Editing Checklist, Part 2

Find-ReplaceFollowing up from last week’s editing checklist part 1, today I’m focusing on words that are easily confused.

Some say English is one of the most difficult languages to master because it has many words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. As writers, we need to know which to use when.

Even if you already know which to use when, it’s easy to mistakenly use the wrong one when you’re typing away concentrating on characters and story. And it’s easy to read over it when it you’re editing and not notice that it’s the wrong one — our brains read what they know should be there.

These mistakes won’t be picked up by spell check, but you can still find and fix problem usage. Do a Find search in Word or whatever program you use to write and make sure you’re always using the correct form.

Here’s a handy checklist for the most common switcheroos writers do:

There/Their/They’re: The uses for these are location/plural possession/shortened version of “they are.” Examples of the correct usage for each are:

  • The pen is over there.
  • Their dog is so cute.
  • They’re the prettiest flowers in the whole garden.

Passed/Past: Passed is the past tense of “to pass,” so if the usage involves the passing of time, or any kind of forward movement, this is the correct version. Example: “We passed three gas stations before we finally pulled in.”

Past is related to location in place or time and has many uses:

  • Adverb meaning to go by, as in “Birds flew past the window.”
  • Noun meaning time, as in “The economy was so much better in the past.”
  • Adjective meaning an action is over, as in “Our school days have past.”
  • Preposition meaning beyond, as in “Wedding guests will start arriving at quarter past three.”

Further/Farther: Both of these mean distance, but farther is physical distance and further is figurative. Examples:

  • The grocery store is farther down the road.
  • I wish I had gone further in school.

Loose/Lose: Despite their similar spellings, these words have very different meanings.

  • Loose is when something is free-flying, example, “The awning came loose from the wall.”
  • Lose refers to possession, something you don’t have or will not have anymore, example, “Don’t play for money if you often lose at poker. “

To/Too/Two: To is related to motion or the limit of motion, as in “We walked from one side of the mall to the other” or “Visiting time is three to five.” Too means as well, example, “My friends love chocolate and I love it too.” Two is the number, a pair, as in, “I have two more hours to work on my manuscript.”

Who/Whom: Who is used when you’re referring to the subject, the person who’s doing something, and whom for the object, the person to whom something is being done. To make it easier, turn it into a question and see if the answer would use he or him. If it’s he, use who, for him, use whom. For example, “Who ate the last cookie?” You wouldn’t answer “Him did.” You’d answer “He did.” So “who” is correct. If you want to ask who received the last cookie, the answer would be, “I gave it to him,” so “whom” is correct, as in, “To whom did you give the last cookie?”

That/Which: Okay, these aren’t similar in spelling, but they are often mixed up. Both attach descriptions, but in different ways. (There are other uses for that, but I’m focusing on the one that causes the most confusion.) Here’s the trick: If what comes after is necessary to the meaning of the sentence, use that; if it’s additional information, use which. For example, “My hair is so curly that I have to keep it in a ponytail” or “My hair is so curly, which I like.”

Sometimes, both versions of the same sentence are correct, so you have to consider the context. For example, say someone is looking for a wood coffee table, “I have a square coffee table that is made of wood” is correct. If the person is looking for a square coffee table, “I have a square coffee table, which is made of wood” is more appropriate.

Quick note on “that” — many times, it’s not necessary. If you don’t need it, delete it. An example of where it’s not needed: “The gardeners that are working on the landscaping have green thumbs.” Try, “The gardeners working on the landscaping have green thumbs.”

Manuscript Format: When you’ve fixed all the problems in your manuscript, it’s time to format it properly before you send it out. (Of course, you can do this earlier if you’d like.) Now, there is some different information on the Web regarding formatting, but here are the basics.

  • Document size should be 8 1/2 x 11 white paper
  • 1-inch margins on each side
  • Use 12-point text that’s either Ariel or Times New Roman
  • Consecutive numbering on pages
  • First page should have the writer’s name and contact information in the top left corner single spaced, title halfway down the page, the byline double-spaced below the title and the story text beginning two-thirds down the page (Why so much space? Editors and agents like to write notes on that first page.)
  • Double-space all the text of the story
  • Start each chapter at the top of a new page
  • Put your name, a shortened version of the title and your phone number and/or email address in the header of each page (This is so the agent or editor can still contact you even if they accidentally lose the first page.)

