Editing Is Psychological

 

by Tisha Martin, CES fiction editor, writer, writing coach, academic proofreader, and online marketing specialist (read more about Tisha)
[This blog post first appeared on Almost an Author, 4-22-18.]

Doubt and uncertainty

Editing is psychological.

Yes. That’s right. Psychological. I promise not to go too deep. Please keep reading. In editing our own manuscripts, we usually know what’s going on, who each character is, and how the story’s going to unfold. What we don’t expect is the sneaky errors that crop up. When we least expect it. When we’re about to hit send or publish, or worse yet, after we’ve sent our manuscript off to the publisher!

And what we don’t expect is that our eyes skip over what’s actually missing because our brains automatically interpret what’s there. Hence the psychological aspect of editing.

How do we fix this, or at least make it more manageable? Ah, well, let’s take a closer look at three common mistakes we all make in editing our writing.

Five Common Psychological Editing Mistakes

  1. Extra spaces between sentences.

Extra spaces are a pain, but professional editors loathe them. When editing your manuscript, double check that you don’t have two extra spaces between words or sentences. According to Chicago Manual of Style and nearly every publishing house, one space should appear between sentences. Not the long-standing two spaces. That’s old school. One space and done.

  1. Multiple characters on the first page.

Have you ever entered a room where everyone is talking at once? The noise just engulfs you, making it impossible to focus on any one conversation, much less hear yourself think. If you’re in that family of introverted writers, an experience like this is crippling sometimes.

Just like entering a room full of talking heads, if the first page of your manuscript has too many characters, your readers will want to throw the book at something, anything. Readers want to know who, what, and why when they read the first page.

Rule of thumb: To keep a reader, introduce at least two characters—the protagonist and an important secondary character—on the first page to get the story off on the right foot with your readers. You can add more characters as needed on the second and preceding pages, but please stick to simple on the first page. Your readers will thank you.

  1. Redundant phrases or repetitive words.

In the writing stage, you write whatever comes to your mind just to put words down on paper. And in the reading stage, you skip over these most common phrases you use in everyday speech. But in the editing stage, you don’t even notice these redundant phrases because you’re focused on characterization, plot, dialogue, or whatever you know you need to work on the most. With redundant phrases, you can usually delete one of the words and your sentence will breathe easier.

Hey, I’m preaching at myself here! The other day I was editing my own WIP and noticed with great horror that (take notice of the strikethrough, it isn’t necessary here!) I used “even” four times within four preceding paragraphs! I was so mortified that the words choked me, and I scrambled to revise my sentences.

Here are a few redundant phrases to watch out for:

  • Final outcome (outcome)
  • False pretense (pretense)
  • Absolutely certain (certain)
  • Completely finished (finished)
  • Sat down (sat)

Now, that wasn’t too hard, psychologically speaking, was it? It’s so easy to gloss over the obvious mistakes in our manuscripts. Therefore, taking that extra special effort (see what I did there?) to shore up the little issues that really make a difference in the long run—for you, your characters, your agent, your editor, your publisher, and for your readers. Not to mention your manuscript because it’s now a squeaky-clean product!

Join in the discussion!

Take a few minutes and ruminate. What are some editorial issues you fail to notice in your manuscript on first or second or final read-through?

Writing Book Reviews

by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist

Book reviewWhether you include book reviews on your blog or simply leave comments on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, here are a few pointers about writing reviews that I hope will encourage the author and inform potential readers. The following ideas are directed mostly at fiction, but they can be applied to nonfiction as well.

Examine your motivation.

First, decide whether you’re writing a review primarily to help the author promote sales (the more authors I get to know personally, the more this becomes a reality for me) or if your aim is to inform readers why they should or shouldn’t read a particular book.

Put the positives up front.

No matter how you feel about a book, if at all possible, seek to write something positive before you go on to share what you see as the inadequacies of the work. (If the majority of my comments would be negative, I choose not to review the book in question.)

Be honest about the negatives.

Including positives is important, but you aren’t doing readers—or your reputation as a reviewer—any favors if you aren’t honest about a book’s shortcomings. Granted, your opinions may be 99 percent subjective, but that’s fine. That’s what people expect from reviews.

