Tag Archives: fiction editing

Common problems encountered in fiction editing

When I was asked to write a blog post on common problems encountered in fiction editing, I wondered where on earth to start; it’s such a big topic. Being first confronted with a work of fiction can seem overwhelmingly daunting, especially if you are a newbie, but the satisfaction you get from editing fiction is unrivalled.

Whether you are carrying out a developmental edit or a copy-edit, after a while you see the same problems crop up time and time again – and you begin to realise that if you can catch the common problems the rest will follow.

So here are a few problems that crop up frequently when editing fiction, starting with my favourite first:

Inconsistencies

When you are dealing with a novel, you are bound to come across inconsistencies, and catching them can be quite an art form.

Characters  

If you don’t make sure that things like height, build, hair colour and eye colour remain consistent your readers are going to notice. But if the character has a liking for frequently changing their image, then you need to let the reader know that they dyed their hair, were wearing funky contact lenses or had been on a new medical retreat to add that few extra inches of height.

Make sure names remain the same. You’ll often find throughout the manuscript that the author has spelled the name incorrectly. This is a very common problem – Brian can become Bryan or Bryn or even Brain. Decide on the character’s name and stick with the same spelling, after consulting with the author.

I use a modified Dungeons & Dragons character sheet to keep track of characters in a novel, which I admit is a hangover from my student gaming days. And if you deal with fantasy and sci-fi these are even better, just go ahead and use a Dungeons & Dragons sheet! Or you can use an Excel spreadsheet or whatever takes your fancy. Just make sure you have a way to know your characters by the end of the book.

Staying within character

This can be subtler but is something to watch out for. Rather than enforce a stereotype, stick with the character traits. Would someone who generally behaves in a certain way stray from their normal way of doing things? If they do stray there usually must be a damned good reason, and this can often be the catalyst for the story, but if it’s stated that she hates milk would she put it in her coffee? If she never drinks tea, watch out for her ordering one in the middle of the book. Small things can easily be missed, but I tend to add these to the character sheet.

Also, are the characters interesting enough and are they rounded individuals? If not, you may have to gently nudge the author into a rewrite.

Places

Make sure that buildings and the story settings are consistent and don’t suddenly change appearance. Keep track of where buildings and places are – if the scene is set in a run-down area of town, the narrative should reflect that. If the scene is set in a place that gets little rainfall, would the character really be carrying an umbrella?

If you have a character regularly moving around a room or building it can make sense to draw out an internal layout for yourself – this might stop your character from going through a door that in one chapter leads to the kitchen and in another leads to the bathroom. It may seem like a lot of work, but it all adds to the authenticity and allows you, the editor, to catch mistakes.

Plot holes

Does a character disappear for a cup of tea and never return? Is there a reason the characters move from Central City to the back of beyond? Is the main character’s life journey so thin you can see right through it? Plot holes can be so huge that they don’t need pointing out, but some only appear because there’s something wrong … but you can’t quite put your finger on it. As editors, it’s our job to catch the plot holes – that’s why keeping track as you go along is a good idea.

If you don’t sort out the loose threads of a plot the readers will notice. A good way to do this is to go through and read only the pages dedicated to a certain plot line – this may be enough to have the holes jump out at you. Make sure everything is resolved, and that the plot is believable; even if it’s fantasy or sci-fi, the readers need a satisfying experience.

Practicalities

This can be fun and appeal to your pedantic side, or it can drive you crazy. Keep an eye out for things that pop out at you – for example, will it only take ten minutes to do everything that the character needs to do? Can your character really walk ten blocks in three minutes? Was 15th November 1976 really a Monday? (It was.) And can a helicopter/plane/car/motorcycle really make the journey on one tank of fuel? My favourite example is when the cowboy fires away, bullet after bullet, from an old-fashioned six-shooter, without reloading. When it comes to the practicalities of the story, you can bet that someone, somewhere will notice.

Timeframes

Make sure when working, especially on subplots, that the timeframes match up. If you don’t catch a mismatch your character may end up knowing something before it happened, or before being told. A simple (or not so simple) linear timeline for each character can help – if you know where your characters are you can keep track of what they know or don’t know. Create a calendar for the story if it happens over a period of time.

