When Is a Good Editor Not Good for Your Story? — Guest: Misti Wolanski
Over the last year and a half, I’ve written several articles about finding editors. We’ve talked about knowing what kind of editor we need, how we can identify a good editor, how we can evaluate sample edits, and how we each need different things from editors.
One important issue that Carradee (our guest today) brought up in the comments of some of those posts was the difference between non-fiction and fiction. Many writers write both fiction and non-fiction (even if the latter is just blog posts), but the two types of writing require different skills—from authors and from editors.
The better we understand the differences, the better we can follow the right rules at the right time, and the better we can judge whether an editor is skilled in the right areas to be a good editor for us. While some of the skills that make an editor “good” will overlap between fiction and non-fiction, not all of them do.
To help us be a better judge of “good,” I asked editor Misti Wolanski (also known as Carradee) to share with us some of these differences. This is a long post, but she brings up more issues than I ever could have imagined, so I didn’t want to cut a bit of it.
Even if the only non-fiction we write is blog posts, it’s still good to be aware of these differences so we’re not accidentally following blog-writing rules when writing our fiction or vice versa. So please welcome Misti Wolanski! *smile*
What Is “Good” Editing?
Most folks—and even most editors—will give you some answer along the lines of “grammatically perfect” or some longwinded spiel that may or may not make sense. The trouble is that editors are limited to the skill levels of the writers they’re working with, plus there are so many different types of editing.
A high-quality editor of one type might do a horrific job if required to do another type—or an editor who usually works with writers who already know grammar might not be as adept at working with writers who need to be educated about grammar.
This malleability of the definition of “good” applies across all types of writing, for various genres, audiences, and mediums. Thus why “good” editing can be so hard to define.
Even fiction and nonfiction have a multitude of differences from within themselves and between each other.
But despite those facts, there actually is a simple way to define “good” editing, a way that covers all possible permutations:
“Good” editing improves a piece of writing’s ability
to do what the author intended it to.
Sometimes that means dropping the adverbs. Sometimes that means stripping the voice out. Sometimes that means leaving a few intentional typos because that brings greater customer satisfaction overall.
(That last one has been verified as true by big-ticket marketers, by the way.)
But various types of writing have their own specific tactics that work for those types of writing and not others, so how’s a writer or editor to know what to look for?
There are three parts to what an editor looks at:
- Nonfiction vs. Fiction STRUCTURE
- Nonfiction vs. Fiction CONTENT
- Nonfiction vs. Fiction GRAMMAR (& SPELLING)
All three have their differences, and then the grammar in particular has its own nuances based on if you’re using US style or non-US style, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Nonfiction vs. Fiction STRUCTURE
Structure matters no matter what you’re writing. Structure is your cause-and-effect. Cause-and-effect is needed for reader comprehension and must generally be in order. (You can hop around some, but if you do, it has to be with purpose and with sufficient signals to the reader that you’re hopping out of order.)
No matter what you write (or say), the progression of what you convey must be logical.
But the intent of that logic—the entire foundation that determines which cause-and-effect you need to focus on—will vary depending on what you’re writing.
Have you ever read an easy-to-follow recipe? Then you’ve experienced good nonfiction. Have you ever heard a good joke that made you laugh out loud? Then you’ve experienced good fiction.
Nonfiction arranges the purpose in logical order, with consideration for story.
Each data point—each thesis, supporting argument, and supporting piece of data—has to connect to the ones surrounding it and to the overarching purpose of the work. Nonfiction authors who get distracted into focusing on the “story” aspects of their writing produce writing that is far too broad in purpose to be ideal for any audience, and such nebulous focus can even make it fall apart.
The overarching purpose of a recipe is to enable you to make the item described, so everything in a recipe is designed with that in mind. The “story” of a recipe is the process of how to make the item described, getting you to picture yourself making it. The most effective recipes accomplish both tasks, but only the first is necessary for the recipe to work and work well.
Fiction arranges the story in logical order, with consideration for the purpose.
Each part of the story—plot, characters, description, dialogue—has to connect to the parts surrounding it and to the overarching intention the author has for the story. Some (though not all) authors also consider their intended purpose, message, or themes for the story, but that does not influence the structure nearly as much as the story does.
The overarching intention of a joke is to tell an amusing sequence of events, so everything in a joke is designed with that in mind. The secondary purpose is to make the hearer or reader feel amusement, so details might be rearranged or skipped in order to promote that response. The most effective jokes accomplish both tasks, but only the first is necessary for the joke to work and work well.
The purpose behind your structure need not be clear at a glance, but that’ll affect your target audience. If your goal is to entertain or educate readers who just want to escape reality for a while, a convoluted logic trail is not what you want to write; whereas if you want to encourage people to think, some variation in the logical order can be useful.
(This difference in structure and effect is one reason it’s difficult to be an “all of the above” type of writer. Being fantastic at one type of writing doesn’t mean you can shift mindsets to be able to organize another type.)
