Tag Archives: editing

Editing Tip: How to Pluralize Your Holiday Cards

miserable kids at Christmas

What not to do this Christmas.

Here’s a hilarious (and largely accurate) article to help you figure out how to fill out your Christmas (or other-holiday-of-your-choosing) card.

Q: What if my last name ends in a Y? 
A: Add an S. Do not add -IES or an apostrophe.
Merry Christmas from the Murphys. 

Q: What if my last name already ends in an S? 
A: Add -ES. Do not add an apostrophe.
Season’s greetings from the Simmonses.

Q: What if the end of my last name normally functions as an irregular noun? 
A: It is not irregular when it is part of a last name.
Happy holidays from the Hoffmans. Warm wishes from the Wolfs. 

Q: What would adding an apostrophe do? 
A: It would hurt Tiny Tim make your last name possessive.

Go read all about it: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/11/25/how_to_make_your_last_name_plural_on_holiday_cards_and_avoid_apostrophe.html?google_editors_picks=true

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How to Edit Your “Choose Your Own Adventure”-Style Book

Now that you’ve written your totally awesome gamebook, you’ve got to edit it! Unfortunately, because you’ve got all these disconnected storylines running all over the place, that’s a bit more of an organizational feat than normal editing. So what should you do? Here’s my advice after working on my adult zombie gamebook, Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny.

Take a Deep Breath
And just try to be patient. It’s pretty complicated, and even after taking more than 6 passes through it (both me and with other editors) I still found mistakes in the final form. Which is frustrating.
Make a Checklist
Since you made that awesome list when you wrote it, you can now turn that list into a checklist. You’ll want to mark off each section you’ve read/reviewed as you go. YES, you will most likely loop through the same sections repeatedly. You have to check the direction with every one, even if you just glance to make sure the transitions make sense.
Use the “Find” Feature
Late in the game I decided to change the names of a few characters. There was no way in Hades I was ever going to find all the incidences of those names, but the find tool made it easy to find and replace them in one quick pass. The same thing holds true with other story details (if you’ve decided, as I did, to keep some things constant across storylines). Because you’ve got a nonlinear story, you’ll need some clever tricks to track everything down.
Rewrite and Modify
After I showed a draft copy to my brother, I had to add in a few more scenes. (He felt like he died too often, poor baby). Because I’d written the book in Scrivner, this wasn’t that hard, but it did mean changing the choices to lead to that section, and inserting new pages. If I had been going by page number at this point–instead of the simpler numbering system–I’d have been in big trouble.
Layout the Pages
When you are completely confident that the story works, doesn’t have errors, and is generally in good shape, lay out the pages. It is a BIG headache if you have to go back and change these later (odds are good that you’ll have to go back and change them later…) but that’s why you’ve got your checklist as a backup.
You may want to do a rough layout, and then save two versions, if you’re doing ebook and print. They are similar in manuscript format but are about to change dramatically.
Add Page Numbers
I worked from the beginning and moved through my numbered list in order. That meant, in some cases, I added page numbers to some choices and left others with the placeholder number until I reached that point in the number system. In those cases, I just used the “find” tool to find my placeholder once I knew for certain what page it would be on. I also wrote the page number next to the original number in my list.
Use a pencil. I had to erase and scratch out at least a few times, particularly in the final pages.
Add Links
Because I wanted an ebook option as well as a printed option, I had to add links for ereaders. But the number system I used also made this pretty easy! I added the links in my document in Word (after exporting the manuscript from Scrivner). Word has a great “bookmark” tool that allows you to create in-document links. In Microsoft for Mac, this is located under Insert>Bookmark. You’ll add the bookmark itself to the section you want to send readers to, and add a hyperlink to that bookmark to each choice. (So: choices become links; bookmarks are at the beginning of the new section). You can also nickname your bookmarks with a few words–or even your number system. That chart you made really comes in handy!
Google “add bookmarks in Word” if you need step-by-step directions. A word of warning: if you have a full novel like Undead Rising with a lot of links, your document is going to get pretty big and the bookmarks may get challenging. That’s another reason I find the number system so useful.
Add Formatting For eBook and Print Versions
This was really time-consuming and you may want to hire a designer for this part. Print and ebooks naturally have some strong differences in layout and needs of the reader, and you’ll have to design carefully to accommodate that. For print, I wanted clear bullets to indicate each new choice. For the ebook, the choices were already obvious because they are underlined links. I also added dropcaps to signal new sections for the print book; that wouldn’t be necessary in an ebook, because the link will “warp” the reader directly to the new section.
Whatever formatting you decide on, be extremely careful that you don’t mess up your page numbers (in print) and that you are consistent throughout.
Check It Again
After you think everything is perfect, you’re going to need to check it..again. And probably again after that. The first pass should look for spelling and grammatical issues (I read the book backwards to help look for those); the second pass should check every link and every page direction. It’s tedious but very important that it be perfect!
After this, you should have a gorgeous ebook and/or print gamebook ready to publish!
Undead Rising coverIf that sounds like a ridiculous amount of work, maybe you should just enjoy a good gamebook instead. How about Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny, now available in print and for Kindle?

