Ondaatje or Maya Angelou write in complex skeins that require double espresso and a very quiet room to appreciate. Chuck Palahniuk wrote Pygmy in a distinctly ungrammatical style so you see America through the odd mind of a tiny immigrant assassin who speaks English as a second language. (That worked great for me though, usually, if something isn’t clear it’s probably because it sucks.)

I once heard an ancient grammarian with a very plummy British accent (it was as if  Central Casting sent over The Stereotypical English Professor) complain about how fast and loose modern teenagers were with language. (He brought to mind Socrates whining about “these rotten kids today!”) Plummy Accent Guy spoke as if he wanted to freeze the language at about 1901. But languages are organic.  (Look! I just started a sentence with a conjunction! My eighth-grade teacher would rap my knuckles with a ruler right about now.) Conventions change and grow and a mid-eighteenth century grammarian would be appalled at Plummy Accent Guy’s use of language. (They’d also cringe at my overuse of the parenthetical in this paragraph but to make a stale subject even vaguely entertaining, I think it works. So there.)

Just last summer I watched an author wring his hands over texting. “Text abbreviations dumb kids down,” he said. Yeah? I don’t think there’s any real scientific support for that view and he came off sounding stuffy and quaint. Kids are reading more than they ever did, they’re just doing so on screens. It’s not that they are losing the English language. It’s that they are learning another text-based language.

True, our literacy rates are awful. But that doesn’t mean drumming old grammatical rules into kids is the cure. Things change. School programs used to spend a lot of time teaching beautiful handwriting. If you’ve ever seen letters from before mid-last century, much of the handwriting looks so precise in its swoops and curls you’d be forgiven for thinking it was produced by a machine. However, elegant calligraphy is out. I loved it and my calligraphic pens made note-taking on intolerable subjects more interesting but it’s gone with the art of letter writing. Even simple handwriting isn’t a high priority in the educational system, either. The way the world has gone, teachers want to move on quickly to teaching kids how to type and cursive writing is a low priority. Your kids will be able to write with a pen but they’ll probably write by hand in block letters.

Lots of old assumptions are out. In fact, studies show that, despite what your momma told you, spelling isn’t all that important. Try this: Can you raed tihs snetnce? You can probalbly raed tihs amlst as fsat as you wold nromally raed. Studeis sohw taht as lnog as teh fisrt letr and teh lsat letr are corect, yuo wll unerdstnd my maening prefctly.

And people mistype ‘teh’ for ‘the’ so often,

it’s been suggested ‘teh’ should be an accepted alternative to ‘the.’

Remember, for a very long time there was no universal standard for spelling so Old English spelling was all over the map. There were no dictionaries so our greatest philosophers spelled idiosyncratically and phonetically. I’m not proposing we spell poorly. I’m saying ease up on rules whose basis is somewhat arbitrary.

The key for grammar rules now is: Respect the writer’s voice and the reader’s mind. And time. That’s right. Time. Serial commas are out (unless you need to keep them in particular sentences for clarity.) Serial commas often introduce pauses and separation where none are needed. If I write “apples, oranges, and plums,” I’m not letting the conjunction ‘and’ do its work. The reader doesn’t need the comma before the ‘and’ because the reader gets it.

Same with the conjunction ‘but’: “He chose the oranges and apples, but not the plums,” contains a pause after apples that you don’t need. You can do it if you want, but that’s a different point I’ll slap down five paragraphs hence. (Also, unless you’re trying to strike a particularly arch tone, stop using hence, boon and behooves. Old words die and new ones are born every day. Stop keeping outmoded words on life support as if they’re a regular part of the lexicon. It annoys your reader if it’s apparent you’re using a thesaurus or if you expect them to run to a dictionary every few paragraphs.)

Stop throwing fits over verbed nouns. I’ve heard stick-up-the-butt English majors grouse about ‘Google’ as a verb (still! Really!) And some still haven’t gotten over impact as a verb. Let this impact you: Nouns become verbs because books shouldn’t use humans. It’s supposed to be the other way around as long as we’re at the top of the food chain and until our robot overlords rise to sentience.

Also, lose the double space after the period. That’s a holdover from typing class when people used typewriters. There are far fewer typing teachers now. Instead computer programs like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing do that job. (And now they call it keyboarding class, by the way, presumably because it’s not just about the letter and number keys anymore. It’s about keyboarding shortcuts and formatting.) From a design perspective, the double space after the period leads to what are called rivers in the text, distracting routes of white space that  pull the eye down instead of across the text. (Okay, Elmore Leonard still uses a typewriter. If you’re Elmore Leonard, do what you want. If you’re Elmore Leonard, you can strangle a hobo on live TV and just about everyone would forgive you.)