What if a recipe didn’t tell you to separate the egg white and yolk until after it had told you to add “half the egg” to the recipe?
What if the “Eats, shoots and leaves” panda joke quoted the “badly punctuated wildlife manual” before the panda eats, shoots up the restaurant, and leaves? That would break the order of the story and destroy the humor.
Nonfiction vs. Fiction CONTENT
The difference between fiction and nonfiction content is easier to explain than you might think.
- Nonfiction explains (tells) something.
- Fiction illustrates (shows) something.
You can have explanations in fiction and illustrations in nonfiction, but those are secondary in the overall piece of writing.
So when editing nonfiction or fiction, what you focus on isn’t exactly the “nonfiction vs. fiction” aspect. What you focus on is explanation vs. illustration.
Rule #1: Learn to Define Your Terms
- Nonfiction Is Explanation:
Define your terms explicitly.
Many an argument happens because both parties define words differently and don’t realize they’re saying the same thing (but with different words) or saying different things (but with the same words).
Whenever there is a reasonable likelihood that some of your audience will not define the word the way you want—such as when one word has multiple meanings that could be applied to your context—then it’s best to give your definitions. It doesn’t matter if you “obviously” couldn’t possibly be meaning an uncomplimentary interpretation—unless your context precludes that other interpretation, you are saying that uncomplimentary interpretation, along with the one you intended.
For example, “He cleaved the couple” could mean “He separated the two of them,” “He spliced the two of them,” or “He cut the two of them up with a meat cleaver.” You have no way of knowing which I meant from the line itself, and the context doesn’t clarify things.
I don’t have to define “explanation” or “example” in this blog post because I’m using standard words and standard definitions, with a context that limits what I could be intending them to mean; but including definitions would not have been remiss of me.
- Fiction Is Illustration:
Define your terms implicitly.
Particular words mean specific things to you, especially for the context in which you use them, and you have to include enough on the page for the reader to be able to follow what meaning you’re intending to use. If you define everything outright, then you’re explaining in the middle of your illustration, and it breaks your illustration; but if you set up your illustration so the definitions and such all fit together, you’ll show your reader what the terms mean in context.
For example, you know the person who loves telling jokes but stumbles over the parts and explains them to death? That person is getting too caught up in the explicit aspects of the joke and missing what can be conveyed implicitly, by word choice and timing, and therefore has turned an illustration (the joke) into an explanation.
Word choice and timing apply in all illustrations, stories included.
Consider “He cleaved the log in two” (one log gets split in two) vs. “He cleaved the two logs into one” (two logs get spliced to produce one) vs. “He went at the log with a meat cleaver” (…don’t think I need to clarify this one). The phrasing in each of those sentences indicate what you mean with “cleave”.
Rule #2: Learn When to Focus on Consistency or Creativity
- Nonfiction Is Explanation:
Keep things consistent.
Any changes in word choice actually affect the meaning of something. If you use “wide” and “broad” to refer to the same thing, you’re changing the terms and therefore indicating there’s a nuanced difference. Definitions are huge.
Changing your terms in the middle of an explanation is the equivalent of taking a recipe and deciding to “vary it up” by sometimes referring to the cup measurements as their equivalent in tablespoons. How confusing (and frustrating) that would be!
The same confusion would apply if I every so often replaced “explanation rules” in this post with “rules of exposition”. Even though I would mean the same thing, the very change in terminology would indicate I was referring to something else.
Therefore, for the sake of clarity, terms need to be consistent within paragraphs, within sections, and within entire works. Make use of pronouns and sentence structure to avoid excessive repetition—but where explanation is concerned, repetition isn’t quite the villain folks tend to assume it is, because as stated in Rule #3…
- Fiction Is Illustration:
Keep things creative.
Too much consistency gets stale—and that applies to words, sentence structures, paragraph styles, and all sorts of features beyond mere word choice.
Even in illustrations, changes in word choice still affect your meaning, so you have to consider the logic when describing something, but you can’t stick to the same ol’ normal, else nobody’s going to respond how you want. You need enough consistency to be comprehensible, but enough variety to catch others’ attention.
This balance is why some people can’t tell a joke for the life of them—they have too much consistency, and things progress how you expect them to. Much of humor derives from the unexpected.
Therefore in illustrations, things need to vary—but not too much—within paragraphs, within sections, and within entire works.
It’s a tough line to walk, and it tends to work far better when writers they “play it by ear” (trusting the subconscious or muse) rather than try to use this tactic intentionally.
Rule #3: Learn When Repetition Helps or Hurts
- Nonfiction Is Explanation:
Well-timed repetition helps a person learn. Repetition can also convey emphasis or act as a reminder.
This is why consistency of terms, even when it results in repetition, is not in itself a bad thing. Nonfiction isn’t a trail of hints leading up to a main point. Nonfiction is a path leading the reader to the main point, so it should have more memory aids than fiction does.