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Editing Quick Hit: Inner Monologues

Oh shit! he thought. I have no idea how a monologue should be written! What will I do?

Ah, rest easy, writer’s inner muse. I’m here to help.

Insight into a character’s mind is one of the gifts of fiction. In real life, even when someone tells us what they are thinking, they aren’t often telling us what they are really thinking. But in fiction, we can climb right into someone’s head and learn from their very thoughts. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

But how do you convey that something is an inner monologue?

First, make sure you’re in the right kind of story. Sorry, nonfiction, you’re right out: even if we have someone’s journal, we don’t know exactly what they’re thinking (don’t worry, historical fiction; you can stay). Also excluded are stories written in “third person limited”–ie., are told by an outside narrator who doesn’t have access to the thoughts and motivations of the characters. (IMPORTANT: If you switch between characters’ perspectives, do so only at a clear break, such as a chapter, so that the reader can keep up. Don’t “head hop.” If you’re in third person limited, you’re limited!)

But say you’re in first person, or third person omniscient, and someone is thinking something. How do you write it?

  • Where is she going with this, he wondered?
  • “Where is she going with this?” he wondered.
  • Where is she going with this? he wondered.

Which of the above is clearest for the reader? The last one: the change of the font gives the reader a hint, from the beginning, that something is different about this sentence. They’ll know to read it in a different “sound” than other dialogue.

On a similar note, why does the placement of that question mark matter so much? Read it aloud. English sucks for questions, because we don’t alert readers that it is, in fact, a question until the very end of the sentence. When we ask a question, we raise the tone of our voices toward the end of the sentence (when we’ve figured out it’s a question after all!). If you move that question mark to after the “he wondered,” that lift will come on “wondered” rather than on “this?” where it belongs.

Now, if there is some reason you can’t use italics in your book (I pity you greatly), it is ok to write thoughts without italics–I think it’s just the most efficient method. If you leave off the italics, try to clue the reader in some other way. For example, don’t make it dialogue:

  • He wondered where she could possibly be going with this blog post.

Or keep it as dialogue but warn the reader up front:

  • He wondered: Where is she going with this blog post? Will it ever end?

Don’t ever use quotation marks! Those are reserved for–duh!–quotations, said aloud.

Your job as the writer is to make your story as clear for the reader as possible: after all, if they’re busy trying to figure out how to say the sentence you just wrote, they’re not getting immersed in your great story.


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Editing Tip: Keep the Mystery Alive

This is titled as an editing tip, but it may be more of a writing tip. However, it doesn’t really matter whether you handle this at the beginning of your writing process or during an editing phase: it is essential that you keep some things from the reader.

“What?” you’re screaming right now. “But I’m supposed to show, not tell!”

Yeah, you are. But don’t show the reader everything. They don’t really want to know everything. Mystery is one of the reasons people read stories; trying to figure out the plot of the puzzle.

I’ve seen this from many beginning authors. They get so excited about the story, the world, they’ve built in their imaginations, they just share all of it. Because it’s just SO awesome, right?

But what ends up happening is the plot gets weighed down by unnecessary, irrelevant details, the reader gets bored, and the story overall doesn’t feel very good.

Take Harry Potter, for example, all the books. JK Rowling is known for having developed a deep complexity to her world, with pages and pages and pages of notes and plans for each character. But the first book does not, say, cover every year of Harry’s life from birth until he gets picked up at Hogwarts. Nor, when he arrives, does she take the time for a luxurious tour of the castle: all we the reader get is a bit about the exterior, the Great Hall with the floating candles, some moving staircases, and a rough sketch of the tower for the Gryffindors.

Basically, she only introduces the rooms that Harry directly interacts with–and then only includes the relevant ones (no bathroom breaks in Hogwarts). And yet Hogwarts is a lush and beautiful scene that doesn’t feel at all shortchanged by these exclusions.

So, why should you leave things out of your story?