Be genuine. Even if the author is a personal friend, a review is not the same as back cover copy. It’s important to truly mean what you say in your reviews.

Be specific and qualify your statements. Some people care deeply about things like typos and grammatical errors. Others wouldn’t notice them even if they were pointed out. Some readers care more about the characters, others about the storyline. Instead of saying, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read,” say something like, “The story has a lot of potential, but I was distracted by the number of spelling mistakes throughout.”

Never, never, never include spoilers. If you wouldn’t want to know a specific detail before reading the book, don’t include it in your review. (If you’re one of those rare people who reads the last page first to see if you deem the book worth your time, don’t forget . . . most of the population does not read that way.)

So, how can you review a book without including at least one or two spoilers?

Be creative. I recently compared the second book in The Port Aster series with The Empire Strikes Back. I stated that the first book was a stand-alone, similar to Star Wars: A New Hope. However, the second left enough unanswered questions that there must, must, must be a third. (The author, Sandra Orchard, is working on it now. Whew!)

One final note . . .

Be prepared. Some reviews will virtually write themselves while others will take more work. I encourage you to have fun with the process. Written reviews are an extension of word-of-mouth, the means many people use to choose what to read next. There are those who now call reviewers “influencers.” Seek to wield your power wisely.


Please visit our websites: Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links

Focus!

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by Karen Burkett, Founder and Owner of Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links

 

FocusOne great temptation when writing an article or a book is to try to say it all. There is so much we want to share, we don’t want to leave anything out.

Great way to hide our primary message. Also a great way to chase readers away.

I recommend that you prayerfully select your topic. Then the part of that topic you want to zero in on and what audience you want to address. Ask yourself, what do I want the reader to take from this? Then focus your outline and every part of your writing on your choices.

You may think . . . Well, this point wanders a bit from my topic but it’s so important. I want to share it! I need to share it! Don’t. Save it for another article, another book, when it is on target for your topic. Stay focused!

“Focus is the Feature of Effective Writing that answers the question ‘So What?’ An effective piece of writing establishes a single focus and sustains that focus throughout the piece. Just as a photographer needs to focus on a particular subject to produce a clear picture, a writer needs to focus on a single topic or main idea in order to produce an effective piece of writing” (Kathleen Cali).

Use the same approach with your blog. I recommend this article: “5 Reasons to Stay on Topic on Your Blog.”

Choose your topic. Choose your audience. Decide on desired take-aways. And focus.

Rhyme Time

by Dixie Phillips (http://www.christianeditingservices.com/dixie-phillips.html), CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Song WriterStickman Kids Rhyme Words

I have always loved to rhyme. As a child, my grandmother constantly sang hymns to me and her influence showed in my first serious poem in elementary school.

God is wonderful and great.
All mankind He did create.
He gave His one and only Son
To die on the cross for everyone.

Years later at my first writing conference, I was shocked to hear many children’s book editors say, “No submissions in rhyme.”

I couldn’t shut off the rhyming bug in my head and decided to ask one of the editors why they had this rule. I was relieved to hear her say, “Most of the rhyming manuscripts I receive are poorly written.”

A sigh of relief escaped my lips. “You mean if someone honed their rhythm and rhyming skills, you would consider their manuscript?”

“Absolutely!”

So don’t throw away your rhyming story.  Here are a few helpful hints to help your poetry sing.

  • Sign up for a class in writing poetry. Learn the rules of meter, rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. Edit your manuscript and implement what you have learned.
  • Read successful rhyming children’s books. Dissect them and discover what works and why.
  • Allow another author who has had a rhyming children’s book published to critique your manuscript.
  • Rewrite your manuscript. Examine every word and line.
  • Rewrite! Rewrite! Rewrite! Remember the best children’s rhyming books aren’t written. They are rewritten.

 

Writing a children’s book? Consider our services for children’s authors.

 

Editing the Plot

by Tisha Martin, CES fiction editor, writer, writing coach, academic proofreader, and online marketing specialist (read more about Tisha)

PlotOkay. Most of you (myself included) admit it’s challenging and exciting to plan the next book. It must be simple, right? Think of an idea. Create characters and compelling scenes. Write a few hundred pages. And you’re done. Right?

Wrong. Not. That. Simple.