Repetition can certainly be overused, but so can any other aspect of writing. You may notice I’m not starting every single sentence and paragraph the same way, but my overall structure for each of these points displays intentional parallelism—which is a form of repetition—and I also have kept each “rule” about the same length as its counterpart, which is a form of consistency.
- Fiction Is Illustration:
When repetition appears in an illustration, the listener or reader starts filling in what they already know from before, and the illustration loses its poignancy and interest for the audience.
Repetition of the selfsame illustration fast gets boring. Variants on that illustration can work, but that still can’t be repeated too much. What’s far more effective are independent illustrations that each give a different view of the same thing, or modifications of illustrations to emphasize and show different things.
You know that person who keeps repeating the same joke and getting upset or disappointed when it isn’t as funny when retold?
When you repeat the same illustrations, you’re being that person.
Rule #4: Learn When Summaries Help or Hurt
- Nonfiction Is Explanation:
Core of most effective nonfiction are the introduction and conclusion, which are summaries of the main point that you want the reader to pull away from your writing. This gives the reader a broad idea of what’s coming, so they can have the framework in which to put what you’re about to tell them. (“Topic sentences” for paragraphs do the same thing, on a narrower level.)
In recipes, the “summaries” are the ingredient list + the end result. Chefs can look at those two things and judge if that item is what they’re looking for, and then read the rest of the recipe as needed. (This is one reason good multi-part recipes have subheaders for the individual sections—a baker might want to follow a cupcake recipe but use her own recipe for the frosting, and a well-designed recipe will make clear which ingredients and instructions are specifically for the cupcake and which are for the frosting.)
- Fiction Is Illustration:
Summaries are innately explanations. (“I’m about to tell you…” etc.) That means they tell the reader what’s going on, rather than showing it—which can be useful, but it isn’t how you illustrate anything.
Illustrations show things.
Illustrations innately progress in time as the words, sentences, and paragraphs continue onwards. (This why reports of events fast get incoherent when the person telling the story can’t tell the story in a linear or nearly-linear fashion.)
Therefore, in an illustration, if you say, “She apologized,” you have completed that action. She apologized—that’s done! If you say that and show her apology—ex. “She apologized. She shrugged sheepishly and said, ‘Sorry.'”—then she’s apologizing twice.
(This is a more common issue than you might think.)
So, now that I’ve given the “big picture” differences between nonfiction and fiction, it’s time to move to the “little picture”:
Nonfiction vs. Fiction GRAMMAR (& SPELLING)
Before I delve into this, I should first mention that US and non-US grammar differ, too. Some punctuation can be utterly different (mainly for dialogue, dashes, and “complex” sentences) and some spellings differ (mainly for compound words, certain suffixes, and some technical terms.) As an added complication, some prepositions and other words aren’t used quite the same way nor mean the same thing between US and non-US English.
(So that thing you read that had the wrong quote marks on all the dialogue and the wrong size dash and spelled “focused” as “focussed”? It wasn’t wrong.)
Some words can even be spelled properly more than one way in a single form of English. (“Judgement” and “judgment”, anyone?)
Despite all that, there are a few items that are more generally distinctions between nonfiction and fiction, insofar as US English is concerned. Can you use fiction grammar in nonfiction and nonfiction grammar in fiction? Some, yes.
See, it’s normal for publishers to have “house styles”—lists of what they prefer on specific items of grammar and spelling that have more than one “correct” answer. The house style helps them be consistent.
Feel free to make your own house style, but make sure you write it down. That’ll help you stay consistent throughout your work, both for your own editing and for your editor’s editing.
A good editor, though, should know which items are variable. If they don’t, then make sure they at least know the defaults for what you’re writing—and if they don’t even know that much, you’ll probably be best served by another editor.
It isn’t exactly a fiction/nonfiction distinction, either. See, US English has developed two main sets of grammar rules: the ones for journalists (designed for the limitations of newspaper columns), and the ones for everyone else. (Some fields, like lawyers and academics, also have their own rules, but those are generally an expansion of the “everyone else” rules rather than an outright contradiction.)
So what are the items that, in US English, specifically flag what someone’s background is?
Item #1: Spacing around Dashes
Journalism puts spaces around dashes — as I have done in this sentence. Everyone else doesn’t, unless it’s part of their specific house style.
Note: Some folks use the spaces around the em dash specifically for e-book formatting, because you can make the first space what’s called a “non-breaking” space, which keeps the dash from being able to hang out by its lonesome on a line when the text is resizing for the reader.
Outside of the US, the shorter en dash (–), not a hyphen, can be used instead of the usual em dash (—). En dashes generally get spaces around them. Note that hyphens (-) are a completely different punctuation mark and are never a dash.
Item #2: Serial Comma (a.k.a. Oxford Comma)
This is the comma before an “and” on a list of three or more items. Journalism doesn’t use it. Other types of publishers generally do use it, with exceptions again being due to their specific house style.
Note: The key factors are consistency and clarity. Either method might be clearer, depending on how you write. People argue that the comma should not be before the “and” because commas mean “and”—but that’s actually untrue. Commas in lists are for listing parallelism, which is lost if you omit the serial comma. Consider your writing and decide which option suits you better, then note it on your style sheet.
Outside of the US, this comma is commonly omitted in informal writing but still used in some formal circles.
Item #3: Capitalization Rules
Beyond the main rules for what gets capitalized when, there’s one noticeable difference between the usual handbook for US English (The Chicago Manual of Style) and the one for journalism (The AP Stylebook): Do you include the “the” as part of a title when it’s in a sentence? General rule is that you don’t. (As you may have noticed, my personal house style is to be consistent with whatever the actual title is.)
Note: The easy way to do this:
- If quoting someone else’s title, is it capitalized in the original reference? Capitalize (or not) accordingly.
- If you are trying to figure how to capitalize your own title, lower case any articles (“a”, “an”, “the”), conjunctions, and prepositions unless one is the first word of your title.
Item #4: Spelling
Some words—especially compound words—have different spellings depending on the context and what reference you consider most important, even within US English.
For example, both Merriam-Webster and The Chicago Manual of Style lists indicating how some words are spelled and capitalized. Sometimes they contradict each other (example: “copy editor” [M-W] vs. “copyeditor” [CMS]). Even in normal, run-of-the-mill publishing, you have to decide which reference you want to trump or which specific spellings you want to use each time.
Specific fields also have their own preferred dictionaries. For example, psychology tends to prefer the American Heritage dictionary. The aforementioned journalism reference, The AP Stylebook, also has its own spelling preferences.
Note: Consistency is key. And for compound words, usage can trump the dictionary spellings. (This is why I chose to use the spelling “bookbag” in my novel Destiny’s Kiss, even though there’s technically supposed to be a space in there. Common usage indicates that it will, eventually, be one official word.)
So ultimately, the question is less “Am I writing nonfiction or fiction?” and more “What am I writing and why?”—and then the types of writing inside that determine how it’s edited.
Either way, “good editing” is editing that helps the writing be what you want it to be.
What do you want your writing to be?
About Misti Wolanski, her editing services, and her writing craft book:
I learned to read at an early age and devoured every piece of writing I could get my hands on—cereal boxes, dictionaries, Ernest Hemingway, the entire Bible, Moby Dick, my mother’s psychology textbooks…
Mom stopped encouraging me to read, after that last one.
But at that point, the damage had already been done: I’d developed a fondness for identifying gaps between what people say and what they intended to say.
Bridging this gap (between what is intended and what’s actually on the page) is what I do, even when proofreading.
If you just want someone who will take what you’ve written and whitewash it until it’s comprehensible, I’m not the editor for you.
If you just want someone who will assume you haven’t made any typos and that you of course know the different meanings indicated by “a” and “the”, I’m not the editor for you.
If you’re just looking for the cheapest possible editor who actually knows grammar, I’m not the editor for you. (I’m far from the most expensive editor out there, but I do charge more than a lot of editors who make the assumptions I refuse to.)
But if you know how to write and punctuate things and just need a polish (by someone who’ll flag potential oopsies and typos), or if you want to learn more of what you need to know to become that kind of person, then I might be what you’re looking for.
You can hire me for help on your specific work, or you can pick up my latest writing aid book, The 5 Pillars of Point of View, available on pre-order now.
Thank you, Misti! I knew there were differences between the two styles of writing and editing, but I had no idea those differences went so deep into the actual structure of writing.
Of course, now that you mention them, it all makes sense in hindsight. But sometimes we need information placed in front of us to trip our awareness, and that’s exactly why this post is so helpful. *smile*
Do you write non-fiction (including blog posts) and fiction? Were you aware of these differences? Did you know to be aware of the different non-fiction vs. fiction skills when evaluating editors? Do you have any questions for Misti?
Join Jami in her upcoming workshop:
Get ready for NaNo by learning how to do just enough story development to write faster with “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.”
Thanks for hosting me Jami! (Carradee = Misti Wolanski, and Jami politely avoided linking them without my explicit permission.)
[waves hi to everyone]
I’ve updated the post for a proper introduction to your two names now that I have permission. 🙂
Thank you so much for being here and for sharing all of this information with us. I’d known about the grammar and spelling differences between nonfiction and fiction, but I hadn’t thought about the big picture differences before.
I especially like your point about defining terms. We want subtext in fiction, but it doesn’t really belong in nonfiction. That difference was one that I intuitively understood when I started writing fiction, but I’ve always struggled to get the right amount of subtext, and I suspect that might be due to my nonfic background.
Your Rule #4 also does a great job of explaining why “showing vs. telling” is such an important skill for fiction writing. 🙂 Again, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insights with us!
Glad you’ve found it helpful!
You’re very good with story structure, so I wonder if maybe that’s part of why you didn’t consciously notice the distinction: fiction structure may jump out at you more than it does for the average reader. Just a thought. 🙂
That’s possible. My earliest fiction-specific education was centered around story structure, so that was my anchor for everything else I learned. 🙂
Oh this is brilliant! I knew some of this from having a background in journalism but I love seeing it laid out so clear and concise. Excellent post!
I know, right? 😀 I come from a nonfic background, so I “sort of” knew some of this intuitively, but as Carradee points out with the difference between explicit and implicit, sometimes it’s good to see things laid out clearly. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Thanks, Davonne! I’m glad I was able to lay things out clearly for you. 🙂
Someone on Facebook wondered if you could explain the point you made at the top of the post about:
I took that point to mean that sometimes being too nitpicky about grammar in general can lead to less satisfaction (such as if we strangle our voice to avoid fragments), but I’m not sure.
Could you explain what you mean by that? (Kathryn wasn’t sure if you meant that customers (readers) enjoy picking out typos.) Thanks!
Per more than one big-ticket marketers I’ve communicated with, customers/readers enjoy picking out typos. 🙂
The reason told to me was that the feeling of accomplishment that comes from finding them gives the types of people who see such typos more satisfaction than giving them a completely error-free item. (And those who told me this are the type who charge a lot of money for their product + run their own A/B testing.)
As a writer, I don’t intentionally leave typos that I know are there, in part because I know that some will slip through regardless. I’ll fix such typos when/if I find them—and be mortified if my pre-proofing file gets mixed up with my final file (has happened)—but I don’t stress over it.
Fascinating! And I can see that…
For those who like finding typos, the type of satisfaction we’d get from an error-free book is likely to fly under the radar, as we don’t pay attention to what we don’t notice. While in a generally error-free book, the nitpicky types could feel a sense of “Ha! I’m better at finding these than their editor.” 😉
However, as you said, we’re likely to leave some typos in unintentionally no matter what we do, so by no means should we purposely leave any in just for the people who enjoy that sort of thing. LOL! But maybe that means we can stress over the ones we find after the fact a bit less. 😀 I passed on your answer to Kathryn on FB–thanks for sharing that insight!
Ooh interesting discussion about leaving in typos up there! In the CBC (Canadian news) website, there’s a section where you can report typos. I’ve actually reported typos twice, haha and I did feel a great satisfaction when I saw that they corrected it the next day. That made it feel like I had the power to influence them—not really, but it still felt good. Apart from that, wow there are so many details mentioned in this post! It was very informative. 😀 I never thought about how nonfiction uses a lot of repetition (I just assumed that nobody likes repetition, full stop), and that nonfiction writers want to be clear on definitions while fiction writers like to imply definitions. I liked the discussion on en vs. em dashes too. I actually have never heard of en dashes before and have no idea how to type them, so I’m glad I know now. ^_^” (There’s so much I don’t know, yikes.) And yeah I never realized that some people put spaces around their dashes! Also, I really liked the part about Oxford commas, because I think about this issue quite a bit. I personally prefer to use Oxford commas, even though most of my peers seem to not like using them. I just use them because the sentence looks more aesthetically pleasing than if there wasn’t a comma before the “and.” But that’s only my own idiosyncratic opinion. And I didn’t realize that U.S. publishers generally prefer using Oxford commas but… — Read More »
Novels and stories generally count as “informal” writing. Pretty much, anything where voice trumps presentation is informal. If presentation trumps, it’s formal. Don’t feel silly about the Oxford confusion. I used to think the same, until I learned otherwise. 🙂 But as I said, it’s really a matter of consistency. Use it if you like it; omit it if you don’t. Just make sure to be consistent. Canada has some of its own rules and spellings (it’s essentially a hybrid of UK and US), but US rules are generally acceptable. (My omission of periods is one common UK rule.) Semicolons are generally more common in US writing than in non-US writing. It’s mostly a matter of style, but in US English, there’s an added purpose for semicolons: to replace the serial comma for clarity purposes (such as when there are commas in the list items themselves). Whoo, the punctuation with quote marks issue! This gets…complicated. General rule Non-US English: Is the punctuation mark in the actual quote? Yes? Put it in the quotes. No? Don’t. US English: Is it a period or comma? Put it inside the quotation marks. Colon or semicolon? Outside. Other punctuation? If it’s part of the quote, put it inside the marks; if it’s not, don’t. (If you have The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., ref. table 6.1.) The main exception to both has to do with how periods and commas at the end of thoughts have a form of equivalence in thoughts. That’s why… — Read More »
I tried to stay short on that, to avoid writing another essay, so please let me know if I went too short. 🙂
Everything—even repetition—can be useful in all types of writing, but it takes comprehending what it’s doing to be able to see how it’s useful. (For example, there’s a scene in my novel A Fistful of Earth that features some intentional repetition because the narrator is essentially having a nervous breakdown.)
Thanks for the comment, and I hope my comment’s useful for you, too. 🙂
LOL! Love that story about the CBC website. 🙂 Carradee’s doing a fantastic job of keeping up with comments, so give a shout if you still have questions!
Thanks, Carradee, for your clarifications. 🙂 I agree with one of the commenters that all this info is making my head spin, lol! But I’ll keep this post for future reference. 😀 Oh man, and to think that I never realized novels were informal writing…You learn something new everyday! 😀 Poetry would probably be informal too, since I feel that voice trumps presentation? Poets don’t have to follow a specific rhyme scheme or have any rhyme at all if they don’t want to, and they don’t even need to do the standard capitalizing of each first word in each line, and some lines may be indented, or lines could be visually shaped into something that fits the poem. So yeah that does sound more informal. My gosh, a hybrid of the U.S. and U.K. rules…No wonder I’m so confused. I’m from both Canada and Hong Kong, where in the latter, most of my teachers were British though some were North American. We had quite a few Australian teachers too. And of course I had classmates using either British English, Canadian /American English, etc., or a combination of the above. (You see I can’t really tell the difference between Canadian and American English, because I had always assumed them to be the same.) Honestly, I don’t know which country’s rules to follow, lol, but I better pick one and stick to it for consistency’s sake. ^_^” To keep it simple, I’ll just follow the U.S. rules for now, since they’re generally… — Read More »
For my not-forgotten-but-set-aside-for-now urban fantasy series, those chapters have a one-word heading like the vague ones you mentioned. Within Scrivener for my Mythos stories, I’m not sure those titles would be as interesting since they’re more for me, but someday I might list them out on a “behind the scenes” page on my website. 🙂
Poetry’s often informal, but I’ve read some that would qualify more as formal.
I’m glad you’re finding it productive. 🙂 Thanks for the thoughts!
I see. Poetry’s fun! 🙂 I’ve gotten into writing and reading a little bit of poetry for fun recently.
Jami, ooh I like the sound of those one word vague chapter titles. 😀 Hope you will publish that series one day too so we can read it!
Yep, it’s definitely not permanently in a drawer. 🙂
I actually post my poetry on Wattpad. It’s been…surprisingly useful. Not sure if I would have gotten myself to move away if my family hadn’t responded so badly to the poetry (some of which wasn’t even about them, but they read into all of it and ignored the poems that didn’t support their claims). 🙂
I started using Wattpad recently, and do plan to read some poems there!
Yikes, I hate it when people are oversensitive and read into our work too much. 🙁 Sometimes I wonder if I should put disclaimers before the start of the story (or poem), but then the disclaimer may look clumsy, or worse, sarcastic. 🙁
Wattpad is having some interface-editing stuff going on, so do watch out. They’ve reset all my line breaks more than once, for instance, and I keep reminding them, “Sometimes writers need there NOT to be a space between two lines.”
One week, all em dashes were turned to hyphens by the WYSIWYG editor. I was…unhappy. [*cough* pitching a polite fit *cough*]
I’ve called my poetry collection Eyes Wide Shut, and feel free to check it out if you want—or to ignore it if it’s not your thing. 🙂
As for the oversensitivity and reading into our work, when people do that sort of thing, just mine the experience for character fodder. 😀 That’s what I do.
…That might might explain some things about my stories, actually. >_>
But anyway, when folks react like that, it says far more about them than it does about us. Those kinds of people want to be offended. They will seriously make things up to be upset about. [She says from much experience.]
So true! Some people just want to be offended. I just saw this article about people being offended by this woman making fun of herself. O.o Really, world? *sigh*
I really do suspect that these people think that their lives are too monotonous, so they cause all this conflict to make their lives more dramatic, and hurt others in the process. 🙁
Yes, they want the “excitement” of drama. *sigh* I can only hope they’ll get better as they mature. 🙂
Of course they do. It makes them feel better about themselves, since they’re so much “better” than everyone else.
Oh, a note: After my family made their nuttiness obvious, I did wittingly post some poems that did double-duty, in that they were also direct messages to family. Example: “poetry =”
I’m sitting on a few others that are even more…directly autobiographical that I haven’t gotten the nerve to post, yet. It’s quite possible that they’ll spur another round of trolling or couched-in-nice-terms harassment.
Good to hear you think so. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by the comments.
Thanks for stopping by, Anna! 🙂
Very good information Carradee. Although my head hurts right now as I try to absorb it all. Lol. This one needs to be Bookmarked for future reference. That said, I thought you did a fantastic job breaking it down into understandable, bitesize pieces. Thank you so much!
And thank you Jami.
Thanks, Karen. 🙂 May you find it helpful to nibble on!
LOL! I know. She packed in a lot of information, but there wasn’t an easy way to split it into multiple posts, so we decided to go long. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
Very informative! I realized that I’m using the wrong style in certain areas in my fiction (because I come from a background of academic writing). Thanks for the clarification.
And that’s very interesting about the typo nit-pickers getting satisfaction out of finding a few. Hopefully that will make me less anal about proofreading. 🙂
Well, at least you can now evaluate the style distinction and decide what suits what you want your writing to be. 🙂
I hope this does help the proofreading be less stressful for you. Thanks for the comment!
Yes, my background is nonfiction (technical writing), so I had to unlearn a lot I’d learned to write fiction. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Thanks Carradee and to you Jami for bringing her ideas to us. Ms. Carradee, it is my fervent prayer that any author tempted to leave typos in their work will spend the time to read your expansion on the point — the ‘take them all out and there will still be some to satisfy the pickers of nits’ explanation. I’m a reader, not a writer. A single typo in the blurb or more than one or two in the download, depending on the length, causes me to stop reading and not purchase. Unless the hook is so excellent that I can’t help myself. Why do I run away? While I read plenty of frothy escape-from-reality books of the type that Jami says should not cause genre shame, I enjoy plot twists, word plays and wit. (No serial comma.) If an author can’t be bothered to proof her sales materials – the blurb and the download – what chance is there that she is above mediocre in the writing skills that matter to me? Ms. Carradee, some of my fondest memories of early childhood books are of those chapter books that had headings, such Dr. Doolittle. Headings of this type: ‘Chapter Four: Wherein the Pirates Capture Teddy and Susie and the Butler Brings Cupcakes.’ In thinking why I would like more of these today, it strikes me that forcing authors to use headings would require them to focus on having a plot with events that move. Twists even! And it might… — Read More »
The headers you describe can be enjoyable, but they don’t suit all types of writing, in part because you’re assuming that all stories must use the specific structure that you’re considering appropriate. Not everything uses (or should use) chapters, and not all stories use individual chapters to contain complete plot arcs. Chapters can also be used for things like character arcs or even reader convenience. And some writers use “recycled tropes” on purpose, because it fits or suits what they’re intending to produce. The end result might not be to your taste, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t to anyone’s. 🙂 Foreshadowing by definition is hints of upcoming events, not summaries of events. Telling what’s coming in advance is also different from repeating the event—and your sentence structure and verbiage must reflect that it’s describing forthcoming, otherwise you’re hopping down the trail of repeated events, again. There are authors who literally write: She apologized. “Sorry.” That is the type of summary I was referring to. That structure makes the event happen twice. The kind of narrator comment you describe is “telling”, not “showing”, and it can work if that’s what you meant to do. You must have a solid, consistent point of view that suits its use, and you must have a solid enough “hook” to keep the reader engaged despite knowing where you’re headed. I myself use a form of such foretelling in the first section of A Fistful of Fire, where the opening scene is set up as… — Read More »
I agree. If it seems like an author didn’t put in the time to ensure quality writing, I’m not going to trust that the story is less sloppy.
Yes, I always got a kick out of that style of chapter headings too. 🙂 I’ve actually seen a few in the romance genre go that route, but as Carradee said, I think it requires a certain style in the story to pull it off well. The one I can remember was written in a very humorous, tongue-in-cheek style, where the headings helped foreshadow (hinting) or foretell (outright telling) about upcoming events. But in many cases, headings like that could act as spoilers or undermine the tension.
That said, I think you’re right that even if authors don’t include them, it can be helpful to us to think of what we would put for a heading, just to make sure there’s a point to the scene. In fact, when I draft my stories in the Scrivener program, I give each scene a title of some sort. That helps me remember which scene is which when I’m drafting, but it also forces me to quantify what makes each scene important. Thanks for sharing that insight! 🙂
I notice that you use Dr Doolittle as your example. I’m most familiar with it from “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome, & I’m pretty sure that my hard-copy of “The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Round the World” by Edward Lear has those headings too. On the non-fiction side they tend to appear in scholarly works such as histories & travelogues. Thus I conclude that it is used to give the fictional account an air of verisimilitude, &, indeed, the weight of scholarly portent. As Carradee mentioned, they wouldn’t be fitting in a story that isn’t pretending to be scholarly.
Interesting! I’ve seen them mostly on humorous books, but I think you’re right that they also give a tongue-in-cheek scholarly air to that humorous tone. Thanks for sharing that insight! 🙂
As Jami said, good point about the scholarly aspect. 🙂 Thanks for chiming in!
Thank you for the informative article!
Oxford commas should be mandatory, in my humble opinion. But until I’m Queen of the World, I’ll just have to bite my tongue when writers refuse to put a necessary comma before an “and”.
I’m amused that some readers enjoy finding typos. I’m not one of them. I don’t want any mispellings in my work, though I expect there’ll always be at least one.
In a documentary many years ago, I learned that Native American weavers of a particular tribe make astonishingly beautiful blankets with complex geometric designs. The weavers routinely add at least one flaw in the weave so that the gods won’t be angry with them for achieving divine perfection. I have never forgotten that!
No doubt, the gods are quite pleased with my work.,
(Yes, I added that comma at the end on purpose.)
😀 That is interesting. Thanks for sharing!
Ever read the Thursday Next series? That series has intentional typos, where it can actually pertain to the plot and all.
LOL! I’m with you on Oxford commas. In a full story, we’re probably going to need to use at least one for clarity’s sake, so we may as well use them all the time for consistency’s sake if you ask me. 🙂
(*whispers* In fact, I’ve been known to edit guest post articles here to include them. Er, I’m Queen of this site, right? 😉 )
Oh yes! I’ve heard that about Native American weavers as well. Very interesting, and apropos to this conversation. Thanks for stopping by!
Such a great blog post! It really is important for editors to be clear about what types of work/genres they focus on. In my world of developmental editing, DEs generally see how content hangs together from a top-down view. But the difference between nonfiction and fiction can require different eyes, approaches, and skills. For instance, I wouldn’t apply nonfiction principles of structure to a romance novel. I’m so glad you spelled this out! Thanks for writing. 🙂
Glad it “clicks” for you! 😀
I don’t really developmental edit, myself, beyond sometimes making DE-level comments in my regular edits, but I have a lot of respect for those of you who can and do DE without other forms of editing. 🙂
Thanks for the comment!
*fist bump* for editors! 😀 Thanks for stopping by!
Thank you both. Jon
You’re welcome. 🙂 May you have a good rest of the week!
[…] An interesting conversation grew out of Misti Wolanski’s guest post earlier this week. On Tuesday, Misti (also known here in the comments as Carradee) shared with us how editing varies between non-fiction and fiction. […]
[…] We all know we need our stories edited. But Misti Wolanski talks about when a good editor is not good for your story. […]
Carradee, (since I can’t hit the Reply button anymore)
Yikes, I hate it when sites or programs change the formatting and spaces. 🙁 Once I was just sending an MS word file of my poetry to my own Kindle, and then some words got stuck together! I read some Amazon Kindle Direct discussion threads, and saved my poetry as an MS Word Doc 97-2003 instead of docx, and phew, the words are normal now. It’s funny how this tip works when just sending a doc to my own Kindle, when the forum is supposed to be for people actually publishing their work, haha.
Lol! Yeah, character fodder. 😀 It’s true that some people are either ridiculously easy to offend, or, like you said, they just look to be offended. 🙁 I wonder if they’re just bored and want to create conflict… -_-
Ooh, thanks for the link. I’ll check out your poems. 🙂
Carradee, by the way, I started reading your poems and following you. You’ll see that my Wattpad username is actually The-Gengar-Twins, with a Gengar profile pict. It’s my account for reading and eventually writing pokemon fanfiction. (I will create a separate account for original fiction. Hopefully they’ll let me create a separate account…) “The Gengar Twins” comes from one of my WIP fanfics, about a pair of fraternal, opposite gendered Gengar twins. (I’ve never seen female Gengar in pokemon fanfic before, so that’s why I have a female Gengar here.)
Sorry, that was a long explanation, haha. But just so you know that The-Gengar-Twins commenter is me. 😉
Thanks for the heads-up! I was wondering. 🙂
You should be able to make 2 accts. I believe I did on accident, at one point. (Made an account, poked around, did nothing, forgot I made it, made another… Got one deleted.)
Oh, thank goodness! LOL hmmm who is this mysterious new commenter with a spiky dark grinning creature as her/ his profile picture? (I love how on Wattpad, you don’t need to fill in your gender, because in the pokemon fanfic community, people tend to have pokemon-related usernames and pokemon or anime profile picts, so I never know anyone’s gender! XD We can of course make guesses, but some profile picts and usernames look really gender neutral (mine do too). We could always guess for fun the author’s gender from reading their story, but this relies on stereotypes and when I played this gender guessing game on an online Chinese story writing site, many times I guessed wrong! XD But this may be a good thing, so if there’s any sexism, I wouldn’t have to make my name into something gender ambiguous like S.Y.Yung to be taken seriously, lol. But I think nowadays most people aren’t that misogynistic when it comes to authors anymore. ) Also, I’m using this Gengar picture and my Gengar Twins username as a kind of “author brand”. So I’d be known as a pokemon fanfiction writer, specifically, a Gengar fic writer in the Pokemon writer/ reader circle. My “About” section is also targeted towards pokemon fanfiction writers and readers, because it talks tons about pokemon, lol. Jami, I love how ever since hanging out very often on your blog, I’ve really taken the “target audience” concept very seriously, lol. Serry Perennia is my nickname, as that… — Read More »
Some genres and audiences are still misogynistic—but some are misandric, racist (towards whatever color) etc. Really depends on the circles you run in, for how much you’ll run up against it.
In my case, my own writing kinda…filters, I suspect because folks inclined to take offense will find something to be offended about. 🙂
Argh at those prejudices. 🙁 Yeah, some people just take offense at anything on purpose. What’s their problem?
They have to be “better” than everyone else, somehow elevated above them. Their ego/pride requires it.
[yawns] <— how much I care
I agree entirely that you must find the right editor for your work. When I edit for someone, I try to be very clear about my strengths and skills so that person can make sure it’s a good fit. Some great tips in here! Thanks.
You’re welcome. 🙂
Yes, everyone has strengths and weaknesses–including editors. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
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