  • To get to the good stuff. Unless you’re writing an architecture book, your readers probably don’t care about all those luscious details you’ve got planned out. They want to know what’s going to happen next, not the color of the chandeliers!
  • To avoid an info-dump. It’s much more exciting to figure out the shape of a story little by little than to suddenly be told everything. If I wanted to know everything in one go, I’d read the Cliff’s Notes.
  • To protect you when/if you change your mind. Oh, you want the windows to be curved? Sorry buddy, you wrote that they were rectangular four books ago. If your book becomes popular (as you hope it will!), you’ll have everyone poring over every detail, trying to make them fit together. Just ask GRR Martin how that goes.
  • To leave room for more stories. This is actually the BEST reason: if you leave folks wanting more, you’ll have the opportunity to write (and sell) more. But that can’t happen if you spill everything in the first go! Keep some details under your hat, and you’ll continue to find more to develop.

It’s a tricky balance for sure: how do you balance juicy descriptions with holding a bit back? I can’t tell you the how or the what, unfortunately–just the why. But trust me: when you figure it out, your book will be the better for it.

Have you read anything that just over-described and gave too much away? What did it tell you about good writing?


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Stephen King as a Writing Teacher

I loved On Writing, and it surprised me just how much I embraced it. Now, even though I’ve read only a few of his books, Stephen King has become one of my favorite authors–not for his writing, but for his devotion, his thoughtfulness, and his brain. I wish I could meet him.

Stories like this one remind me of how much I like him and want to hang out with him.

He’s just very authentic, and honest, sometimes about things that people (writers) aren’t comfortable admitting.

For example, he says that grammar–while still needing to be taught–isn’t the most critical skill.

And, even more heretical, he says that not everyone needs to be a writer. The scandal!

(I’ll take it a step further: not everyone needs to be a self-published writer…)

But I think he’s right. Sometimes it’s a matter of teaching people what they need right now in their real lives; they have opportunities later to further develop their talents if their interests take them there. Fundamentals. (See what he says about teaching kids to write directions from A to B.)

Also, I just love his frank crassness, like this: “Reading good fiction is like making the jump from masturbation to sex.”

Oh heavens, Mr. King, you’re givin’ me the vapors!

Anyway, he’s fabulous.

What do you think of King’s advice? Does it hold true in your experience?

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Editing Quick Hit: How Many Sentences to a Paragraph?

What I tell you next is going to make some English teachers hate me, but it will make you a better writer, so I’m willing to risk it: You’re doing paragraphs wrong.

In third grade, you were probably taught that a paragraph was required to be three to five sentences long. If your paragraphs were NOT sufficiently long–or, heaven forbid!–were longer than five sentences, no smiley face stamp for you!

And then the internet came along and writers started chucking paragraphs right out the window. In fact, it’s practically blogging 101: keep it short, stupid. (Even me! Look at all these paragraphs! So short!)

Between these two influences, some writers have given up on having paragraphs at all, cleaving to just one or two sentences jammed together.

And it’s deplorable.

Look, blogging is one thing, but a blog is not a book, nor should it be (if I can get the exact same information out of reading one blog that I can get out of reading your whole multi-chapter book, the world doesn’t need your book).

Paragraphs are there to help the reader decipher your text. The line breaks make it easier to read. (Ease of reading is exactly why bloggers are told to keep it short. The sans-serif typeface used on most internet sites is a bit harder to read when grouped together, plus you’ve got the backlighting on the screen adding strain, too.)

But paragraphs are also a tool used to show what parts go together.

Let me give an example, with every sentence given its own line:

Bob the butterfly loved to dither in the field of flowers.

Being a butterfly, he didn’t have many cares in the world, but he was absolutely fascinated by the myriad colors, smells and delightful flavors.

He flew from one flower to the next, lost in a whirl of enthusiasm.

His attention span was short–he didn’t have much of a brain, if you could even call it that–and so was quick to taste, then fly to the next, on and on.

But he could have been paying more attention.

While he was busy drinking nectar from the One-Eyed Susan, a sparrow zoomed down and ate him.

That kind of reads like a poem, doesn’t it? Which is great, if that’s what you’re going for. But if you’re writing prose, it is more commonly formatted like this:

Bob the butterfly loved to dither in the field of flowers. Being a butterfly, he didn’t have many cares in the world, but he was absolutely fascinated by the myriad colors, smells and delightful flavors. He flew from one flower to the next, lost in a whirl of enthusiasm. His attention span was short–he didn’t have much of a brain, if you could even call it that–and so was quick to taste, then fly to the next, on and on. But he could have been paying more attention. While he was busy drinking nectar from the One-Eyed Susan, a sparrow zoomed down and ate him.