You’ve got to think of a plot that works. A plot that includes a beginning, middle, and end. You may not think plotting a book is part of editing, but it is, my friend. What I’m going to say next is vital to the life and breath of your story. If we don’t analyze how our story flows at the macro level we won’t have a solid story to edit at the micro level.

What? There’s a structure to tying it all together? I’m afraid so. A story isn’t Friday Mish Mash. (Although some writers have successfully pulled off a great mish mash story . . . that’s another conversation for another day.)

· Beginning. Introduce your characters, bring in a conflict or desire between your main character and an antagonist (can be an animate or inanimate object), and set up how the main character is going to achieve their goal.

· Middle. Continue story with riveting twists and turns for the character to achieve the solution to the problem or desire. You can even introduce subplot, which is often more exciting than the main plot.

· End. Begin to wrap up the solution to the problem, but not before your character is forced to choose between good and evil in order to obtain their goal. This is the most exciting part in your story because you’ll hook your readers even more and keep them reading late into the night. (A very good thing!) Your conclusion should be satisfying and solve the problem your character faced in the beginning of the story.

Remember. Readers who have a reason to care about the characters you’ve created will be hooked from beginning to end.

Here’s an example of my own WWII story:

Beginning Clara must babysit her little sister while their mother goes shopping. In addition to babysitting, Clara has to put up the tomatoes (goal). Little sister Bevy proceeds to wreck Clara’s work (problem). Clara tries to work with Bevy to no avail (aggravated problem.)

Middle Clara is frustrated that Bevy is squashing all of the tomatoes and reacts angrily toward Bevy. Bevy runs outside (climax).

End While cleaning up the tomato mess, Clara sees Beverly running toward the tractor where their dad is harvesting crops (unexpected climax that causes reader to care). Clara realizes the importance of her attitude toward Bevy (resolution to the problem).

The instructions might sound simple. But it takes practice to grasp the concept of beginning, middle, and end structure and then to execute it. Grasping the concepts are also determined by editing the plot to make sure it sings like a canary rather than a crow. Then. It. Will. Be. Simple.

Join in the discussion!

What part of the novel do you struggle with and what resources help you conquer the struggle part(s)?

 

 

Grammatical Fisticuffs

2018-3-29

I read a meme on Facebook that was originally posted by Grammarly. I found it to be a humorous exchange between a student and his teacher about the difference between “may” and “can.” Yes, I admit there are things that make me twitch, but this isn’t one of them—and the things that do aren’t actually important to “the big picture.”

The thing that got me thinking was one of the comments left by another reader. She seemed quite offended that someone who was concerned with proper word usage would be called names (pedantic and pretentious in this case). I also know of a writer and editor who feels each time we don’t follow “the rules” we diminish the language. It’s okay. They’re allowed to feel this way.

There may be some of you who already feel your blood pressure rising. Funny how a discussion about linguistics and grammar can do that to people. 

I heard Ammon Shea, author of Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, on a radio talk show. I learned a thing or two and very much want to read his book.

One of the things that aggravates Shea is that often those who get up in arms when the rules are broken haven’t done their research. These “purists” would have been considered the uneducated ones in the not too distant past. You see, these rules change over time. What was once considered proper is no longer. Shea believes that a language that does not evolve is a dead language.

I use reference books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, but 5, 10, 50 years from now, the edition that sits on my shelf will be outdated. Even now, despite what some academics say, editing is often a subjective endeavor. Just compare one publishing house’s style sheet with another’s.

What is language really and why is it important to learn—and use—the currently accepted rules?

A Means to Communicate with One Another

According to Wikipedia, researchers conclude that less than 35 percent of face-to-face communication is verbal. If we break a rule from time to time, it won’t likely have a dramatic effect.

And when it comes to written communication, for the most part, we have to use language that can be understood by our target audience. Writings for the general population are now at a lower reading level than in days gone by. Of course, neither of these things means we shouldn’t use accepted spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

A Means to Express Your Thoughts and Feelings

Our intention may come across loud and clear if we are communicating face-to-face. However, if our written work is bogged down by errors, our thoughts and feelings may get lost in the muddle.

