How does one train to be a fiction editor?


When I guest blogged at Random Writing Rants the other day, a commenter asked about how one gets trained as a fiction editor. Here’s an expanded version of my answer.

I belong to two professional associations, both of which provide editor training:

When it’s okay to spell okay ‘OK’

Writers and editors may be the only people who get into arguments about spelling. In fact, I think it could easily be said that if you’re inclined to argue about how things ought to be spelled, you’re an editor, at heart if not by title.

OK button

Illustration by 3d_kot –

I’ve been inclined to spell OK with two letters for as long as I can remember. Maybe I read an article about its origins early on. There’s no telling. But that spelling became deeply ingrained when I worked in the newsroom, because it’s the one endorsed by the Associated Press Stylebook.

So I was surprised when not one, but two critique partners, on two different occasions, told me OK was “wrong” and that the only acceptable spelling is okay. Further shock ensued when they both cited The Chicago Manual of Style as the origin of this edict. Continue reading

Nonrule: Don’t Use ‘Start’ or ‘Begin’

Fiction writers often tell this lie to one another: “Don’t use words like started or began.” I’ve even heard it referred to as “the start rule.”

They don’t realize they’re lying, of course. But this not a rule. It’s advice, and poorly expressed. The more accurate way to express it would be, “If something ‘starts,’ make sure it will continue awhile.” Here’s an excerpt from my current work in progress: Continue reading

Behold the power of the outline

At a chamber fellowship meeting, I was once asked to share my top editing tip. Didn’t have to think long about it: outline.

Snowflake can identify your chapter breaks based on scene length.

Snowflake can identify your chapter breaks based on scene length.

I resisted outlining for many years, because it reeked of term papers and therefore seemed uncreative. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Pro software convinced me otherwise. Designed for novel-writing, it takes you from premise to outline in nine steps. When you’re done, it will compile your entries into a proposal. Continue reading

When passive voice is permissible

Writers and editors often pass on things they’ve learned — usually at the knee of some mentor they highly respect — in the form of seemingly inviolable rules: As it was said to me, I say to you, Thou shalt not use the passive voice.

break editor's pencil

magdaloubser •

I am not saying “you have to know the rules before you can break them.” I’m heartily sick of that old bromide. I am saying you have to know the difference between a real rule and a non-rule. Continue reading

Publishing Q&A: Do you need a professional editor?

question answer


This question came up several times during the Florida Writers Association conference.  Sometimes it was “Do you need a professional editor to work on your manuscript before you self-publish?” and other times it was “Do you need a professional editor to work on your manuscript before you submit for traditional publication?” Answers varied. Some said yes, unequivocally, and others said a good writer can produce a quality manuscript without help.

My answer falls somewhere between. Continue reading

English is hard. I’m here to help.

English is a beautiful but complex language. Because it borrows words from pretty much every other language on the planet, it has a massive vocabulary. Syntax can be intricate. Word formation is often illogical; for example, flammable and inflammable both mean “easy to burn.”

Reference Books for study

Feodor Korolevsky • http://istockphoto

Rules for punctuation are almost inscrutable. The Chicago Manual of Style’s section on commas is 14 pages long. For a seminar handout, I condensed the bare minimum most writers need to know about commas, and it’s still almost a whole page. This kind of thing makes writers crazy and keeps copyeditors in business. Continue reading