Point of view, head hopping and tense

A very common problem has the author changing point of view (POV) or engaging in a bit of head hopping. Maintaining POV can be difficult at times, but an editor should be able to spot when the POV changes for the wrong reason. Head hopping is disconcerting as readers are forced to move from one character to another in a scene – it just gets muddled and confusing. If the author really needs to have different character POVs suggest they use them sparingly, for a reason, and don’t have changes in the same scene: save them for different sections or chapters.

Make sure the author doesn’t change from past to present tense and back again; you’d be surprised how often it happens!

The rest

There are so many other problems encountered that are more developmental than copy-editing:

Pace – avoiding that saggy middle and keeping the reader interested.

Plot – is there one or is nothing much happening? What about subplots: are there enough, too many or too few?

Conflict – is there enough to move the story forward? Somebody wants something and strives to get it. Make sure there is enough tension to keep the reader reading.

Voice – the voice needs to be consistent to stop the reader popping out of the story. It’s also a way to catch plagiarism … if the voice suddenly changes be wary.

You might come across some of these problems in your fiction edit or, if you are unlucky, you may get all of them (in which case there are grounds for going back to the author and having a chat about scope and fees). Remember though – changes may have knock-on effects for the rest of the novel, so keep good notes and remember good communication with the author is important.

Sara DonaldsonSara Donaldson is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly historical fiction and non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter

 

 

Image credits: Lego Dungeons and Dragons by Marco Hazard CC2.0

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Tips for proofreading children’s books

In many ways, proofreading books for children isn’t that different from proofreading any other material … but there are a few extra things to look out for, especially in highly illustrated titles.

betty-nudlerMind the flaps!

Many children’s books, especially non-fiction titles, feature interactive elements such as flaps, pop-ups, stickers and activities. If you’re proofreading on screen, you’ll see the pages in two-dimensional form, but be aware that you might need to consider how different elements of the book would work together in real life. (Would the outline provided fold up into a model of a robot? Are there really 10,000 stickers, as claimed on the cover?) You won’t necessarily need to print things out to get the job done, but you might need to sense-check activities, cross-reference different parts of the product, or count particular elements (all 10,000 of them). Make sure you factor this in to the time you allow to proofread the book, even if the word count is tiny, and consider using a second screen if you don’t already, to speed up the work and increase your accuracy.

When is a book not a book?

When it’s an ebook or an app – both popular formats for children’s books, and with a different set of considerations from physical books. You might be asked to check how a highly illustrated layout transfers to ebook format, for example, possibly with reflowable text. Are all the elements still there, in a sensible order?

With ebooks and apps, you’ll need to find the most sensible way of returning comments, which might not take the form of a more traditional mark-up, but could instead be a list of corrections. With apps you’ll need to make sure you’ve checked and clearly recorded corrections to all the places where text appears – which might not be easy to deal with in a linear way.

childrens-book-week-liz-2Less can be more … when it comes to mistakes

In some ways, children’s books seem too easy. In books for younger readers in particular, you might have as few as twenty words. (Your per-thousand word rate is likely to be reassuringly astronomical!) However, the lack of text can be almost intimidating. Any remaining mistakes have nowhere to hide, and will come back to haunt you for all eternity … or until the books are pulped. Make triply certain that the title on the spine matches the title on the cover and on the title page, for example. Surprisingly often, it doesn’t.

 

Reading order

In boring old adult books, usually you start reading at the top left of a page, and keep plugging away until you get to the bottom right, and then start the process all over again. This isn’t necessarily so in children’s books, where layouts can be considerably more dynamic, with smaller blocks of text arranged across the page or spread, integrated with the pictures, and interspersed with smaller text elements such as boxes, captions and annotations. Pay attention to the reading order of the different elements – it needs to be logical. Sometimes, captions will be the only part that is read, so these need to stand alone. They should work hard, add value to the picture they refer to, and not simply repeat part of the main body text. It seems obvious, but it’s easily overlooked: annotations need to refer to the part of a picture they are pointing to.

Consider the reader

Whatever we edit or proofread, we need to consider the intended reader. But with children as the audience, there are extra considerations. Is the text legible? Are the fonts used appropriate? Although by the time you are proofreading, basic decisions such as font choice will have been made long ago in the process, you might still find instances where things need to be tweaked to help a young readership. Also look out for words, especially technical terms or jargon, that don’t fit the reading age or need to be explained where they appear.

