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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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

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

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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Proofreading Symbols

To find more proofreading symbols click here.

Filed under: Editors, manuscript evaluation, writing tips, , , ,

Proofing a manuscript

My local newspaper fired its copy editors as a cost-saving measure. Now typos and grammatical errors abound. It’s a detail that particularly bothers older readers and fired copy editors. It’s happened in publishing as well. Fewer bodies mean fewer lines of defence against the dark arts errors in manuscripts.

When I was a proofreader for a publisher, the manuscripts had already gone through the author-editor-copy editor-first proofreader stages. I’d put the books together on computer and probably find up to thirty-five errors on average. The last proofer might find two to eight formatting errors or problems that I missed if it was an especially long book. By the end of all that, the text would be pretty clean. (I’m not counting the errors readers think are errors but aren’t. Usually this rears up when people misunderstand the differences between affect, effect, comprise and American vs. English english.)

If you catch a lot of problems in a published book, that may mean the book is self-published and an editor didn’t look at it at all. It may also indicate the publisher cut back on the expense of multiple lines of defence (proofers and editors.) Another possibility is that the manuscript was packed with errors to begin with and lots of errors were caught, but the sheer number of typos overwhelmed the worker drones.

When next you notice a short guy has turned into a tall guy or someone’s eye color has changed or you see a flock of geese instead of a gaggle, you’ll know why. I’ve just finished reading a Writer’s Digest book and noticed ten or so errors. I don’t get too self-righteous about it, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t irk me, especially when you think of all those people who are now out of work. With the idiosyncrasies of text messaging, the new generation of readership are much more tolerant of textual errors than their parents and grandparents.

Curmudeonly grammarians are a pain, but too many errors are distracting and can detract from reader’s confidence in the work.

Filed under: Books, publishing, , ,

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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