Tampa: How to Edit Your Novel Systematically

UPDATE: We had a great time at the Tampa workshop. If you were unable to make that event, I’ll be teaching the same workshop again in Orlando June 16.

A Method for Revising Your Book Like a Pro

Tampa: April 14, 2018, at 1901 S. Village Avenue, Tampa FL 33612

Writers know that great writing requires rewriting, editing, and polishing a manuscript to perfection. But writing and editing are two different skills, and writers are seldom taught how to edit. So writers approach editing haphazardly. We think editing means reading our books over and over, fixing mistakes as we see them until there are no more mistakes to find. But it is possible—and very common—to get stuck in an infinite loop of revision, because one never knows when one is finished.

I struggled with this as a writer, but when I trained to be an editor, I learned a systematic method of editing that allows editors to work through a manuscript efficiently and with sure knowledge about when the job is done.

Edit checklist

In this full-day class, I’ll teach you the rigorous process professional editors use to evaluate and edit novels. You’ll learn how to build a book map to analyze (and if necessary fix) your novel’s structure. Then you’ll get tools for planning your editing in a methodical way so you can tackle issues in the correct order, avoid analysis paralysis, and—most importantly—know when you have finished. We’ll cover 10 elements of fiction:

  • Character
  • Point of View
  • Plot
  • Structure
  • Pacing
  • Setting
  • Description
  • Dialog
  • Voice
  • Mechanics

Every attendee will receive an advance copy of my upcoming editing book, which is based on the Edit Like a Pro: Elements of Fiction series.

The doors will open at 8:30 a.m. for registration, coffee, and Second Breakfast. Teaching starts at 9 a.m. We’ll break at noon for lunch, which is included. I’ll wrap up the teaching by 4 p.m., after which we can have Q&A time and socialize.

Enter your name and email address below if you’d like to be notified of future seminars, including the June 16 event in Orlando.

 

Dictionaries Don’t Know Everything

One duty of a copyeditor is to check spelling, including whether a term should be solid, hyphenated, or open. Some terms are open, that is, they are written as two words, e.g., living room. If you search for livingroom (closed) at Merriam-Webster, you’ll be redirected to the page for living room (open).

Some terms vary depending on their usage:

set up (verb) — Help me set up the living room.
setup (noun) — They have a nice setup there.
shell shock (noun) — They’ve got a bad case of shell shock.
shell-shocked (adjective) — They have a shell-shocked look in their eyes.

Terms can vary over time, too. The game originally known as base ball went through a phase as base-ball before becoming baseball.

This Google Ngram shows how base-ball overtook base ball, only to be replaced by baseball.

The problem is, dictionaries can lag behind usage, especially in the case of industry- or genre-specific jargon. I came up against this recently while editing a science fiction novel. The manuscript had view screen where every Trekkie cell of my being said it should be viewscreen. If you search Merriam-Webster for viewscreen, you’ll get “The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.”

I’m guessing my client typed viewscreen, Word’s spell checker told him to make it view screen, and he did. The problem is that a science fiction novel in which the characters watch a view screen is going to look positively Vernian in its quaintness. Which would be fine if you were going for that old-fashioned milieu. But in a book with a modern vibe, it would be as much a clunker as a chick-lit story in which the meet-cute happens at a base ball game. Note that meet-cute is hyphenated.

What’s a copyeditor to do? I know the audience expects viewscreen, but the dictionary admits to no such spelling. Here I turned to Google Ngram.

Ngrams don’t search the web; they search all the books in the Google Books corpus, which is a blinking lot of books, compiled from curated library collections of professionally edited books. Here’s my result:

You can see that the open form view screen predominates up until the time of Star Trek, after which the solid form viewscreen takes off.

Looking into the Google Books corpus to see the citations behind these charts reveals a lot of science fiction novels, many of them Star Trek tie-ins.

So here’s what a copyeditor does: she adds a note to the style sheet for this project that because this is a science fiction novel, we’re going to follow genre convention and make viewscreen solid. This will ensure that we (author, copyeditor, and proofreaders) keep the term consistent throughout the work.

This kind of editorial decision is one some authors and editors hesitate to make. Defying Merriam-Webster may feel too rebellious for some. But sometimes the lexicographers are behind genre trends. Serving the reader and adhering to genre conventions are more important than obeying the spelling checker.

Q&A: 3 Reasons to Attend Writers Conferences

question answer

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Q: I’m working on a book, but it’s not finished yet. Should I attend a writers conference anyway, or should I wait until my book is finished and I’m ready to pitch agents and editors?

A: Don’t wait. There are many benefits to attending writers conferences beyond pitching.

Classes

Writing conferences offer great teaching on a variety of writing techniques, as well as about the business aspects of a writing career. So yes, you should absolutely attend a writers conference while your manuscript is still in progress, because you will learn things you can immediately apply to your work.

