How important really is grammar?

When I tell people that I’m a freelance editor (including other writers), they instantly assume that I’m a copyeditor, with a keen interest in working on the grammar and punctuation of my clients. I’m not surprised that writers often jump to that conclusion. Majority of editors that I encounter actually ARE copyeditors. However, what is the point behind looking at the appropriateness of a given word in a sentence when on page 152 the bad guys are setting up the bomb that will level the city, and the good guys find the bomb and disarm it by the end of page 154.

This may sound incredibly odd coming from a professional editor, but in all honesty, grammar takes a backseat to story and character.

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Nonfiction writers who write fiction need to retrain their brains.

There are some out there who believe that writing is just writing. If you have training in writing of one nature, surely you can write other stuff too. Well…

There are certain aspects of writing that hold true no matter what type of writing you do. The rules of grammar, for example, don’t care if you write fiction, a scientific paper, or a cookbook. However, there is a massive difference between all three of those particular types of writing.

It is becoming increasingly common for those who have nonfiction writing backgrounds to shift into the fictional realms. Let’s face it, we have big imaginations and we want to share that with the world. Rightly so. Our stories should be told. However, nonfiction writers, you need to retrain your brains if you are serious about pursuing fiction.

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There’s a reason for the standard manuscript format

In this day and age, many submissions are handled through email. Agents and acquisition editors will often look at the submissions sent to them on an electronic device, commonly a computer or tablet screen. For many submissions, the initial contact is contained in the body of an email (no attachments). If additional materials are asked for, agents and editors expect things to be in the standard manuscript format. Yet, agents and editors will still look at those added materials using electronic devices.

So, if everything is now electronic, why must we format our manuscripts using a format that was devised back in the day when everything was printed? Well, believe it or not, the standard manuscript format is very specific for a reason.

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Developmental Editors are NOT Copyeditors

When I tell people that I’m an editor, the first response that I typically get is something along the lines of, “You must love spelling.” It’s amazing how many people assume that editing is just looking at the punctuation and grammar, perhaps finding typos. However, this proofreading type of editing is the final stage of the process. Before you get to that point, there are so many other aspects.

I have written about the stages of editing before, posting the below info-graphic about when you need to seek those external eyes and what type of external eyes you need. However, I still encounter many who are confused about what editing really entails.

The stages of editing info-graphic

The stages of editing

In this week’s post, I thought I’d elaborate on the two main categories of professional editors that you’ll likely encounter, and why BOTH are vital to the health (and success) of a story. I’m talking in particular about developmental editors and copyeditors.

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Trick from the Editor’s Hat: A List of Crutch Words

You spend hours, days, even weeks editing. You're struggling to get through it — but don't give up. Writing a story is easy; shaping it into something worth reading is where the true talent of the writer lies.

Here is just one of the many tricks that I employ when editing both my own and clients' writing.

CREATE A SPREADSHEET OF CRUTCH WORDS

While writing, we often have a list of words that we'll fall back on when we can't think of another word to write. Sometimes, we don't even realise that we're doing it. It's not until our critique partners, beta readers, or editors point it out to us that we see the repetitive word glaring at us.

"How could I have missed that? It's as obvious as the nose on my face."

Well, it's quite easy to miss things when you don't know that they're a problem. However, the solution is surprisingly simple.

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Punctuation marks

Cooking with Commas

There are many different things that can drive an editor batty. Punctuation just happens to among them. There is much confusion about punctuation. Often writers get them confused. Hell, even editors have been known to get a little muddled.

Today, I wanted to address the importance of the comma.

I will grant you that there is a significant amount of debate over the usage of commas, particularly the Oxford comma (whether we should or shouldn’t use it). It probably doesn’t help that the Oxford comma has now won a legal court case.

However, many editors will agree that commas seem to be disappearing from text, partly because of the increasing usage of smartphones and social media. This, folks, is not a good thing. I will grant you that when writing a hurried tweet, the comma can consume precious character counts. However, one little comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

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The Synopsis for Editing and Writing

Those who are heading down the road toward traditional publication will be familiar with a beast known as a synopsis. Many agents and publishers require that you submit a 1/2-page synopsis with your submission materials. The chore of writing a synopsis that length is a frightening task. Many writers have been known to run away from it, screaming. So, when I mention that writers should write synopses as an editing tool, it’s not surprising that many look at me like I’m crazy.

In a querying synopsis, you include only the main plot thread, ignoring ALL subplots. The only characters named are your protagonist, antagonist, and often a love interest; everyone else is irrelevant. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s completely disheartening to see this complex masterpiece whittled down to a few short paragraphs, but for the querying synopsis, that’s what you need to do.

However, for editing purposes, that short, main-plot-only synopsis is useless. You need to create an entirely different beast.

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Sawn Book

Length matters but story matters more.

Every writer that is serious about publishing, particularly those attempting the traditional publication path, will know that agents and editors put a lot of weight on word counts. The acceptable limits vary depending on the age category and genre of the book.

(By the way, Young Adult is NOT a genre. It’s an age category. And Fiction is NOT a genre either. You can find more information about the various age categories here. More information about the main genre classifications can be found here.)

It’s incredibly important to have a good understanding of the average word counts for the type of story that you are writing, but it’s just as important to understand word counts are not an excuse for poor story telling.

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We can tell you haven’t edited your book.

There are many out there now self-publishing. They’re decisions to head down this path have come about for a variety of reasons and there is nothing wrong with it. There have been many successful writers who have self-published, just as there has been many writers who have been traditionally published that bombed.

In some cases, writers elect to push for self-publishing because it’s the fastest way to get your book out there. For time-sensitive, non-fiction books, this is likely the path you’ll take. However, there is a HUGE difference between (1) producing a quality product that was self-published and (2) self-publishing because you want it out there.

In a previous post, I spoke about rushing the process. One flavor of the rush-the-process beast is the publish-without-editing variant.  Read More

Trick from the Editor’s Hat: Apps that Read Aloud

You spend hours/days/weeks editing and you’re struggling to get through it. Here is just one of the many tricks one could when editing.

Use an app to read your story to you

Many will happily agree that hearing a passage will trigger different editing skills than reading a passage. When we read a passage, our brains often fill in the missing words or correct the awkward sentence so it reads as we think it should, but it’s not what it says. As mentioned in a previous post, reading a passage aloud allows you to register unnatural dialogue, awkward phrases and many other things that could have been missed.

Let’s face reality: not everyone is comfortable with reading things aloud to themselves, but there is a solution. There are apps out there that will read a story to you.

If you are on a Mac system, the app for this is already built-in. Programs like Scrivener have incorporated the Mac text-to-speech features into its operations. Some of the voices are extremely unemotional and computerized, but a few of them aren’t. It might take some trial-and-error to find the voice that works for you, but at least the option is there.

Windows now have these systems built-in too, however, they don’t seem to be as developed as the Mac versions. Saying that, there’s nothing stopping you from downloading an app or using an on-line one.

You could convert your manuscript to a format suitable for an eBook reader and use the text-to-speech functions on that. My Kindle provides me with a male and female voice options. (Both of them make me laugh when they attempt to read some of the unconventional character names.)

There are also text-to-speech apps available for Andoid and iOS.

If you can force yourself past the laughing fit that will likely ensue when that computerized Stephen Hawking voice starts reading your erotic sex scene, this could provide another way to pick up those editing blunders that you might have missed otherwise.

(Now I think I’ll go hunt out those hot and steamy scenes to throw through a text-to-speech program. I could use a good laugh.)

See other Tips and Tricks from the Editor.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017