A punchy little narrative, perhaps a fable, in six sentences.  But there are other ways to format it, too, which may be even more powerful:

Bob the butterfly loved to dither in the field of flowers. Being a butterfly, he didn’t have many cares in the world, but he was absolutely fascinated by the myriad colors, smells and delightful flavors. He flew from one flower to the next, lost in a whirl of enthusiasm. His attention span was short–he didn’t have much of a brain, if you could even call it that–and so was quick to taste, then fly to the next, on and on. But he could have been paying more attention.

While he was busy drinking nectar from the One-Eyed Susan, a sparrow zoomed down and ate him.

The separation between the paragraph and the surprise ending in the last line gives the reader a moment of pause, and can heighten the zing.

So–how long should your paragraphs be?

As long as they need to be.

I know, radical! Throw out the rulebooks and use your well-honed subjective judgement–but be prepared to defend your reasoning if someone challenges you. Why do you want it that way? If you don’t know, or are falling back on old rules, you may want to rethink your formatting.

**Special note: In my opinion, you get less opportunity to be loosey-goosey about paragraphs when it’s in dialogue, but I think the misunderstanding comes from the same place. Here’s the rule for dialogue: If it is all being spoken at once, by the same speaker, 9/10 you need it to be all in the same paragraph. If someone is giving a speech, it’s perfectly fine to create a big ol’ text wall. Breaking it into chunks, particularly in a back-and-forth conversation, can create gads of confusion for the reader.

(If you really want to break it into chunks, the natural place would be whenever commentary is added, such as “he shuffled his feet awkwardly” or “she giggled” or “The cat did not care an ounce for the story, but tolerated it nonetheless.” In other words, stuff that’s related to the dialogue but isn’t actually being said aloud.)


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Editing Quick Hit: ‘Backward’ Apostrophes

What I’m about to say may shock and confuse you–it’s okay, it’s not your fault; the machines are lying to you. But I’m here to help.

Your apostrophes are backwards.

Don’t worry, it’s not all the time. The most common writing software is just making things bonkers for you.

On fonts that utilize “curly” apostrophes (unlike online, like this typeface) should always have the “tail” of the apostrophe pointing toward the missing letters in a shortened word, such as in dialogue. In other words, the apostrophe should be “closed” or shaped like a number 9.

But Microsoft Word botches this every time, like this:

wrong way to use apostrophes

The apostrophes for ’em (them) and ’90s (1990s) should show the reader where the missing letters go. Thinkin’ (thinking) is correct, however; the tail says, “there should be a ‘g’ right here!” Instead, Microsoft Word thinks those apostrophes are single quotation marks, which leads it to put in the wrong one.

Here’s how it looks when it is correct:

correct apostrophe position

Now our helpful apostrophes say, “look, these two words are missing letters!” Perfect. (And “thinkin'” is still correct.)

Individually, this is easy to correct: just put in two apostrophes when you want to flip one around. The second apostrophe will be turned the correct direction. Then, just delete the first one.

If you’re going to be apostroph-izing frequently, you may want to look into the programming to see if you can turn off the flippy apostrophes, but most people don’t need to go that far. Of course, you can also hire a good editor/proofreader (like me!) to do all the apostrophe-scrounging for you.

I recently worked on a fun book that featured a lot of Western-y dialogue. There were a lot of backward apostrophes to fix. Here’s an example of how this kind of dialogue should look when it is done correctly:

example of dialogue with apostrophes

With all the shortened words spelled out, this would say, “That is because you run faster than I do, so as I gotta get them first.” But that just sounds crazy, so shortened dialogue it is! Just be sure to keep track of which direction your apostrophes are facing.

If you want to read up on apostrophe directions, consult section 6.114 of your Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.

Are your apostrophes backwards? Have you run into this problem before?


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Editing Quick Hit: How Many Spaces Go After A Period?

Spacebar: the Final Frontier

I’ve been saving this image so long; I can’t believe I can finally use this joke.

An unexpected furor popped up among some family friends last month, and because I work as an editor, I was the subject-matter expert (in other words, the controversy swirled around me). And it all started with a 3-year-old online article.

The very important question: How many spaces go after a period ending a sentence?

The question-asker had stumbled upon this article from Slate: Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces After A Period.

And it’s full of fightin’ words.

Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. “When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay,” she told me. “I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It’s a pure sign of amateur typography.”


But, yes, the accepted standard is now one space after a period, in all cases. (If you’d like to look it up yourself, it’s in section 6.7 of the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.)