Platform

Part of embarking on a writing career is building a platform, which is industry jargon for making a name for yourself. When we talk about networking, we often focus on getting to know people in your niche, but being known is just as important. Your platform encompasses your reputation and the number of people you’re connected to. Even as a newbie, you can start forming relationships with industry professionals. If you don’t have a manuscript to pitch, you can still sit with an agent or editor at dinner and ask about their work. Connect with them online. Then when you are ready to pitch, they may remember you. One of the best ways to become known in your niche is to volunteer at a conference.

Friendships

My single favorite thing about attending conferences is the friendships I’ve developed with other writers and freelancers. Many of my closest friends and most trusted colleagues are people I first met at a conference. Those relationships alone are worth the price of admission and then some. Just to give one example, I got to know Ben Wolf, editor-in-chief of Splickety Publishing Group, through the Florida Christian Writers Conference and the Realm Makers speculative fiction conference. Because of our friendship and the platform I had built, Ben recruited me to copyedit Havok magazine, which has become one of my favorite roles.

writers conference

Meeting other writers is the best reason for attending a conference. Realm Makers 2017. Photo by Kristen Stieffel

Find Conferences Near You

I consider traveling to conferences to be an investment in my business, but for a writer just starting out, the expense may be hard to justify. So do as I did and start locally. Here in Central Florida I attended the Florida Writers Association conference (which is coming up in October) and the Florida Christian Writers Conference (February) several times each before I started traveling to national conferences like American Christian Fiction Writers.

Search the writers conference category at Shaw Guides to find a conference in your region, or try searching the internet for the name of your state or province and the words “writers conference” or “writers association.”

If it still seems hard to justify the expense of a conference, consider that conference fees are tuition in your continuing education as a writer. It’s an investment that pays off.

Q&A: What’s the deal with spaces after a period?

Q: I saw a post online that said only people over the age of forty put two spaces after a period. But I’m under thirty, and my college professors said to use two. I’m confused. Which is correct?

A: Both are correct in different circumstances.

question answer

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As with so much else that publishing professionals get needlessly worked up about, this is a style choice, not a matter of right or wrong.

Three of the most popular style books currently in use, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and The MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association), all call for one space after what we call terminal punctuation—that is, whatever marks the end of a sentence, whether it’s a period, question mark, or exclamation point. Continue reading

The Prophet’s Chronicle Storyworld

One of the things fiction allows us to do is examine hypothetical situations that don’t exist in the real world. A novel is a large-scale thought experiment. This is true of any fiction, but doubly true in speculative fiction. The whole point of science fiction and fantasy is to explore worlds that don’t actually exist.

The storyworld in which my first novel, Alara’s Call, and the other books in the series are set is modeled after nineteenth-century Europe, with all the small countries close together and interrelated royal families and court intrigues. But for all its differences, Europe was long united by a single dominant faith, and most countries had similar governing systems. In my stories, I want to examine several contrasts. This meant I had to set up the storyworld in ways that differ from Europe. Continue reading

Q&A: Do I Need Italics for Flashbacks?

question answer

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Q: I used italics in a scene with a flashback, but my critique partner said I should never use italics. Here’s the part I put in italics:

He sat in the cold hospital waiting room, feeling numb. This was just like when Mom died. We did all we could, the doctor had said. 

I thought characters’ memories were supposed to be italicized. Now I’m confused. What’s the right way to do this?

A: Confusion is understandable, for a several reasons.

First, you’re not the only one who’s confused. Your critique partner is—I’ll be generous and say “overstating the case.” Whenever someone gives you a never in regards to writing, your inner warning klaxon should go off. Writing is an art, and cannot be governed by rules involving always or never. Continue reading

Identifying the Passive Voice

I’ve written before about When Passive Voice is Permissible. Strunk and White admit that “Use the active voice … does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.”

active passive voice

Illustration by kikkerdirk • Fotolia

 

But one of the biggest problems writers face in critique groups is the problem of partners who flag passages as “passive” when they’re really not. Often verbs of being (be, is, was) are flagged as “incorrect” or “passive.” They are not. They are not particularly strong verbs, but they are not passive in and of themselves. Continue reading

The Difference Between Infringement and Plagiarism

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I must.

Don’t steal. Don’t lie.

Writers of all people should know that passing someone else’s words off as your own is Not Done. Yet it happens often, sometimes with spectacularly embarrassing results, even to professionals. Continue reading

Use Story to Make Your Ideas Stick

Folks like Copyblogger who teach copywriting often emphasize the importance of story. That’s because a story gives our hearts and minds something to hold on to. Stories make ideas sticky. But the thing is, the story has to be in your work for the right reasons.

Anecdotes are engaging and relevant.

Like flashbacks in narrative nonfiction, anecdotes used to illuminate informational nonfiction must be engaging. That is, they should have entertainment value as well as informational value. We want interesting stories about fascinating people.

Such stories should also be relevant to the point and not just thrown in because someone told you to “start with a story.” Continue reading

Leverage the Power of Story

In fiction writing, we often say “story is king.” Remember how I define that:

Character + Plot = Story

To make your nonfiction engaging, use stories either on a small scale, like anecdotes, or on a large scale, as in a memoir.

A story may be brief, like Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Continue reading