What to do after you’ve done all these checks, polished and formatted your manuscript and sent it off to editors and agents? Start writing another one.

Any questions? What are your problem areas?

Editing Checklist, Part 1

editingWhen I’m editing manuscripts — my own and others — I’m often fixing the same things. All writers have little mistakes they always make, and many of us stumble over the same ones.

Now, when I say “editing,” I don’t mean “revising.” When you’re revising, you’re fixing character and plot issues. When you’re editing, you’re concentrating on the text on a word by word, sentence by sentence basis. It’s proofreading with a little extra.

Editing our own work can be particularly difficult. Our brains often skip over problems when we’re reading; we know what we were trying to write and our brains read what they know the words should be. This is one of the biggest reasons to hire a copy editor to make sure your manuscript is really shined up properly before you go out on submission and/or self-publish.

But, say an agent just requested your first 10 pages, or you just heard about a conference critique or contest that would be perfect for you and you need to get your submission out quickly. No worries!

Identify what your main problem areas are, then go through your pages once for each issue. With each read-through, choose one common mistake and scour your pages for places that you’ve made that error. When applicable, you also can use the Find/Replace feature in Word.

Here are some of the more common problems I see when editing:

Tension: Every scene needs tension. If it doesn’t have tension, a scene will be flat and a reader will have a hard time continuing. Having tension, doesn’t mean every novel has to be a drama. Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books are hilarious and are filled with tension. Tension comes from conflict, from the character not being able to get what he or she wants in that scene, the see-saw battle of trying to achieve and falling short, getting somewhere, but falling again.

Tension keeps readers  reading. They want to know what’s going to happen next, whether the character will get what they’ve been aiming for.

When you’re reading your manuscript as an editor, mark pages with tension or conflict with a T. When you’re done, revisit any page that doesn’t have a T and see how you can ramp up the stakes. It may be as simple as adding in a faulty stove in a scene where the character is cooking an omelet. Whatever it is, make sure there’s tension in every scene.

Dialog attributions: Generally, the best attribution to use with dialog is the good old “said.” It’s boring, you say? Yes, but that’s the point. Too many Bob exclaimed, Sally squawked, Mike  cried slows the text. Readers want to get to the action as quickly as possible, and if you just use said, readers’ brains can skip over them quickly and get to the good stuff. That being said (no pun intended), attributions are necessary.

If you have three or more people in a scene, you need to make sure every piece of dialog is attributed to someone so as to not confuse the reader. If you only have two people in the scene, still throw in an attribution every few lines to keep the reader on track and to break up the dialog. Billy Bob said or said Billy Bob is fine, either at the end of the dialog or in the middle if he says a few sentences.

But said isn’t the only way to tell a reader who’s speaking. Rotate the saids with action, for example.

“I don’t know how to say this.” Casey twisted the ends of her hair. “I just don’t like you.”

Etc. So, go through your manuscript looking at the dialog. Make sure it’s easy for readers to tell who is speaking, that said is the tag of choice, but when appropriate, you’re showing who’s speaking with action.

Unnecessarily long sentences: Sentence structure in novels is a place where writers can turn their back on the old grammar rules they learned in school — as long as they do it for a reason. At the beginning of his Looking for Alaska, John Green has a sentence that’s the size of a rather stuffed paragraph, but its length makes a statement about the character’s state of mind.

Read through your manuscript picking out sentences that are long. For each, ask: Is it grammatically correct? Does its length reflect the pacing of the scene or something to do with the character? Can the sentence be cut into two or three sentences and achieve the same result? Make fixes as appropriate.

Repeated words: With descriptions, we always have our go to words, and editing is the perfect chance to vary them.

Read your work concentrating on every word. Don’t read sentences; just read the text as though it’s a long list of words. Reading aloud is a great way to do this.

If you pick up that “walk,” for example, has been used a couple times in the same sentence or paragraph, change one to “stroll” or something better. As frustrating as it must be to foreigners, the English language gives us plenty of words with similar meanings. Take advantage of them in your writing to make sure you’re not repeating the same descriptive words too often.

In part 2, we’ll look at words that are easily confused and proper manuscript formating for submissions.

Have you found these problems in your manuscripts? Any others you’re in the habit of doing?

Revision Strategies: Edit or Start Again?

blank computer screenIn my 19 years as a journalist and editor, editing was always open document, save as version 2 (or 3 or whatever, we actually used our initials) then clean it up. Don’t waste what you’ve already got. Build up the weak spots, move sections around, polish up the sentences and viola! The final piece. We always worked off that first draft.

So I was surprised — shocked was more like it — when author and former editor Lisa Graff said at the 2010 Austin SCBWI conference that once she’d finished her draft, she’d scrap it and start again. Scrap it? Start with a new blank document? No “save as”?

Last week, Cynthia Leitich Smith described the same revision strategy:

“writing the entire story with a beginning, middle, and end, and then printing it, reading it, tossing it and deleting the file.”

But Cynthia explained what seemed like madness to me in such a useful way:

“It’s a comforting strategy, one that takes a lot of pressure off (nobody but me was going to read it anyway) and offers the opportunity to get to know the characters and their world. You don’t commit to a working manuscript based on that first effort. (It would be a very shaky foundation.) Instead, you start over fresh, armed with lessons learned from the intensive pre-writing.”

Wise words indeed.

Personally, I don’t know if I could just scrap an entire draft — especially not delete it!

But in the last two revisions I’ve done, I can see that there’s something to this start-again strategy. As I edited my last novel, I began by reworking scenes sentence by sentence, but I started to get frustrated. The story wanted to move ahead, but my brain was saying, ‘hold on, we just have to figure out how to get this older sentence in there.’ Finally, I cut the older version and pasted it into a different file and rewrote the scene with the new focus I had in mind, with the plan that later I’d go through the “cut” file and see if there were any parts I particularly wanted to keep.

Not only did my writing go faster, but the scenes came out better than the earlier versions, with more depth and plenty of new parts that surprised me. When I was done, I started to look through the cut segments, but quickly realized I didn’t need to. If there was some excellent sentence in there, it no longer fit, and it was no longer needed.

Fear had kept me from trying this before. Fear of not being able to reproduce something that I thought was good. I figured, if I could keep what was good, I could make it better by just building up the weak spots, moving sections around and polishing up the sentences. Stick with the foundation and carve from there.

While that’s a perfectly good revision strategy, I learned that starting again from scratch gave me the freedom to explore my story and characters just like I would within a first draft but with all the knowledge I had gained during my earlier versions.

For chapters that needed minor work, I stuck to my old routine. But when I had an idea that would dramatically change a scene, I started it as if it was new.

So I understand what Lisa and Cynthia meant now, and while I still wouldn’t hit that delete button on a first draft, I do love being able to start over.

What are your strategies for revision?

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Free critique giveaway

Deborah Halverson

Deborah Halverson

To celebrate the release of the trailer for her Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies book, writer/editor Deborah Halverson is giving away a critique of the first 20 pages of a manuscript. It must be fiction of any genre, but no picture books.

It’s a good deal. The first few pages of a book are perhaps the most important. If you don’t yet have an agent, those pages are the ones you’ll use to suck them in. If you’re trying to entice an editor, they’ll look at the first few pages too. And even after a book has been published, beyond the cover and jacket copy, the first page could mean the difference between a sale and the book being placed back on the shelf.

Deborah knows a thing or two about these first pages. She was an editor for many years and is the author of two fiction books and the nonfiction YA writing guide. I reviewed the book when it launched and found it to be a good how-to.

So, make sure your first pages are the best they can be by entering Deborah’s contest.

Writing Young Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson

Staying on the topic of revising, I talked to someone who knows a lot about making children’s literary the best. Deborah Halverson has been on both sides of the desk, working as an editor for Harcourt for 10 years and later as an author of two teen novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, both published by Delacorte/Random House. She also founded the DearEditor.com website where she helps other writers take their work to the next level.

