The Enigma of Editing. Or, What Exactly Does An Editor Do, Anyway?

Storytime with the Goblins by Abigail LarsonWell, I’m not entirely sure how it got to be 2016, but here we are just the same. I’ve been contemplating my first post of the year for a while. I talk about grammar and etymology a lot, but I realized that I haven’t talked about editing very much. So today, I’d like to tell you a bit about the work that I do as an editor.

For starters, did you know that there are different types of editing? Continue reading

Getting to the Heart of Plain Language

chow_178__dracula_by_tsabo6Can you believe it’s nearly the end of July? I hope you are all having a lovely summer (or winter for those of you in the southern hemisphere). You probably don’t know this, but I’m a member of Plain Language Association International. Plain language is all about clear communication. It’s a way of writing and presenting information that makes it easy for readers to understand. Continue reading

Editing Goes Global 2015: Conference Highlights

an_octopus_drinking_tea_by_pseudooctopus-d4rnemeOkay, so things have been a bit crazy for yours truly lately. I had hoped to have this post up last week, but I couldn’t find a way to add any more hours to my days. Nor could I get my body to grow six more arms on command. Anyway, I’m here now, excited to tell you all about Editing Goes Global. Continue reading

Does Your Writing Need a Mechanic?

mechanic_by_mr__jack-d5czm56Can you believe we’re more than halfway through the summer? I’m not sure what happened to July, but here we are in August. Today, we’re going to talk about some of the mechanics of writing, which includes things like spelling, capitalization, and formatting. It might sound boring, but getting the mechanics right shows that you know and care about your craft.

Okay, so let’s look at some easy ways to tune-up your writing.

Paragraphs are your friends.

They are also your reader’s friends. Here’s what you need to know about writing paragraphs:

  • A paragraph should contain one idea only.
  • All the sentences in a paragraph should support that idea, or provide more information about it.
  • A paragraph can be long or short, but remember that long paragraphs can be overwhelming to your reader—and sometimes, a one-word paragraph can pack a real punch.

Italics, bold, underline.

These are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. First of all, unless you’re talking about a hyperlink, you should avoid underlining altogether. Underlining was used in the typewriter age, when there was no other way to emphasize text. We have computers now, so there’s no excuse for underlines.

What about bold and italics? Well, while both can be used for emphasis, italics are the standard in the world of publishing. Along with emphasizing a particular word (Dave couldn’t believe she was here), italics can also be used to indicate inner thoughts, dreams, and memories (what a jerk, she thought); foreign words (he was a real bête noire); and some titles, like books, movies, names of boats, and so on. (Titles are tricky though—some go in quotation marks instead, so it’s a good idea to check if you aren’t sure.)

Bold is sometimes used for emphasis in online publishing, because italics are not always easy to distinguish in certain fonts. However, you should try to stick with italics for emphasis and use bold for titles and headings.

Oh, and for the love of all the writers who have come before you, do not mix bold and italics in the body of your writing. Pick one. Consistency is also your friend.

Formatting dialogue.

Okay, so this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Dialogue can be a fabulous way to move your story forward and tell us something about your characters. However, you absolutely have to get the formatting right. Here are the rules:

1. Each speaker gets his or her (or its) own line, like so:

  • “It’s raining cats and dogs,” he said.
  • “I’m pretty sure those are bobcats,” she said.
  • “Actually, I’m a civet,” said the civet.

2. Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

  • “Ouch!” he yelled.
  • “Are you serious?” she asked.

3. Don’t go crazy with your dialogue tags, which are the words that tell the reader who said what (said, asked, yelled, etc.). It can be tempting to slap on a bunch of adverbs or adjectives (“I wish it would stop raining,” she pouted petulantly.), but it’s generally better to stick with something simple and then describe the action in a separate sentence, like so:

  • “I wish it would stop raining.” She pouted as she stared out the window, a petulant look on her face.

Parallel structure.

This refers to using balanced grammatical forms when talking about two things (or two sets of things) that have the same importance. Parallel constructions increase clarity through the use of logical word patterns. Here are two examples:

Not parallel:  Civets survive by eating mangoes and coffee beans, and they hunt frogs.
Parallel:  Civets survive by eating mangoes and coffee beans, and hunting frogs.

Not parallel:  Bobcats not only love to hunt, but also fish.
Parallel:  Bobcats not only love to hunt, but also love to fish.

Sentences that aren’t parallel sound awkward and can sometimes cause confusion.

Be Your Own Mechanic

When it comes to the mechanics of writing, it’s all about the details. With that in mind, the most important thing you can do is proofread. Seriously. Don’t hit that publish button without proofreading. You’ll be amazed by how far your writing can go when you get your mechanics right.

Image credit:  Mr–Jack @ deviantART

Fiction Hiatus and Writing Workshops

Beach ViewToday, I’m popping in to tell you two things. The first is that I will be working on my novel for the next couple of weeks, so I might not post any fiction for a while (but I’ll try to stay on top of my non-fiction posts). If you’re really jonesing for a story to read, check out my fiction archives. You might find something there that tickles your fancy. I would also suggest checking out some of the blogs I love, which you’ll find listed further down the page on the right.

The second is that I am also running an online writing workshop this summer, along with my friend and colleague, Natalie DeYoung of Cat Lady Sings. The workshops will run once a week—and the first one begins next week! This is part of the annual yeah write summer series, which is all about building community through writing.

SS-I-72x1200If you are interested in participating in the workshop, you can register here. You’ll find Natalie and me in the Gold Lounge. The cost of the workshop is $50/week, which is a great deal for a week of one-on-one work with a professional editor!

All you need to participate is a piece of writing (up to 1200 words) that you’d like to improve. It can be fiction or non-fiction. Natalie or I will work with you throughout the week to tweak and polish your writing. At the end of the week, you will have a stronger piece of writing and we will provide you with a written assessment of your writing, including your strengths and advice to deal with any areas that might need improving.

I hope to see some of you in the workshops!


Image credit:  Olga Khoroshunova