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.