Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2008

Tag, you're it

I've been tagged by Lacresha Hayes to tell six random things about myself, so I'm taking the liberty of tweaking the comments to relate to books:  When reading a novel, I can spot an error without trying, but refrain from marking in red especially when it's a library book. Hard though. I like to munch on crunchy things like celery when reading. Drives my hubster crazy. My least favorite modern expression is "gone missing". I wish it would forever disappear from writing, along with its sibling, "went missing". I punctuate the British way because my 4th grade English teacher was... English. She was a taskmaster whose drills are permanently embedded. When I die, I'm sure the only thing remaining will be a grammar rule. My library card usually shows at least 30 items checked out at any given point in time. Homeland Security would lock me up if they saw some of the titles, and my priest would fall into prayer. And now I'm tagging these fellow editors

Grammar: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors, Okay, I've got a new question for you. I've always loved to write, and I like to think I have an 'ear' for grammar. However, I zoned out during those grade school lessons where they made you learn all the complex technical terms. Passive past participles? Double split infinitives? I have no idea what I'm talking about, can you tell? This gets especially tricky when I'm participating in my critique groups. I'll say something like "you're using 'to be' verbs like 'was,' 'is,' and 'are' too much," or "you're using 'had' too much." I feel like I'd get more mileage if I could speak the language correctly. If you give me a basic grammar lesson, I promise I won't make paper airplanes or stare at the clock waiting for recess this time! Signed, Not Partial to Participles Lillie: I believe in keeping things simple and talk to clients the same way you talk to your cri

Don't Talk Like That

Dialogue can make or break a novel. Unlike everyday speech, in a book every word, every phrase, every sentence counts. Don't waste precious dialogue words on phrases like How are you? unless there's a really good reason. Use dialogue to move your story. If someone says something, make sure it means something. Dialogue can be a vehicle to express emotion, sneak in bits of backstory, reflect the speakers' background or upbringing. So, if your character has not graduated from college, don't let that person spout fancy words with many syllables, and vice versa. Lots of discussion goes on about the use of the "f" word and swearing in manuscripts. My take is to follow your comfort level and the dictates of your characters, but don't overdo it. In Two Wrongs , I allowed my villain to swear, but I was more circumspect about my hero's language. A constant barrage of swearing de-sensitizes the reader, while swearing at opportune moments such as a reaction t

The Curse of Commas

Commas are the single worst thing about being an editor. How can such a tiny little piece of punctuation cause so much time-sucking anguish? The rules are both inflexible and squishy at the same time.  Rule One: Two independent clauses separated by a conjunction need a comma. So the following sentence (with two subjects: he and it) is punctuated correctly with a comma.  He started the car, and it made a noise.   This next sentence (with only one subject: he) is also punctuated correctly without a comma.  He started the car and drove around town for a few hours but soon got bored and went home to clean out the garage and mow the lawn.   This drives writers crazy because these examples make no visual or auditory sense. Nobody wants a comma in the first example, and everybody wants to put a comma between “hours” and “but” in the second example.  Here’s the squishy part. Technically, the comma in the second example isn’t necessary, but many editors and publishers allow authors some discr

Bleed For Me

Jenny attached the manuscript to an email and breathed a sigh of relief. Her eyes felt heavy and her back ached, but she was used to the discomfort of working long hours. Usually she enjoyed her job, but every once in a while a writer came along who challenged and frustrated her. Rose Felman's writing was a nightmare of incorrect tense usage and bad punctuation, but her dialog was sharp, the plotting fast-paced and filled with tension and the characters were so real that it was hard not to get involved in the story. Jenny was always tired when she finished editing a Rose Felman book. The excitement she felt after reading a Felman novel lingered, and she opened her instant messenger. She was sure to get a reply soon. Rose Felman hated seeing her work marked by the "editor's pencil." She fought to keep her manuscripts intact and unedited, arguing over every little correction. Most of the publisher's editors hated working on a Felman manuscript; hated the shoutin

A Punctuation Puzzlement

In the spirit of Punctuation Day I thought it would be fun to post this challenge for all you writers and editors. It's a puzzle I was given by my high school senior English Composition class teacher. And yes, I got it right (smile). Here is the challenge. Punctuate this sentence. And remember, it is one sentence - you cannot use a period except for the very end. *** Where John had had had Mary had had had had had had had had the teacher's approval *** The correct answer is below - do not scroll down to see until you have punctuated it yourself or unless you give up. Where John had had "had," Mary had had "had had;" "had had" had had the teacher's approval.

