Tag Archives: editing

We don’ need no stinkin’ rules!

I’m not good with rules. I’ve been trying to write a page of dialogue for my new work-in-progress, Lessons in Space, and I keep getting hung up.

Some of them are easy. Always put the words between quotation marks, unless the communication is telepathic, subvocalized or expressed in some other way, like light waves or odor. Try to show the speaker’s tone of voice in the tag. You could use an adverb to tell emotion, but it isn’t as strong. Make each character’s “voice” distinctive.

The one I always have trouble with is the injunction to place tags (identifiers) before or after the character has spoken rather than in the middle of the speech. For example:

Dilbert shouted, “That’s a piece of crap!”

Or

“That’s a piece of crap.” Dilbert’s shoulders slumped.

These show, rather than tell, something about Dilbert’s character, and don’t interrupt the flow of his words.

A hard and fast rule, right? But let’s examine it. We all know that there are times when we pause as we speak, perhaps to emphasize a point or hunt for an exact word. Sometimes, we can indicate this in writing by using ellipses. For example:

“That’s. . . a piece of crap,” Dilbert announced.

But if we really want to emphasize a point, wouldn’t it be more dramatic to do it this way?

“That,” Dilbert announced, pointing at the painting, “is a piece of crap!”

Here, we reinforce that Dilbert is an arrogant, opinionated individual who is used to being listened to.

If used sparingly, breaking the speech with a tag can be quite successful. But it violates the rules.

Everyone needs rules, writers of fiction included. We have to check our spelling, and obey most of the rules of punctuation and grammar. Without these guidelines, we can’t communicate effectively, and our readers would throw down our books in disgust.

However, as fiction writers, we are accustomed to weaving words to create a mood or define a character, as deftly and succinctly as possible. We might use an otherwise unacceptable spelling of a word to indicate an accent. A lizardman from Omicron VI would need extra esses to illustrate his hiss, and a Klingon growls his rrrrs.

Maybe insert a sentence fragment. We could even string letters together to show an alien language, make up futuristic slang, devise unique ways of indicating non-verbal communications like snorts or sniffs.

I believe that if we allow ourselves to slavishly follow the rules, we will limit ourselves too much. We have to allow ourselves some freedom. Perhaps, sometimes, the laws of good writing lead to the loss of good writing.

I know others will disagree, and I welcome comments.

Use of commonly accepted grammar and spelling optional.

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The Editing Flip-flop

There is a debate raging in one of the chats I follow. The question is, if you self-publish, do you need a professional editor?

My answer is a resounding, Yes.

When I was writing my novel, Whispers in the Night (notice I say my novel, because it’s my first and only), I didn’t have an editor. I had friends. My friends were very talented, all authors in their own right, members of the Coral Springs Writers Group. We met weekly and presented our pages to each other. Our submissions were carefully read by the others who searched out all the errors—the misspellings, dropped punctuation, repeated words. They also critiqued for lack of characterization, passages that didn’t move the plot, etc. They were great.

But they only saw a few pages at a time, and, I admit, I didn’t always show them the rewrites. Also, they didn’t see the work as a whole. This limited the effectiveness of their editing. I left Florida before I finished the work. Up north I was lucky to have my friend Jhena Plourde, who further edited the work in progress. And she was wonderful in picking up on the typos, inconsistencies and bloopers.

After the novel was published, I reread it. At that point I realized that what I needed was someone who would have grabbed me by the literary lapels and shaken me hard. “This part is crap,” the person could have said, “get rid of it or revise it. And flesh out this character or kill her off.”

In other words, I needed an editor.

My friends were a fine resource, but by not showing them the finished novel, I didn’t allow them that latitude.

I realize that I changed my mind, and the minds of my characters, several times in the writing of the book. I revised chapters, refocused the conflict, altered the course of the story arc. Some might say I flip-flopped.

Which brings us, not too surprisingly, to the political scene.

Some candidates have been accused of the same sort of alteration in their opinions. I have no quarrel with that. I feel that human beings are allowed to change their minds, even are required to do so, when presented with new evidence or unforeseen circumstances. Our opinions evolve as our minds grow. If they don’t, we become ossified.

Most of us don’t have the same mind set we had ten or twenty years ago. That’s natural, even necessary. Alterations in lifestyle can change a swinger into a cautious parent or a driver with a lead foot into a speed-limit conservative after the third ticket.

The difference, as I see it, between politicians’ situation and mine is that I can point out why I changed. I can specify what necessitated the alterations. I would like the men we are considering as our leaders to do the same thing.

What prompted a change of heart? Where was the point at which they realized their previous ideas were wrong? I crave facts.

I understand that it is often difficult to explain personal beliefs or circumstances to strangers. When I detail the reasons for the difference in my point of view, I am usually speaking to friends. Candidates have to speak to three hundred million strangers. That’s a lot more difficult.

But these are people who want to be our leaders. We have a right to know what prompted their ideas, on abortion, health care insurance, gun control, because these are areas that will impact our lives.

I edit my work to make it better. My focus is on my readers as I try to craft the best possible story.

Is that what our candidates are doing? Are they crafting the best possible story? Is that why they’re editing?

Or have they truly had a change of heart?

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