The Red Pen’s Revenge

The excitement builds. The whisky is poured. Draft two is complete. It is a relief. The first run, you see, doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel like the end product. It’s almost as if the first copy is a grainy image of what is to come. It can be lax. It can be unstructured. Things don’t necessarily need to follow or make sense. Great slabs of story are missing. Other flabby bits are hanging off the sides, waiting to be cut out.

What a mess! What a disaster! How can we clean this thing up and get it into something readable? Well that’s where the second draft comes in. Still on the machine, I read through it all, start to finish, and cut out what needs to be cut out and put in what needs to be put in. I correct obvious errors or grammar and spelling and correctness. I think whether the timing makes sense, the locations, the people and the settings.

Is that what this character would do? Is that really the best way to describe that? Bit by bit I massage the story out from its amorphous shape and, with a pinch here and a cut there, it becomes a story with a purpose. Great. That’s the point I’m at now. That’s the moment of ‘woot’ where I can take a breather and fix up the garage or fly a kite with Joey.

That’s not the end of it, though. For now comes the nasty part – the Red Pen.

The Red Pen is ruthless. The Red Pen cares not for fancy constructs, nor for passive tense. The Red Pen spots that naughty comma and herds it into the right spot. It scrawls its thoughts down in haste, it draws arrows and brackets and, when it gets really steamed, it draws thick lines through words, sentences, even whole paragraphs!

That’s what happens when you leave a Red Pen in a cup for half a year. It gives it time to plot and scheme. I only hope there’s something left after it has had its fill.

Editing – Ugh… Do I have to?

Who ever said that writing was glamorous? Not me, I can assure you. I can think of many words to describe it. Glamorous doesn’t make the list.

The writing bit is fun. You know, making up the story and getting all the words on the paper and building up characters, scenes and plots. That’s a hoot, but not glamorous. It’s fun, sticky and sugary, like eating dessert for an entree.

The marketing – promotions, adverts and posts – that’s all boring but essential, like steamed vegetables.

The worst part, for me at least, is editing. I’ve already read the damn book. I’ve worked over little details, scrubbed whole bits out, rammed other bits in, smooshed it, smoothed it, worked at it and sat on it. Then, after a period of recovery, I get to do it all over again.

And that’s just the second draft.

Rinse, repeat. Third draft. Oh brother. Looking down at the plate, you’ve got something in the realm of cold porridge, mixed with a spoonful of unsoaked lentils.

Ugh. Editing. Spoon by spoon, it’s a slog to get through, especially the third draft. It’s where I have to concentrate not only on grammar and spelling, but flow, repetition and any major flaws that are sitting there. Did Barnes come before or after I fought the Unome? Was Belvedere oblivious to Sassam’s plot? How much did Wyra blab to Coraline?

Yes, these should have been taken up in the Second Draft. Doesn’t mean they were. Consider it the last chance to nut all of that out before the galley is produced. I’ve had some assistance to this end in the form of my father grabbing a red pen and for this I am very, very grateful.

Of course, since he stole the red pen, I’ve been forced to use the green for my own amendments. I can live with that. Want to hear the good news? It’s all done. The hard-copy side of things, that is. Now comes the second part of the editing task: working back over the printed pages and translating the scribbles and scrawls, side-annotations and asterisks over to the electronic version.

This the is down-hill part of the task. Doesn’t mean it’s any less unpalatable, just that it takes less time.

What’s the date today? May 1st. Cool. In that case, I have reached the decision to put this book up for pre-release May 4th on Amazon’s KDP (the Kindle Direct Publishing thing), for an official release June 1st. That’s from a Thursday to a Thursday.

I’ll try my best to document the process. I’ve got Smashwords and Lulu down, but the KDP is still a bit of a foreign concept.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling – Oh My!

There are reasons we read fiction. Finding out how good the author is at their spelling, grammar and punctuation is not one of them.

If it is for you, you’re a stickler. Or a sicko. Or a sticklo. There, that last one isn’t in the dictionary, yet I think it’s a perfectly acceptable word in this context. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The Last Sweep

If you’ve been following on, you’ll have learnt about my ‘sweeps’ when editing your manuscript. Good, you’ve gotten to the last leg. The first sweep was about the story. No amount of good grammar can make up for a flimsy plot. The second sweep let you look at the finer points of language and character. The last sweep is, you guessed it, the bit that no one, except sticklos, enjoys.

I guess the first thing you need to do is print out your copy, get your red pen again, get a good cup of espresso and find somewhere comfortable.

With luck, most of your spelling mistakes have been auto-corrected by your word processor as you’ve been going along. If you can trust the grammar correction, this might help as well. Believe me when I say, these are just tools. You still need to look over your draft to make sure that it actually is correct.

Want an example? Hampton Court Ghost, I had a device called a magnetoscope. The spell checker cracked it at me, underlining it with a red squiggle. “Not a word, not a word!” Fine, whatever. Ignore it, add it to the dictionary, don’t care. Oops, what did I do? I also added magentoscope – spot the difference? – at the same time, thus foiling what should have been my protection. Uncool.

How about this? “Tow the line” versus “Toe the line”? Both have correct spelling, and, technically, both are grammatically correct, but the actual idiom I’m after is Toe the Line.

Too, to, two. They’re, their, there. Homonyms, homophones, synonyms, ring any bells? Back to school for you!

The problem is this: Punctuation matters. Putting a comma in the wrong spot can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Using the wrong homophone can make your work look juvenile. Smattering… ellipses… all… throughout… your… work… will… just… piss… people… off…

For the most part, I, as a reader, will happily forgive the missing capital letter, or dropped article, or misplaced adjective, so long as its not too frequent and the story is decent. I mean, heck, mistakes happen, and ending a sentence in a preposition is not the end of the world.

What Else Is There?

There’s the usual stuff to look out for. The aforementioned stuff you learn in school. Capitals for the start of a sentence and for proper nouns. Commas between successive adjectives. Proper use of the definite and indefinite article… *snore*

Alright, alright. There’s more than that. That was a pretty strong espresso, so you might as well make the most of the caffeine hit. For starters, make sure your punctuation is keeping the flow of reading going, rather than holding it back. While too few commas is a bad thing, too many is downright clumsy.

“And so he wrote, to his dearest Lucy, inasmuch as his thoughts, though random, allowed him, as he fought the haze of mind, pertaining to the adventure he had, if you’ll remember, as I’m sure you do, only last week…” Ew.

Another issue I’ve faced personally is the dialect barrier. As an Australian author, my vocabulary is typically Australian, as is my grammar, spelling and punctuation.

I write colour, not color. Learnt, not learned. Not only that, but there are some words that aren’t internationally acceptable, like “Tacker” or “Flabbergasted” or even “Wanker”. So while I might very well have exactly the right word I want to use, if I’m writing for a different dialect, I lose out – I’ve got to find another word.

Even things like “Mate” need to be replaced with “Buddy” or “Pal”. “Dude” seems to be universal these days.

So when writing, editing and proofing Adaptation (Set in America, written in the American dialect) I have to wear a different hat to when I’m writing Paranormology (Victorian England) or Atlas Broken or The Bullet (Australian).

I can set the spell check on the word processor to use the right dictionary, and that helps immensely, but it can only go so far. If you get stuck, go find yourself a sticklo. Would that, then, be a stucklo?

In an upcoming post, I’ll show you how I use that red pen so as to keep the editing going smoothly.Mini Jeztyr Logo