Diversity and inclusion

Children’s publishers often have guidelines for authors and editors on inclusion and diversity. Although these aspects should be considered from the outset of a project – or rather, as this article argues, a book should ‘be diverse without diversity being its selling point’ – it’s still an important aspect of children’s publishing for proofreaders and copy-editors to be aware of.

children-book-week-liz-1Don’t neglect the pictures

You might think of yourself as a word person, but in many children’s books, much of the sense comes from the pictures, so you must pay as much attention to them as to the text. If the text describes something shown in a picture, such as a colour, does the picture reflect that? If the pictures show a step-by-step process, are they in the right order? Many children’s books are commissioned in the knowledge that they will be co-editions, or sold into a range of territories. Often you will need to look out for parochial details in the images that could limit a book’s marketability, such as obviously right-hand-drive cars, or very British-looking police uniforms.

Marking up

Finally, think about the best way to mark up a highly illustrated book. Your client might have guidelines on how they want you to mark up PDFs, but remember that marks can easily be overlooked on busy, brightly coloured backgrounds. If you think a mark might be lost, draw a big box around it or highlight it with a helpful arrow. Go for maximum clarity.

photo 2016 croppedLiz Jones worked in-house for two children’s publishers between 1998 and 2005, and still proofreads children’s books alongside a range of other freelance editorial work for publishers, business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.

 

Photo credit: Betty Nudler Creative Commons

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

SfEP social media round-up July 2016

You are probably aware that many editors write great blogs for their own websites on a range of issues related to the world of editing, which are regularly shared via the SfEP Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. The social media round-up has therefore been expanded to introduce a new section with some good posts from SfEP members’ blogs published each month that we think you will enjoy reading.

If you write a blog and would like to share your work in a future social media round-up, please get in touch (blog@sfep.org.uk).

share on social media

Blogs round-up

Catherine Dunn recently attended the Writing East Midlands conference where Cressida Downing gave an excellent workshop on how authors can best work with editors. Catherine shares the tips provided in her blog Working with an editor.

Want to become a ‘digital nomad’? Kate Haigh explains how in her blog Being a location-independent proofreader.

Sophie Playle shared advice on How to edit fiction with confidence in her guest blog for The Proofreader’s Parlour.

Want to start listening to editorial podcasts? In his recent blog post John Espirian shares his favourite Podcasts for editors.

New proofreaders will find helpful advice in Louise Harnby’s guest blog The business of proofreading: taking a long and interconnected view for An American Editor.

Social media round-up

Linguist Oliver Kamm argues it’s finally time to stop correcting people’s grammar.

Taking a dip into the language of swimming.

Omitting periods? It’s about genres.

Pick the right fights when you’re editing.

Birdies, bogeys, and baffies: the language of golf.

Watch the Gutenberg printing press in action.

Written and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

 

Social media round-up – January 2016

In case you missed them, here are some of the most popular links shared across the SfEP’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) and blog in January.
share on social media

  1. A new Beatrix Potter story is going to be published, with illustrations by Quentin Blake: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/prh-publish-lost-beatrix-potter-story-320848
  2. Method writing sees novelists immerse themselves in their characters’ lives and minds. Is there such a thing as method editing? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-35379361
  3. The meaning of fairy tales: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/neil-gaiman-on-the-meaning-of-fairy-tales/
  4. How well do you know the dates, months and seasons which feature in Shakespeare’s year? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35171468
  5. 16 elevating resolutions for 2016 inspired by some of humanity’s greatest minds: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/01/04/resolutions-2016/
  6. How did the months get their names? http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/01/months-names/
  7. 10 secrets from inside @TheSfEP social media team, just some of our brilliant volunteers: http://blog.sfep.org.uk/sfep-social-media-teams/
  8. Penguin Random House UK removes degree requirement from job applications: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/prh-removes-degree-requirement-job-applications-320371
  9. Do you want to increase your freelance rates? http://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/tips-tricks/how-to-increase-your-freelance-rates-8-tips
  10. Free word count tools for PDF, Office and text files: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/3-free-word-count-tools-pdf-office-text-files/
  11. 10 top proofreading tips for fiction writers: http://www.writing.ie/resources/top-10-proofreading-tips-for-fiction-writers-by-mary-mccauley/
  12. How to take care of your hands and wrists: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-how-to-take-care-of-your-hands-and-wrists/

Margaret HunterPosted by Margaret Hunter, SfEP marketing and PR director

The views expressed here or in these linked articles do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP