Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

Its vary important to spell write.

See what I did there?

I bet you can tell what today’s tip is about just from that example. You might think spell check has you covered, but it’s not full proof. Word processors can miss–even introduce–errors.

Identifying Airers Errors

The best way to identify spelling errors is the standard read-aloud method. That’s right, nothing fancy. Just read your manuscript very slowly and  highlight every word you aren’t sure of. It also helps to read backwards. Why? Because when you read, your brain will auto correct many errors. But if you read backwards, the sentence loses meaning, allowing you to notice mistakes.

Share your writing with others. If you’re afraid of the shame and humiliation that comes with sharing your writing, imagine how much more humiliating it will be when readers, not beta readers, find errors after purchasing your book. If you think they’ll be understanding, read some reviews where readers have caught misspelled words. A simple human error can be jarring to a reader, causing them to question you as a writer or even leave a scathing review.

If you think I’m being dramatic, go check out some reviews. Some reviewers even list the page numbers where they found the mistakes. That’s just pretentious if you ask me.

Like spell check, people can introduce errors into your work as well. So why let others read it? It’s not that other people are necessarily better spellers than you. However, they aren’t as close to the work and therefore won’t be as likely to correct words in their heads. Trust me, they will do a better job than your handy-dandy spell check.

Online Spell Checkers

There are a lot of free spell checkers online. I’d include some links, but all you have to do is perform a Google search. Some of these even check for grammar.

Though not free, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Grammarly. Not only does it check for spelling errors, but it checks for plagiarism as well. To be honest, if you’re going to spend the money for an online grammar checker, you might as well hire an editor.

Spelling Names

Another reason not to rely solely on spell check: spell check will assume every name in your book is a misspelled word. If you write fantasy, you know what I’m talking about. Here are a list of names my spell checker flags: Bronwyn, Ashby, Gailodyn, Thaolas, and Thanduryn. Instead of clicking ignore over and over again while running spell check, add your names to your spell checker dictionary.

Before you do that you need to make sure you choose one spelling to adhere to. My sister is bad about this. She’ll dabble with the spelling of a name, changing it midway through her rough draft. Once you choose a name, you can use the search replace feature to correct the spelling.

Create a Style Guide

The easiest way to keep names straight is to keep a list. When I was a copy editor, I recorded every name that appeared in the story in an alphabetized list. Whenever the name appeared again, I checked it against the list to make sure it was spelled the same. If not, I asked the author which spelling they preferred.

Commonly Confused Words

Some spelling problems you’ll encounter in your WIP aren’t so much misspelled as misused. Has your character ever walked threw something he should have walked through or spoken allowd when he should have spoken aloud? Below are some commonly confused words.

  • accept/except
  • aloud/allowed
  • affect/effect
  • allusion/illusion
  • all ready/already
  • altogether/all together
  • capital/capitol
  • cite/sight/site
  • elicit/illicit
  • complement/compliment
  • lose/loose
  • past/passed
  • principal/principle
  • council/counsel
  • then/than
  • they’re/there/their
  • to/too/two
  • through/thorough/threw

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and happy editing.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

Sometimes the simple things are the ones we overlook, especially when we’re editing. Capitalization seems elementary probably because we learned the rules in elementary school. Until I became a copy editor I didn’t realize there were so many rules. I’m here to tell you there’s more to it than capitalizing the first letter of a sentence.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

Hopefully, you saved grammar edits for last. It really is a waste of time to edit for grammar errors until the last pass. One of the things you’ll want to check during this final pass are your capitals. Is it Mother or mother? Captain or captain? It can be either depending on context. If you’re not sure, circle or highlight the word so you can be sure to go back and check.

For the record, I’m not going to go over every rule. The rules could fill an entire book on their own. I’m going to touch on a few basics, ones I think you’re likely to encounter.

The purpose of capitalization: To emphasize important words, people, places, things, etc.

If only it were that simple. Wait for it, it gets more complicated.

First Word of a Sentence

This is the easiest rule. If a word follows a period, it should probably be capitalized. I’m really not going to go into any more depth than that.

You’re rolling your eyes at me. This isn’t hard.

Names

Rule number one: don’t forget your characters’ names. Forgetting to capitalize your characters’ names is like forgetting to put your  name on your final exam. This an easy point, people!

Capitalize the following names:

  • brand names; Coca-Cola
  • company names; Walmart
  • nicknames and epithets; The Kingslayer
  • names of races and nationalities; French Canadian
  • names of religions and the deities: God
  • names of streets, roads, cities, countries, oceans (if it’s labeled on a map, it’s probably capitalized. e.g., the Mediterranean Sea)

Names NOT to Capitalize

  • names of animals; DO capitalize their names (e.g., Mr. Fluffy); however, do not capitalize cat, dog, etc. Except Alaskan huskey and German shepherd.
  • food; the exception being brand names and so forth (e.g., tuna, chips, Ranch dressing)
  • sun and moon. Even though we capitalize Mars, Jupiter, and Earth, for whatever reason, we don’t view the sun and moon to be important enough to capitalize–though we would die if either of them implodes. This is why it’s important to check the rules. Just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be capitalized.
  • seasons; spring summer, fall, winter
  • names that don’t actually affiliate with the word they are derived from (e.g., swiss cheese and American cheese are both made in America)

Proper Nouns

Think of a proper noun as being a more specific version of a noun–or the fancy version.