A Means to Effect Change

If we want to effect change on a broad scale, we don’t want our audience distracted by our naiveté about the language. Whether we consider this distraction their problem or ours is irrelevant. If we want to be heard and know our audience may very well be alienated by such things, we should purchase, read, and apply a book (or two) on the subject. If you do a search for “grammar” on Amazon, you will find 100 pages of books. (This is also a good place to mention that a skilled editor is worth the investment—even for editors.)

A Means to Entertain

Deliberately breaking the rules can have a humorous effect. First, however, you must know the rules. You must also know that your audience will understand why what you say (or write) is funny.

When your humor has nothing to do with linguistics and grammar, it’s a good idea that errors in this area don’t distract from the message. On the flipside, strictly following the rules can be equally distracting. Consider for a moment Winston Churchill’s words: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

An Aside

If you haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves, you absolutely, positively must. It is my favourite book on punctuation. Yes, I said punctuation. I howled as I read it while my family was watching TV. They thought I was a little strange, but that’s okay because I am. Using incorrect punctuation can convey an unintended—often hysterical, sometimes tragic—message.

My Personal Philosophy

As an editor and writer, I want to do the best I can to create—and help others create—the most polished, effective written communication possible.

When it comes to reading work created by someone else, I want to be gracious, looking past the mistakes to the message they are seeking to convey.

What is one grammatical faux pas that makes you twitch? (Please remember to be kind. I’m not seeking to start an argument or raise anyone’s BP.)

Post by Stephanie Nickel, CES Editor and Coach

The Invisible One

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Dixie Phillips

by Dixie Phillips (http://www.christianeditingservices.com/dixie-phillips.html), CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Song Writer

“He persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” Hebrews 11:27 (NIV)

This scripture has been a tremendous blessing to me and impacted my writing journey. In the life of every Christian writer, we keep pushing our pen because we have seen and been forever changed by the invisible One. As we look upon His face and spend time in His presence, we realize this truth—only those who see the invisible can do the impossible!

  • Where were you the first time you caught a glimpse of the invisible One?
  • When did you sense God calling you to write?
  • Do you remember the first time someone was ministered to by something you’ve written?

One of my favorite Old Testament Bible stories is Elisha and the floating axe-head. Do you remember how the axe-head slipped off the handle, fell into the deep water, and would have been gone forever, but a man of God prayed and miraculously the axe-head floated to the top.

Broken spirits are heavier than iron axe-heads, but when one tiny sliver of Calvary’s cross is inserted into a bleeding heart, the hemorrhaging stops and they rise with resurrection life and beat again. God wants to use your story to be that “tiny healing sliver” from Calvary’s cross.

Whether we are writing for children or adults, God wants to use our stories to change the world one soul at a time. Keep sowing those seeds and pushing your pen. Remember the invisible One is watching and if you listen you might hear Him clapping His nail-scarred hands just for you.

Editing the Beginning

by Tisha Martin, CES fiction editor, writer, writing coach and academic proofreader (read more about Tisha)

Pile of draftsWith my cursor at Chapter 1 in my WWII historical fiction novel, I hit Ctrl+Enter and sighed. Beginning a book all over again wasn’t what I had in mind. I liked this chapter. I mean, really liked it, even though everyone else said it wasn’t quite right. Forever, why? Why must I abandon these pages and start fresh, like erasing a favorite drawing of a flower because one petal is lopsided.

Two contests, a writing conference, and two agents later, my intuition solidified into a clear direction of where this chapter needed to begin. None of the critics’ comments were overly negative, and most of them enjoyed the few chapters I had submitted. But my first chapter lacked . . . heart, GPC (goal, problem, care), and solid reasons why things were happening the very moment the story began.

Beginnings.

How many of you have revisited this elusive beginning, struggling to create a first chapter that pops! off the page?

I’ve always struggled to write beginnings. I’m sure I’m not the only one—and there are writers who dislike middles and endings too.

Who are these characters, what is their goal and problem, and why do you want readers to care?

In addition to Goal, Problem, and Care, here are three things I learned about editing the first chapter that helped me introduce the GPC:

  1. Introduce main characters and continuing action early in the first page.

    Your readers must have a reason to continue to the second and third page and eventually the last page in as few sittings as possible. Maybe your character is afraid to drive over a bridge but must because her boyfriend sent her on a scavenger hunt, or perhaps your character must capture a rattlesnake because his friend dared him. Your first page should pop! with action that includes a huge goal with a problem your main characters must overcome by the book’s end.

  2. Give your characters lively dialogue.

    You want your readers to laugh and relate with your characters. The old “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” type of dialogue doesn’t work anymore.

  3. Don’t overwrite.

    Simple is always best. Make Strunk and White proud of you!

Simple writing is sometimes hard for me because I love to describe things; however, too much is not good and hurts your writing and may frustrate your readers. I love reading Anne of Green Gables, but I have a hard time staying engaged with the verbose descriptions; in Ms. Montgomery’s defense, her readers enjoyed lengthy descriptions. Today’s readers want a quick read they can enjoy.

After taking an honest and humble look at my first chapter based on the judges’ and agents’ comments, I’m glad I started over. I spent a few days pounding out a new first chapter, and it’s stronger because I’ve given my characters a goal to look forward to, a problem that stands in their way, and my readers something to care about.

Now, excuse me while I edit this post to ensure I’ve engaged you, helped you relate, and caused you to want to continue reading it.

Discussion: What is your article or WIP’s first chapter about? Can you describe it in Goal, Problem, and Care?

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Nostalgia-Inspired Writing

Nostalgia

by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist


I took my daughter out for lunch to celebrate her new job. While we were at the mall, we popped into a video store that carried DVDs of all the old—and new—TV shows. Talk about a walk down Memory Lane. There were shows I’d long forgotten and those I remembered fondly—plus those at which I shake my head and wonder why I ever watched, but, as the saying goes, that’s another story.

After that we popped into a Laura Secord’s. French mint chocolates and chocolate bars. Jellied fruit slices. Butterscotch kiddy pops. Even a discussion with the clerk about Laura Secord Easter eggs. Talk about reawakening memories of my youth—and possibly adding a pound or two just through osmosis.

It’s funny what will stir “the warm fuzzies” inside us. And while they’re stirred, let’s use them to fuel our writing.

Try one or more of these ideas . . .

1. Think about your earliest memory and write a journal entry as if you were that child.

2. List the #1 thing for each sense that evokes happy memories (i.e.: the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies; the taste of maple walnut ice cream, etc.). Incorporate all of them into a short story.

3. Visit a video rental store and borrow a DVD of a TV show or movie you watched as a child. Before you watch it, describe it as you remember it. After you view it, write your current thoughts. (My husband and I got up in the wee hours of the morning to watch an episode of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Believe me, we only did that once. [grin]) We have definitely been spoiled by advanced special effects, high-calibre scriptwriting, and excellent delivery by the actors—in many cases at least.

4. Search the Internet for pictures of toys from your childhood. When you come across one of your favorites, write a conversation between yourself and a young child who has never seen the toy.

5. Search YouTube for songs from your youth or your favorite musical artists from the era. Listen to one or more of these songs and use them to jumpstart a freewriting session.

6. Make a point-form list of your top ten happy memories. Use them to inspire a poem.

And if you’ve had a challenging past, memories can still spark your writing. Use even the difficult times to help you determine what nonfiction topics to write about. Use these times, too, to make your fiction characters three-dimensional. No matter how happy, no one’s past is completely carefree.

Why Write Biographies?

by Debra Smith, CES Editor (read more about Debra)

crazy student

Research!

Writing a book about a person’s life can be tedious, time-consuming, and fattening. Research may require countless hours on the Internet, searching archives, conducting interviews, fact checking, and securing permissions. However, research also allows you to explore, meet fascinating people, and perhaps inspire the next generation.

Getting started may be the biggest hurdle. Think about a biography you read as a child—what made it memorable? Does it influence who you are today? Publishers are sometimes open to biographies, even as they reject a flood of fictional stories. There is less competition because fewer writers have the time, interest, and research skills to do this job well.

So, who will you write about? You may already have an inspiring person in mind or just seeking to fill a niche. Perhaps an educational publisher has a series about inventors, and you have always wondered about who invented the microwave, Ziploc bag, or prosthetic limb. A writer hooked on history might research about their indentured-servant ancestors and discover a fascinating story. Whoever you choose as a subject, be sure you like that person—they will be with you for a long, long time.