Design questions sometimes factor into grammatical decisions. For instance, at Five Rivers — the publishing company for whom I’m Editor-at-large — we put spaces around em dashes (like I just did.) Lorina Stephens, the publisher, likes that look. It gives an airy look to the text on the page. For ’emphasis’ of a word, single quotes are used where I might otherwise switch to italic. As long as it’s consistent, makes sense and makes Lorina and her authors happy, it’s right. Internal consistency rules.

Have you read a book without quotation marks yet? I read Suckerpunch last year (a mostly excellent YA novel, nothing to do with the coming movie.) No quotation marks. I didn’t miss them a bit.

With the wave of more self-published books, you’re going to see more rules loosened. Grammar is supposed to be the servant, not the master. As the self-published author, you’ll set the rules you prefer for your book (hopefully with respect for the reader’s mind and time.) The Chicago Manual of Style is an excellent standard to fall back upon, as is AP Style. For language quirks and questions, you can’t go wrong with Eats, Shoots and Leaves and the Grammar Girl book and podcast.

Just remember that grammar rules are made by humans. They can and will change.

As long as your preferences are logical and consistent, you can get creative with your book in ways that would outrage strict grammarians.

BONUS:

Please don’t ask me to edit your book if all the dialogue is dialect. This is my personal preference and it has been done effectively, of course. However, it’s such a slow read, I have to say it just annoys the shit out of me and I am not up to that task!

Please do write a book in the second person. I loved Bright Lights, Big City and, with that notable exception (from the 80s!), traditional publishers have pretty much bricked ‘You’ away behind their arrogant Wall of Acceptability. If you’re indie, you can do it without asking for a gatekeeper’s permission.

Please do put your novellas and short stories up for sale. E-books are a perfect venue to do what paper can’t: bring back the power of short form fiction!

Take a risk. I recently edited a novel coming out from Five Rivers that combined a novel with a screenplay format. It works.

Suck on that, Mrs. Wilson!

And don’t be comin’ round heah wid no ruler or

Ah’ll rap y’knuckles so hard y’eyes’ll bleed.

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, publishing, Rant, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

It’s Massive Link Week: Writing, editing, publishing!

Grammar Girl Logo - Mignon Fogarty

Image via Wikipedia

I’m always tweeting updates from great people who are writing really interesting stuff about writing, publishing and editing. This week is (cue drumroll):

MASSIVE LINK WEEK!

I’ve got quite a list of links you can use. Let’s get to it:

The Grammar Girl’s lessons in personal branding for authors‏.

James C. Tanner on The Pros & Cons of Self-Publishing Your Book

The WEbook Blog on The State of Publishing

Internet-Resources.com Writing Links (HUGE!)

More tomorrow!

 

 

 

Filed under: blogs & blogging, publishing, web reviews, writing tips, , , , ,

The Proper Use of Examples

i.e. means that is.

e.g. means for example.

THUS:

I dress like a bad immortal from Highlander (i.e. all in black) therefore I am cool as far as I’m concerned.

My daughter says things that are apparently cool (e.g. “Cool beans” upon seeing or hearing something exemplary of its kind and wonderful) though I don’t know what such phrases’ origins could be.

 

 

Filed under: grammar, writing tips, , , ,

Writing Advice for Anti-authoritarians

Recently I read a YA novel that omitted all quotation marks. It didn’t hurt a bit because it was so well done. It may have even sped up the read. It’s the sort of thing some grammarians hate. I say tough cookies to some grammarians.

When the rules of proper usage get in the way

between your story and your reader

–and sometimes they will–

dump ’em.

Elmore Leonard says so, too, so it’s not just lil ol’ me. Pedants will say, “Know the rules before you fracture them.” Fine. Then crack ’em open and don’t be so goddamn apologetic about it.

Ooh, and about exclamation points: one in 100,000 words is quite enough, thanks according to Mr. Leonard. (My journalistic mentor referred to the exclamation point in colourful terms. “They’re called dogs’ pricks,” he said.)

Brevity is good, too. It gives you more room for story and story is what your readers sign up for when they open a book.

Filed under: grammar, writing tips, , ,

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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