Mnemonic device: a proper noun is a noun with a fancy top hat.

Examples noun; proper noun

the canyon; the Grand Canyon

the ship; the Titanic

lake; Lake Michigan

Rule of Thumb: With time, sometimes words from a proper noun no longer require capitalization.

Example: draconian (you probably don’t know what this is referring to. Me neither. Probably why it is no longer capitalized)

Rule of Thumb: Don’t capitalize “the” when it comes before a proper noun; however, because rules are not consistent, sometimes it is in special cases.

Titles

I think this is one of the trickiest rules. For instance, you capitalize titles when they are used before names, but not after a name, or instead of a name, or if a comma comes after the title. See what I mean. How’s that for a brain twister.That might be a little bit of an exaggeration . . . maybe a tad.

Example

The president; President Clinton; Clinton, president of the United States

I called Mom; I called my mom; I called, Mom

General Grant; the general

King Arthur; king of the Britains

Exception: When used in direct address: Thank you, Mr. President; I will obey your orders, General

Other

  • days of the week
  • months of the year
  • holidays; Halloween (the best holiday ever)
  • historical events and periods; the Ice Age; the Boston Tea Party
  • terms of respect; (e.g., Your Excellency, His Majesty, Madam, Your Honor

Capitalization with Punctuation

Punctuation: everyone’s favorite thing. Did you know capitalization is sometimes dependent on punctuation.

Colon

It is a common misconception that the word after a colon is always capitalized. The first word after a colon is not always capitalized. It isn’t if the colon is used within the sentence. It is when it is a proper noun or if the colon introduces two or more sentences or a speech or dialogue.

Hyphen

This is one a lot of people forget. Generally capitalize all elements the hyphens connect unless a coordinating conjunction, preposition, or article (e.g., Sugar-and-Spice).

Don’t worry about memorizing all of these rules. As you edit, keep a handy style guide nearby. I use the one and only Chicago Manual of Style. Do you know how many times I referenced it just for this post? There are also a lot of helpful resources online like Grammar Girl.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1When you start writing, you begin with an outline. When you start editing, you begin with a checklist.

Writers are often warned about the many mistakes they can and will make in their first drafts, but what about the mistakes they can make editing? During this stage, you can miss errors or introduce entirely new ones. You won’t catch all your mistakes in one pass and you shouldn’t try. Like painting a wall, editing requires several layers.

Layers. You know, like an onion–or ogres. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it, they both have layers. The editing process is less overwhelming when broken into layers or steps. As a former copy editor, I was taught to make three passes. The first pass was for content and structure alone (except for any glaring, obvious punctuation), saving the final two passes for grammar and punctuation.

There are several types of editing. I’ve broken it down into two.

Substantive: Also called content editing or developmental editing. This is where you edit your manuscript for organization, content, and presentation to tighten and polish the writing. This includes reorganizing and restructuring so that everything fits into the big picture.

Mechanical: This is where you edit for accuracy, consistency, and conformity to style, grammar, and punctuation.

With so much to look for, how can you be sure you leave no stones unturned? This is where creating an editing checklist comes into play.

First Stage: Readability and Content

The biggest  mistake I think self-editors make is trying to fix everything at once, especially grammar. This is the LAST thing you should tackle, because you will waste so much time fixing the punctuation of a sentence only to change it or even cut it later. You don’t sew the buttons on a shirt before you’ve attached the sleeves. Think of your commas as buttons, and put them in last

If you think about it, we’re going to scrutinize your manuscript as you would admire a painting. Start with the big picture and then look for the minute details.

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What to Look For

  • Plot
    • structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement 
    • call to action/adventure
    • scenes in a cohesive order
    • themes support the plot
    • test, allies, enemies
    • plot holes
    • do subplots aid or detract from main plot
  • Setting:
    • when
    • where
  •  Style
    • sentence variety
    • clear, concise words
    • remove vague or overused words
    • replace passive voice for active voice
    • Remove unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs
    • remove redundant words, sentences, scenes, characters
    • link beginnings of chapters to the ends of preceding chapters. likewise, link the end of the book to the beginning.
  •  Conflict
    • main conflict
    • are there too many, not enough
    • is each conflict worse than the one before
  • Pacing
  • Tension/Suspense
  •  POV
    • are the POV’s distinct?
    • consistent
    • is each scene told in the right POV?
    • too many?
  •  Characters
    • consistency of physical appearance, personality, attributes
    • motivation
    • name spelled consistently
    • too many/not enough side characters
    • side characters enhance or distract from main protagonist
  •  Dialogue
    • purposeful
    • natural or contrived?