Fraternal Twins & Triplets

Some words I like to call fraternal twins or triplets. They’re not identical. Although they sound the same, they don’t look or mean the same. Use these words with care. Mean the word you type and not its fraternal twin or triplet. Here are some that come to mind: Do........Perform an action Due.......Owe Its.......Possessive of it It’s......Contraction for it is Your......Possessive of you You’re....Contraction for you are To........Preposition - word placed before a noun or pronoun Two.......Number Too.......Also Their.....Possessive for referring to more than one person or object There.....A place They’re...Contraction for they are Your......Possessive of you You’re....Contraction for you are Yore......Referring to a time If you think of more, please share them in the comment section. ----------------------------------------------------------- Morgan Mandel ht tp://morganmandel

Emerging Authors Want to Know!

Hello, my name is Emma Larkins and I'll be running a feature called Emerging Authors Want To Know! I'm just starting out on the path to publishdom (and, hopefully, to making a living as a professional writer someday) so you can imagine I have a lot of questions on my mind. Dear Exalted Editors, My first question is based on an event that heaped a whole lot of stress on me - my first story submission to a literary magazine. I had the usual worries about whether the editors would like the story or not, and whether there was anything I could have done to improve the flow or the character interactions. But the one thing that truly terrified me, that made my finger quake as I pressed the submit button, was this - what if I hadn't formatted my submission correctly? I'd like to hear it straight from the experienced editors here - how important is correct formatting? I already know that spelling and grammar mistakes can easily get a story thrown on the slush pile, but wh

Remove the Tags

After you’ve been married a while like I have, buying patterns emerge. If I find clothes I like on sale, I don’t wait for a special occasion. I just buy them. Sometimes, even when they’re not on sale. It’s come to the point that so many new items travel into the house my husband can’t keep track of them any more. However, there is one tip-off. If I leave the tags on, he almost always notices. Then I’m bound to hear a comment like, “Not another new whatever.” So I’ve learned it’s best to remove the tags to avoid notice. I need to do this very carefully, so as not to wreck the garment. Usually a scissors is the best instrument for this procedure. If I can’t find one, I’ve been known to use a set of nail clippers instead. Good writers use the same approach. Whenever possible, they remove the tags. What Is A Tag? To remove one, you need to know what it is. Tags are those little phrases that come after a quote, which read something like, he said, she said, he replied, she replied. Ho

Employing e-Tools Part 2

In my last post ( Employing eTools) , I talked about when not to trust electronic tools. In this post, I'd like to talk about some ways to use the tools effectively. Since I picked on word processors last time, I'll start with them. Find and Replace Most modern word processors have a 'find' function which is used to find a specific series of characters and a 'replace' function that is used to replace one string of characters with another. I use these features to find all the places I typed the word "form" when I meant to type "from". I make this mistake (form for from) all the time. I know I do it, and I still don't see it when it happens. So I use find and replace. I do not use "replace all". Why not? Because "form" is a perfectly good word and sometimes I use it on purpose. Using 'replace all' would simply replace one error with another. Instead, I use "find next" to find each instance of &qu


Not long ago, I picked out a book to take on a trip. I always take at least one book, sometimes more, depending on the length of the trip. The one that I planned to take, I had, in fact, already started. Then came the problem. When it came time to leave, I couldn't find it anywhere. So, I picked one up at the airport. Well-known author. Mystery/suspense. In a recent interview , I was asked if I can separate the editor in me from the reader. I said, yes. I probably should have said, most of the time. With this book, I couldn’t. I had a little trouble getting into it, primarily because there were so many characters introduced in the first few chapters that I couldn't keep them straight. As the book went along, I realized that the majority of them were important to the book. They needed to be remembered. They also needed to be kept straight. Who was who. Who did what. Who was related to whom. One character appeared briefly -- only a few sentences to introduce him -- then he ge

Keep Your Distance

It’s hard to be objective about my writing. I find it a lot easier to pick out errors when I critique someone else’s manuscript than my own. Sometimes I disregard what I know is right, thinking I can break a rule once. The trouble is, once leads to twice and more. It becomes a hard-to-break habit, which often I don’t realize I’m doing. One example is using too many adjectives. The first edit of my recent release, the romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams, turned up tons of adjectives which needed to be eliminated. I knew better. I was also horrified to discover many instances of the word “that” which had crept into my manuscript. How mortifying! The mind and the eyes can play tricks. Mine are adept at correcting the spelling of a word by inserting a missing letter or cutting one off. Such a gift is well and good when reading for pleasure, but a huge drawback when editing for publication. I’ve found a few ways to combat these problems. One is the dimension of time. By putting my manus

