Category Archives: Editing

Do You Hate Semicolons? Prepare for Battle!

Do you hate semicolons when you read?This lively post by Aliette de Bodard at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog not only defends semicolons but also encourages us to learn to use them well.  My take: I’m an enemy of rigid rules, period. That said, there are some conventions writers really need to know, such as how to punctuate dialogue so it’s clear when it begins and ends. Readers get used to some of these conventions, and get jerked out of the story when their expectations are not met.

So whether to break a rule can really be a judgment call. Definitely: you best serve your prose if you know the rule, and the consequences of breaking it.

And by the way, I’ve been reading an awful lot of wonderful books that are unself-consciously replete with adverbs. I think I’m going to go back to some of my stripped-down paragraphs and slip those adverbs back in. Judiciously, of course. And in the dark of night.

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4 Ways to Handle Backstory

Thanks to Andrea Lundgren posting over at A Writer’s Path for addressing an issue of craft I see us all struggling with all the time! I like a variation on number 4: dropping in short fragments of backstory in the course of ongoing narration. For example, when a new character engages with the protagonist, he or she can fill in a line or two to bring readers up to speed on the past relationship: “The last time Mark met Jane, the experience had been traumatic for both. He’d been in the middle of X, she’d been involved in Y, etc.”
Similarly, when a character enters a setting, a few lines of backstory can set up the role of that setting in the character’s life: “The first time she visited New York, she had been young and naive. . . . ”
It doesn’t take an entire flashback to establish histories like these. Simple inclusions in description and dialogue can tell us much about characters’ pasts.
The big caveat, for me, is that our readers don’t need to know EVERYTHING we know about our characters. Just as with all descriptions and exposition, I have to work to find the information that is really relevant to the story, perhaps to what’s happening in a particular moment.
Thanks, Andrea, for touching on a part of craft we all wrestle with in our writing!

A Writer's Path

Four 4

By Andrea Lundgren

Every story has exposition–details of the character and world that you, as the author, need to pass on to the reader. You’ve spent hours fleshing out the world of your story and learning about your characters, and now you have to find some way of getting this information (or at least the essential part) from your head to the readers’. (This is especially true in science fiction and fantasy, where you need to tell how the world of the story differs from our world.)

So what’s an author to do?

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Do you want to know just the right word?

Thanks, Jean! I’ve been using Thesaurus.com with excellent results—way better than that thin list on Word. But this tool looks even more useful. I’ll give it a try today and pass on my results.

jean's writing

Happens to me more than I’d like to admit!

I’ve found a tool to help!

I’m on a roll, typing like a maniac. 

Until I stumble over a word.

My writing comes to a screeching halt. A word isn’t right. But I don’t want to stop my progress. After all, I’m a writing maniac. So I use a placeholder, I’ll come back to this section later and figure out the right word or words to convey my thoughts.

However, I’ve now got an itch I can’t scratch. That thought, that missing word or phase will not leave me alone.

Ever happen to you?

My protagonist whispers he can’t work like this, it’s too unprofessional.

Sigh, okay, I cave, save what little progress I’ve made and return to my placeholder. So I…

  • Think, think, think, I’ve got nothing.
  • Look up the placeholder word. Huh? Not even close. What was I thinking?
  • Check thesaurus. What…

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EDITING 101: 24 – Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles…

This column is near and dear to my heart. I’ve posted on dangling modifiers before, and I see them all the time in my critique groups.

A couple of thoughts:

First, the aversion to “splitting infinitives” comes from an 18th-century spurt of wishfulness that English could be elevated to the status of Latin—in which infinitives are one word and can’t be “split.” Note that in Romance languages like French and Spanish, this still holds true; how can you “split” an infinitive like “hablar”? But English is not a Romance language, despite having picked up many words from French, Spanish, and Italian, in particular. So those “rules” never rightly applied.

Second, note that “to boldly go” is in iambic pentameter, Shakespeare’s meter, and a natural meter in English. That’s why “to go boldly” just doesn’t have the same ring.

Dangling modifiers, on the other hand, cause problems for me because there’s a brief mental hiccup when the modifier has to hunt for its appropriate noun or pronoun. Sure, I can figure out who or what is doing the action of the modifier, but do writers really want readers stopping, even for a second, to puzzle?

This column is clear and concise, presenting these issues well. Thanks to both Chris the Story Reading Ape and Adirondack Editing.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles

Editors frequently correct both of these, but one is actually ok to use, while the other is not. Care to make a wager on which one is which before I get started?

Ante up!

What is a split infinitive, after all? It’s a sentence where a word, usually an adverb, interrupts a full verb (or full infinitive). A full infinitive is the verb with the word “to” in front of it—to run, to walk, to spit. The most famous split infinitive is “to boldly go.” Editors and teachers used to mark this as incorrect, but it’s all right to split an infinitive. Some examples are:

  • Lyn continued to quickly run toward the burning building.

  • Willow…

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EDITING 101: 22 – Using Registered Trademarks and Brand Names…

Understanding how to handle trademarked or brand names does indeed seem to perplex many of us. There’s some good practical advice in this post.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

Using Registered Trademarks and Brand Names

When you’re writing and your character uses a Kleenex, you’ve just used a registered trademark. Normally in non-fiction or business writing, you’d see it this way: Kleenex® or Kleenex™. To avoid using a brand name, you could say your character used a “tissue.”

You do not have to use ® or ™ in fiction writing.

The words aspirin, escalator, phillips-head screw, zipper, yo-yo, and vaseline were once trademarked but have lost that protection. They acquired such market dominance that the brand names became genericized. Companies want their products to become popular—but not too popular!—since there’s a price to pay for that popularity.

Kleenex®, Xerox®, Band-Aid®, and Plexiglas® were once in danger of losing their trademark…

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7 Rookie Writing Mistakes (and 7 Ways to Improve)

The “7 Rookie Mistakes” from Phoebe Quinn over at A Writer’s Path ring true. For example, I agree we tend to recycle clichéd characters from other things we’ve read or TV we’ve seen. It’s because we do this that literature in all its forms has such a profound effect on our values. We think “heroes” MUST behave like the hero in a popular book or that people who behave like the villain we just saw on Netflix are also villainous. It’s tough in writing to catch yourself scribbling in these “types.”
What do you think of Quinn’s fixes? I’m still a pantser, and I do pay the price—but I want to be surprised by my own writing, and outlines take that surprise away.

A Writer's Path

pencil-7-writing

by Phoebe Quinn

7 rookie writing mistakes:

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New Wisdom from Donald Maass! Make Emotion Work in Fiction

Finding the story beneath the surfaceBack from a loooong holiday break and finding things to share!

This post from Writer Unboxed plugs Donald Maass’s latest book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: Writing the Story beneath the Surface. But: a) you may want to know about this book, and b) the included interview is worth reading in itself. I’ve been sharing with some  of my Internet Writing Worship cronies some thoughts about that “story beneath the surface” that strokes in depths beyond simply solving a problem, depths that help us think about what the real problems are. This concept is similar to what M.Dellert calls the “plight,” the question behind the plot that the character and the reader must struggle to define together—and often cannot rationally answer. The plight, the story beneath surface, are the forces that shape our human understanding, not just our ability to string cause-and-effect together. It’s been a while since I bought a book on craft, but I just may buy this one. I thought you might like this news.

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