Second Stage: Mechanics and Grammar

After your first pass, you’re probably pretty tired–but you’re not done. To be honest, the first stage of editing might take two or more passes. Now that your ducks are in a row, it’s time for everyone’s favorite editing stage: grammar and punctuation.

What to Look For

  • Capital letters
    • first word in the sentence
    • proper nouns
    • names
  • Spelling
    • names of places, characters, things
    • check commonly confused words it’s/its, effect/affect, etc
  • Grammar
    • punctuation
      • commas
      • semi colons
      • colons
      • periods
  • Sentence fragments
  • Subject verb agreement
  • Verb tense
  • Hyphenation
  • Numbers
  • Quotations

The editing checklist might seem longer than your manuscript, but think of it as your polishing guide. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Beta readers can help spot plot holes and other content issues. Likewise, you can relieve the burden of editing altogether with an editor, though I highly recommend going through once yourself to remove obvious errors. This will save your editor time, which will save you money.

How many of you use an editing checklist? Did you find this helpful?

While I’m editing my sister’s manuscript, most of my Tuesday Tips will be about editing. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working my way down the list to discuss each part in more detail. Join me next week when I discuss plot.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Happy Tuesday, everyone. Does anyone look forward to Tuesdays? At least it’s not Monday, right? Tuesdays seem to be a little underrated. We like Wednesday because it’s halfway through the week, Friday because it marks the end of the work week, and Saturday because it is the weekend (unless you work Saturdays like I do). There just isn’t anything special about Tuesday except for  Blu-ray and DVD releases. Here’s something new to look forward to. Beginning today, I’m going to start giving out writing and editing tips every Tuesday.

For my first Tuesday tip, I want to talk about sentence variety.

With over a million words in the English language (approx. 1,025,109.8 according to the Global Language Monitor), how is it possible that sentences can become redundant?

It’s always a good idea to start at the beginning. So, let’s look at the first word of the sentence.

Opening words

Here’s a quick exercise you can do with your writing. Pick a chapter, any chapter. Circle or highlight the first word of every sentence. Do you see a pattern forming? Do you notice a lot of repeating words such as the, it, I, in, he, she, or this.

While a strong sentence often starts with an article or a subject, a good writer uses a variety of sentence openers. The solution is to rephrase or rewrite the sentence so that the article, name, or pronoun doesn’t come first. No one likes rewrites, but small changes can have a big impact. Below are some suggestions for rephrasing.

Example: Bob walked down the street and waved at the dancing children.

*This sentence starts with a subject. If you’re tired of reading Bob’s name, take the action Bob performs, add -ing to the word, and place your new word at the beginning of the sentence.

Revision: Walking down the street, Bob waved at the dancing children.

IMPORTANT: These types of sentences are tricky because you can accidently create dangling participles. Remember this trick: The subject following the comma is the person or thing doing the action.

Example: Walking down the street, the  children were dancing.

*This is wrong because the children are not the ones walking down the street. Bob disappeared entirely from this scenario. This sentence implies the children were dancing while they walked down the street.

Another way to add variety is to start your sentences with transitional words or phrases such as a prepositional phrase.

after all, afterward, also, although, and, but, consequently, despite, earlier, even though, for example, for instance, however, in conclusion, in contrast, in fact, in the meantime, indeed, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, regardless, shortly, still, that is, then, therefore, though, thus, and yet

 

Example: The cat sat on my book.

*There’s that pesky the at the beginning.

Revision: When I sat down to read, I noticed my cat was on my book.

Revision: Even though my cat has a bed, she sat on my book.

Now that articles and names aren’t  always at the head of the line, let’s look at your sentences to eliminate repetitive sentence length.

Read your sentences out loud. Do you sound halting and choppy like you’re talking in Morse code? Or, do you need an inhaler at the end of your long-winded sentences to catch your breath? Alternating long and short sentences throughout your manuscript is a great way to add rhythm and sentence variety.

Example: I went to Walmart. My family came with me. I was looking for bananas. Walmart did not have bananas.

*Too many short sentences.

Revision: I went to Walmart with my family to buy bananas. Alas, there were none.

*By following the long sentence with a short one, the sentence flows and sounds more natural.

If you have too many short sentences, combine them to make longer ones. Don’t forget your conjunctions (and, but, for, or, so) and subordinate connectors (after, although, as, as if, because). I also recommend combining sentences when several sentences are about the same topic.

Example: McDonald’s has a high turnover rate. McDonald’s doesn’t pay employees enough money.

Revision: McDonald’s has a high turnover rate because employees aren’t paid enough money.

You can also use relative pronouns (which, who, whoever, whom, that, whose) to combine short, choppy sentences, or sentences that give away redundant information.

Example: My car caught on fire. I got it for my birthday.

Revision: My car, which I got for my birthday, caught on fire.

There you have it–multiple ways to add some variety to your sentence wardrobe. Please check out my blog next Tuesday for another tip.