Ten Favorite Research Sites

Time-wasters. We all do it. Go look up one thing and get lost surfing. But don't despair, you're not wasting time, you're doing research. In that vein, I decided to list some of the more interesting and fun places to do research (in no specific order). (Warning: don't look unless you have a couple hours of free time.) 1. Oracle of Bacon Remember that 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game? Well researchers at the University of Virginia actually did research on it. (Hey they get paid for that?) 2. Project Gutenberg Free copies of the classics and other books that you never got around to reading in e-version. 3. Best actors and actresses All kinds of awards , even Russian movies. 4. Silent Film Stars I love this site! Who's who in pre-talkie films 5. Vintage Clothing History Dress those characters right! All kinds of cool vintage clothing links 6. How People Lived Click the illustrations at Kraft Australia to see how people lived , ate and cooked in different

Naming Your Characters

Many writers are uncomfortable about starting a book without having found the right name for at least their main character. It’s easier to work with a "working title" for the book than a "working name" for a character. Once the author gets to know their characters, their names can become almost as entrenched as the writer’s own, and having to change them can be very off putting. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that any situation could force a change – from making new friends with the same name as your character, to new celebrities springing up to claim your protagonist's name and slap a stereotype on it forever. A few years ago, Paris was a boy's name, but using it for a male character now could confuse your readers completely. Bear in mind, also, that some popular names date very quickly and the book writing and publishing business often takes a number of years. You could try to predict when your book will be on the shelves, add to that the age

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language--so the argument runs--must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes. Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fai

The Seven Deadly (Writing) Sins

The 7 Deadly Sins of Writing Sin is a word that may be out of fashion in much of society, but looking at the darker places inside ourselves can be beneficial if we are willing to do something about them. Lest you think this is a sermon, the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins can be applied to your writing, as well. 1. Sloth Clean up sloppy writing. Eliminate unneeded modifiers and words. Cut the number of adverbs, words ending in ly , which are usually unnecessary. For instance, tighten the description to show a character's anger instead of writing it as he said, angrily . 2. Gluttony Use the right word. Write tight. Don't fill up space with two words if one will do. Don't use $10 words because you can. Write at a level that anyone can enjoy without running to the dictionary. If they can't understand it, they won't read it. 3. Greed Don't cut corners in your work. Wanting more is good, but it shouldn't be all consuming. 4. Envy Sometimes the little green-eyed

Ten Tips for Self-Editing

You’re faced with editing your first draft. Where do you start? What do you look for? Here’s an overview to get you started. Remember that writing comes before editing. On the first draft, don’t worry about making the prose perfect—just focus on getting your ideas on paper (or screen). You’ll have plenty of time to improve the work after you’ve written something to improve. Whenever possible, allow some time to pass between finishing your first draft and beginning to edit . You’ll see your work with fresh eyes if you haven’t been struggling with it for hours or days. Depending on the deadline and the length of the piece, I like to focus on other things for a week or more between writing and editing. Often, that isn’t possible, but even a few hours will help. First, read the entire document for the big picture . Look at the content, organization, and flow. Have you included everything you intended and nothing that isn’t needed? Does it make sense? Is it organized in a logical way

Dyslexic Authors, un.... ah, well, you've heard the joke

The British Dyslexia Association says that “Dyslexia is best described as a combination of abilities and difficulties which affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling, writing and sometimes numeracy/language (skills).” So, if you can’t see “right” and you can’t write “right”, then there’s no sense in trying to be a writer. Right? Wrong. As anyone with a disability knows there are ways to do what you want to, if you’re willing to do a little examination and use creativity and currently available resources. Like Terry Goodkind, Author of the Sword of Truth fantasy series. Goodkind learned early in his life that he suffered from dyslexia, a cause of constant frustration while he was in high school. Question: You have alluded to the fact that you have dyslexia. I have attention deficit disorder. Where would you come from in terms of professional writing, coming from having a learning difference, or disability, or whatever you want

