Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Style Manual - Any burning questions?

Today is a good day for the editor in me. It is the day my style manual has arrived.

As I am hoping to start freelance editing and working in a publishing environment soon, this book will become my bible. Should you use a comma there? Let me go grab my style manual and settle this. Google will thank me for the load I am about to take off it.

I have chosen the New Oxford Style Manual published in 2012. Nice and up to date as well as originating from my home county.

Here’s the big question – do you have a question?

It can be anything related to writing. If it’s to do with grammar, punctuation, formatting a book (self-publishing), or about the publishing process then I’ll get to use my new manual (as well as search the depths of the internet)! If it’s something more subjective then it might be a future writing tip, so still ask away.

You can post here. You can contact me on figment, wattpad,or authonomy. This will be open for as long as I blog. I want to write useful articles which will give you tools to polish up your novel. So let me know which tools you don’t have and I’ll see if I can help with that.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Dialogue: The Imperfection Balance

Speech is imperfect. In average conversation, you’re likely to make a mistake every 2000 words or so. Your tongue may get twisted. You might lose what you were saying or throw in the wrong tense. You might blend words together in the way that would make your grandma spit out her coffee. As a writer, it’s good to be aware of these imperfections in order to avoid wooden dialogue. Here’s a few to sink your teeth into:

False starts and hesitations – Often show by the use of a hyphen if the word is stuttered or if the sentence is dropped instantly.

Trailing off – More words may be muttered than are audible or the sentence may end slowly. Ellipsis are used to show part of the sentence has been omitted in these instances.

Back tracking and repetition – We’ve all heard someone say the same thing twice without knowing or realised we’ve repeated ourselves. Or you think you're about to make a new point but it's really just the same one in disguise.

Fillers – the ‘ums’ and ‘erms’ and even the ‘you know’s which mean almost nothing but we throw them in because our brains need a little moment to catch up.

Hedges - Used to soften the blow of powerful information. Blurting out information such as ‘My sister is dead’ may seem a little strong whereas ‘My sister has passed away’ will often make you seem like less of a robot.

It’s good to mirror the error in speech in your dialogue. However, to feel realistic, you don’t have to be realistic. In much the same way that you don’t need to mention toilet breaks if they’re irrelevant to your story, you don’t need to add in every instance of hesitation, false starts, or reiteration.

Instead, you can use these techniques that mirror the fallibilities of everyday speech in order to show a little something or two about the moment. Perhaps the character with a jolty disposition also isn’t smooth with his words. Or, depending who you are, speech tends to fall apart if you’re angry, nervous, or shocked speechless. As always, there’s definitely a balance to remember when tripping up your character’s words.

I'll start working on critiques for all of you who have posted about your characters!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Comma Before 'Too'?

Deciding whether a comma is needed before ‘too’ must be a nightmare. Contradictory explanations lurk on the web and critiques will often swing either way. There are a few rules that may help you decide what to do and the most important one is this: it honestly doesn't matter.

The Chicago Manuel of Style (note how it’s a ‘style’) has something to say here. If ‘too’ follows a change in the conversation, a comma may neaten up the parsing.

I saw the news. I saw my mother, too.

However, if you’re mentioning how you've done something the same as someone else, then it’s all part of the same conversation and topic and you don’t need a comma. Taking it out could increase pace.

You saw the news? I saw the news too!

However, general consensus now suggests these rules are optional. You can put the comma in and by doing so you’ll create extra emphasis.

You saw my mother? I saw my mother, too!

When ‘too’ appears in the middle of the sentence, you may find yourself wanting to put a commas either side of it to emphasise the point. This, too, is perfectly fine. If you find yourself wondering to comma or not to comma, then try both and see which sounds better to you. It’s mainly pace versus emphasis.

Keep in mind that commas are only there to make sentences easier to understand. It’s not a sentence-changing piece of grammar; use it as you please. If anything, it’s just style.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Your Best Character: Quiz and Contest

The best characters are put through hell and yet can still carry the story forward on their broken shoulders. Your plot will fall flat if your characters are one dimensional and strong characters can make a cliché story really shine; characterisation takes work and thought.

The key to character development is to ask questions. Maybe spend time thinking about the scenarios that have happened to your character which won’t make the final cut of the novel. The questions below are designed to test that (to some degree).

[NOW CLOSED, REVIEWS PENDING] Answer at least 5 of these in a comment with a link to your story and I’ll give you an in-depth review. Reviews are approximately 1000 words and take me well over an hour, so if you’re looking to polish up your manuscript then don’t miss out.

Also, the opening chapter with the most interesting and well-developed character will be featured on this blog!

Feel free to write about anyone as long as they feature in the same story. You can answer either as if the character is being interviewed or from your expert perspective.

I can’t wait to read who you guys have cooked up. Here are your questions:

1) What is their strongest personality feature?

2) And their most striking physical characteristic?

3) What is most important to this character?

4) What do other characters in your novel care about which this one doesn’t (or doesn’t agree about its importance)?

5) How would they react if they missed their train (to somewhere important, of course)?

6) How would they react if they tripped over a chair in public?

7) Throughout the novel, what do they strive for?

8) How do they change/develop throughout the story?

9) What animal are they most like and why?

10) Who in their family (if anyone) are they closest to?

11) How do they react when being told a juicy secret?

12)   How do they react when meeting someone new?

Good luck!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Chapter Deja Vu

Removing unnecessary commas... oh wait, I've started an article like this before. Why would I start another in the same way? Okay, that's not my best example. Still, the same goes for the first chapter of every novel, unless you've got some sort of Groundhog Day plot-line going on.

Starting chapters in the same way each time gets dull quickly. It’s repetitive, predictable, and tells your reader that once they’ve reached the end of the current chapter, then expect another slow lull before more stuff goes down. And when your readers can anticipate a lull, it gives them a reason to put your book down and less of a reason to pick it back up again.

More examples:

Don’t start a novel with your character waking up. In fact, unless something exciting happens in bed (hey-hey!) then you probably shouldn’t start any chapter with a waking up scene.

Avoid long, ponderous chapter openings where the character is driving or lying in bed – these work better in the middle of chapters with complicated predicaments.

This is similar to my point above, but don’t list the character’s routine. A good way to make sure this is avoided is to start chapters at a different point of the day, with different characters present, or in a different place. Variation is the key to interesting.

That unique character quirk you’ve come up with, perhaps a character swearing, don’t pull that trick every time. Or maybe your character is caring so you start every chapter with them doing something nice. You don’t have to show it every chapter and in the same place.

Of course repetition can be important for symbolic reasons, but make sure you’re aware that you’re doing it, that it’s still interesting, and that you’re doing it for a well constructed reason.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Commas before 'Such as'

Removing unnecessary commas can really ease the flow of your writing. I’ve recently come across a really easy one to spot and fix and, once you know it, your writing will only become smoother.

Today’s example sentence is taken from a novel I am editing for a really talented author. Have a little read:

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts, such as childish dreams and desires.

The comma before ‘such as’ is unnecessary and interrupts the flow. Here’s how it reads without:

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts such as childish dreams and desires.

You’ve probably noticed how taking out the comma almost makes no difference at all, but you have to remember the bigger picture. Tweaks like this one are not what will get you noticed by publishers, but if you care about the little tweaks then chances are your writing will be a lot smoother than other contenders.

To take this a step further, there are two ways in which a comma would be appropriate. The first is if we turn ‘such as childish dreams and desires’ into a subordinate clause which adds examples or modifiers to bring colour to the sentence:

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts, such as childish dreams and desires, which helped him stay positive.

Lastly, using the phrase ‘for example’ warrants commas. It practically means the same thing although possibly more appropriate for a report rather than a novel.

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts, for example, childish dreams and desires.

The gist of this is you don’t need a comma before ‘such as’ unless you’ve interrupted the sentence with your examples.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Free Critiques (closed)

This blog rant is an early notice before I post an ad on figment tomorrow. It’s been a few months since my last free-critique drive so it’s time to get back to what I love: tearing apart your early drafts – I mean, helping writers with their manuscripts...

If you’ve read this blog post then mentioning it can only go down well with me. There are a few regulars I need to attend to first (you know who are you) but then it’s game on. Let me know if you’re looking to make changes and I’ll probably come running. If you’ve read through hundreds of times, then say that too. Critiquing is really rewarding when you know the writer wants to improve.

I want the thrill of a first chapter, I want to see what else is kicking around the drawing board, and I want to sink my teeth into some tasty, erroneous chapters.

Here's the link.

Oh, and happy new year!