It came to be with typewriters, which didn’t leave enough visual space between a period and the next letter with just one space. But you probably haven’t touched a typewriter in years, so it’s okay to drop the preference.

I know, it’s likely you learned the habit in school–or maybe just picked it up as a sly way to increase the page count on assigned homework–but you’ll make your editor’s life easier if you slim your manuscript down to just one space after the period. If it’s challenging to unlearn the long-engrained habit, you can also use your search bar in Word to search for two spaces, then use the replace function to replace it with one space (it’ll look like you’re searching for nothing, but this works).

Does it really matter? Not truly. It’s just one of those accepted rules. Consider it like brushing your hair before you leave the house. Sure, you don’t have to, but you’ll look more polished and professional if you do. I don’t care if you put two-three-four! spaces after a period in your personal emails, your journal, your thank-you notes–but when finalizing a manuscript, stick to just one.


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Homophobes Against Homophones: Why Words Matter

This is just ridiculous, but it shows, painfully clearly, why language and being educated about language, matters.

The social media specialist for a language school was fired for writing a blog post about homophones (words that sound the same but aren’t), because the owner presumed–or thought others would presume?–the post was about gay sex.

Seriously, I can’t believe this happened (here’s the original story). Take a second to let that soak in:

  • School that focuses on language for non-native speakers
  • Has blog post about a basic issue that non-native speakers encounter when learning language
  • But the name for that issue is vaguely, distantly related to a different word
  • Causing the owner–who had to look up the definition–to fire the blog writer.

The fire-er actually said, “People at this level of English may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex.”

Mind = blown

Barney expresses my feelings quite well.

I mean, of course they would! It’s not like they have a language school they can attend where they can learn these things!


Awkward gif


Just for our brilliant language school owner’s edification, some common homophones include:

  • their, there, they’re
  • threw, through, thru
  • mourning, morning
  • air, err, heir, are* (in some dialects)
  • flee, flea
  • flew, flu
  • rain, reign, rein

Also, some other words that begin with “homo-” but have nothing at all to do with gay sex (plus definitions!):

  • homogeneous: having the same structure, being composed of similar parts
  • homologous: matching in structure
  • homocysteine: an amino acid found in the blood of mammals and appears to be associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease
  • homoiothermic: warm-blooded
  • homocercal: relating to a fish fin, having upper and lower lobes that are approximately symmetrical
  • Homo sapiens: mankind, human beings (that’s right sir, you are indeed Homo!)

This is just one of the many reasons learning the ins-and-outs of your language is so vital—so that you don’t make a fool of yourself on a national stage like this school-owner just did. I hope the blogger finds a new job swiftly; it will undoubtedly be an environment more open to actual learning!

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What is Editing?

At its most basic, editing is making changes to a written text. Simple enough, right? And yet, not, because folks have different understandings of when it is okay to make those changes.

Case in point: I once knew a writer-turned-editor who felt “editing” meant she always needed to make a change to the original text, sort of as a way to prove that it had, in fact, been edited. This led to a lot of ridiculous edits, such as the substitution of a word with its synonym: ex. “Clifford the big red dog liked to play” would become “Clifford the enormous red dog enjoyed playing.”

The original meaning of the sentence wasn’t changed or improved at all by those kinds of edits; many of the writers she worked with felt like she was just wasting everyone’s time and was only interested in her own self-aggrandizement.

On the small scale, this kind of substitution editing can be harmless to mildly annoying. On the large scale, it meant the editor was taking a lot of her time completely rewriting copy, without a good reason for it. (When asked, she said, “I thought it sounded better.” That… isn’t a reason to make edits.) Her editing ethos was: “The editor knows best.”

Basically, she was the Loki of editors:

Is there a better way?

I think so. My editing philosophy is: “First, do no harm. Second, make it better without impeding the author’s voice and meaning.”

In other words, it is never my job to make a change just for the sake of making a change. If I were hired to copy edit a piece and I couldn’t find a single mistake, I’d congratulate the author for doing an excellent job (I’d also want to shake their hand, because that’s a feat!).

An editor is really second fiddle to the author. Particularly in the changing publishing marketplace, an editor acts as adviser and clean-up crew–but the author is the boss. When I make edits as a freelancer, I always provide complete transparency, using Word’s Track Changes feature to literally show each and every change. If a change is subjective, I leave a comment explaining my actions. Then it is up to the author to decide which changes to keep and which to disregard.

Editors are powerful, it’s true, but at the end of the day, they–like our pal Loki–are small gods.

Author Hulk here is expressing his feelings toward his overly intrusive editor, Loki.


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