Don't Kill Her, Chop Her Legs Off

You don’t always need to kill your darling, sometimes you need to chop off her legs. I chopped off the legs of mine—and lost 3000 words of manuscript. Now the plot can move forward.  If you ever killed or seriously wounded your darling, you know the pain involved. I still mourn the loss of that beautiful chapter written in my darling’s point of view, knowing all along it fouled up the plot. And if you are one of those who refuse to admit you have a darling, trust me, you do. We all have that character or scene in our manuscript that, in our most humble opinion, is the best writing on the planet—bar none. To cut it would cheat the world of its beauty, never mind that it contributes nothing to the story line.  But our darlings can go farther than not adding to our story—they can take away, and they can take over.  I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with my darling. Every critique partner that read of the old, countrified woman with this rich, marvelous voice and manner, fell in love

A Line Editing Tip

Most of us believe that what we read is what we wrote. That’s not always true. Sometimes what we read is what's in our head. We write a chapter or passage, we read it, we make changes, we polish it, we give it to our critique group. They read it and bleed red all over it or can't make sense of it. How is that possible? I'm not talking about the big picture here -- the reader doesn't understand the motivation of a character or his or her arc, or maybe you've described a setting and the reader can't picture that setting or follow a sequence of events. I'm talking the actual words. You get the piece back from your critique group or a reader and you're amazed to see that you left out complete words, small words like "the" and "of," big words, vital words like "eligible" or "most." Or perhaps you substituted words like "ever" for "every." Words that you should have caught. But you didn't. So

What does an editor cost?

Our most popular and most commented on post. Not much has changed, including debate over fair and affordable editing costs. It's all well and good to tell a writer they need a professional editor to peruse their manuscript before submitting to an agent or publisher. But, how much does that cost? An informal industry perusal yields quite a range of costs. Let's take a look at some prices as well as methods of pricing. It depends in part on what you're buying. A line editor might charge $25 per hour and edit on average 10 pages an hour. Some editors simply charge $2.50 per page, which makes the math rather easy. A 300-page novel would cost you $750 for editing services. But, what does that get you? Just a cleaning up of grammar, spelling, and typos as a rule. Some good editors will take a little longer and make deeper suggestions to improve the writing. But don't expect too much more than the basics for that price. It's still money well-spent, and it can mean

Point of View - Head Hopping By Morgan Mandel

Point of View - What is it? It's the perspective from which a story is told. When writing a novel, an author must decide who is telling the story. Based on that decision, the author will write in either first, second or third person. FIRST PERSON - Using "I" throughout the manuscript. SECOND PERSON - Where "You" is the descriptive. THIRD PERSON - When He or She is used to describe the main character. Once you've decided which person you'd prefer to use, you'll need to clearly define what the person sees, feels and experiences. When that character takes the stage, everything should be from that character's point of view. He or she cannot see or hear or know about anything outside his or her realm. Example: A character can't see what's happening in another room with some other character without actually being in that room. The author should make it obvious to the reader whose point of view is being used in each instance or confusion

Employing e-Tools

Over the weekend, I read a wonderful story written by a twelve-year-old student. I found two mistakes and attempted to point them out. But the young lady in question, being of the ripe old age of twelve, was ever so much smarter than any silly adult. "Oh no," says she. "I spell checked it." Every year, more and more people, not all of them twelve, fall into this trap. As electronic tools become more powerful, we are lulled into a false sense of security. We believe the tools are looking out for us. My word processor doesn't even wait for me to request a spell check - it corrects words as I'm typing. And the editing doesn't stop with spell checking, it also boasts a grammar checker. If only. I use many e-tools and am not aware of a single one, or any combination of tools that can replace the human brain. All electronic tools are not created equal, but I used one of the most popular word processors for the following example. The tool uses green underline

Word Filtering and Muscular Verbs

I first learned about word filtering when I sold one of my previously published books to a small press. My manuscript returned with the notation: "I found 27 'she knews,' 14 'he realized,' and 12 'they noticed.' You need to rewrite." I looked through several bestselling novels and found quite a few 'she knews,' 'realizes' and 'notices.' Maybe not as many as in my book, but what's the big deal? The deal, my editor explained, is that those words weaken a sentence. Then how did the book get published in the first place? I wondered. And why couldn't I leave in a few 'she knews' or "he realized'? Gritting my teeth I went to work replacing all the undesireable words, grudglingly admitting that my prose had improved. Instead of writing: She knew that Billy was lying, I replaced the sentence with: Billy's downcast eyes told her he was lying . Or, 'She noticed a large man entering her room' was rewr