Deborah Halverson

Deborah Halverson

Today, she’s launching her newest book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, in which she poured all her experience and knowledge. (Check back soon for a review.)

Deborah chatted with us about editing, writing and switching genres.

You’ve been on both sides of the desk as an editor and as an author. How do the jobs differ?

I’ve always seen editing and writing as two very different jobs—creating versus trouble-shooting. What surprises me is their chief commonality: both require firm decision-making. You can’t be mamby-pamby with the elements and characters in your manuscript if you’re going to finish the darn thing and polish it up for submission. You have to conceive, implement, and then look at the page and decide yay or nay and then move on. I believe lack of decisiveness is a big factor in writer’s block.

An editor must be equally decisive. She’s got more work on her desk than hours in the day, and if she can’t make dozens of decisions every day (read this submission or that contracted manuscript? Reject or offer a contract? Ask for more revision or accept the draft you’ve got? Is this the problem with the plot or that? Position the book this way or that?), she’s as stalled as any writer suffering the terrible W.B. And obviously, a stalled editor ain’t a good thing.

Do you find it easy to edit your own work, or is it easier to edit someone else’s? Why?

Objectivity is impossible to maintain when you’re writing a novel. It is essential for editing one. Thus it’s easier to edit someone else’s manuscript than my own. I self-edit my manuscripts to a point where I feel that I’ve spotted all the weaknesses I’m ever going to spot, and then I bring in an editor friend to give it the once over. This all happens before I submit to my agent. And since my agent has an editorial background, she’ll throw in her 2 cents, too. And yay for that! Whatever makes the story stronger.

Interestingly, sometimes an editor in a publishing house can read through a single manuscript and its revisions so many times that she feels too close herself and decides to bring in a fresh set of eyes. When that happens, she’ll step over to the office next door and ask her colleague to take a look to make sure all the issues have been resolved. And then copyeditors and even proofreaders might pick up on something because they are coming in fresh! It’s all in service of the story, the author, and the reader.

Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies book coverYou started out writing novels and have now turned your experience into the non-fiction instructional book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies. How different was it to write this book compared to your novels?

I discovered that I really, really enjoy writing nonfiction. That wasn’t a total surprise since I very much enjoy writing my writing advice posts on my website DearEditor.com, but the extent of my joy in the genre was eye opening. My challenge with this book wasn’t inventing characters and plotlines out of nowhere as it is when I write novels, it was trying to word potentially dry material in an accessible and engaging way. I loved finding creative and even funny ways to come at the material. Loved it!

My litmus test was my editor at Wiley. If I could cause her to send me an email out of the blue that said, “Ha! Just read X. Funny, Halverson” then I knew I scored. She and my copyeditor have awesome senses of humor and so writing this book was a joy all around. I hope that comes through for readers.

What was your biggest challenge writing your For Dummies book? And what pleases you the most about it?

Getting it done! The delivery dates for the WYAFFD chapters were tighter than I’d ever operated under before, so just meeting the deadlines was a challenge. 358 pages in 5 months. Phew! I had to put a lot of my life on hold to complete it. Luckily, my editor and copyeditor were not only funny but speedy, so we got into a productive groove and pulled it off. The positive energy buoyed me as I worked into the night and through the weekends.

I’m very proud of the book and what it offers writers, but most of all I’m pleased about the take-away factor. That is, I believe writers of all levels will take from the book solid, tangible techniques that they can apply to their writing immediately and see obvious results. Perhaps it’s the teacher in me, but application to one’s manuscript was very important to me from the get-go.

What’s your favorite piece of advice that you’ve learned for YA writers?

Writers of teen and tween fiction must cultivate a youthful narrative voice. Whether their writing first person, third, or omniscient, they need to respect and reflect the sensibility of their young readers. I devote an entire chapter to creating a youthful narrative voice in WYAFFD, but you can get the quick down-low from this free Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies printable Cheat Sheet.

Thanks, Deborah! Great information.

To celebrate the launch of WYAFFD, Deborah is giving away free chapter critiques and a grand prize of a full manuscript critique. So get over to DearEditor.com and enter.