An American Editor

October 9, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap IV

by Carolyn Haley

In Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap III, I described my approach to formatting client manuscripts (Stage 2 of a four-stage workflow). As in preflight (Stage 1), formatting gives me a preview of content while attending to technical preparation of the file, so when I finally settle down to edit (Stage 3), I can give content full attention.

Preflight is described in The Novel-Editing Roadmap I and II; formatting is described in The Novel-Editing Roadmap III.

Stage 3: Editing

Part of my rationale for not prereading a manuscript is to be able to see it as a regular reader would: start on page one and read to the end. I have a hint of what’s to come from preflight and formatting, just as a reader of the published book might have a hint from jacket copy and reviews. Beyond that, the novel is as unknown to me as it is to them.

My editing modus operandi is to read until I stumble. Depending on the manuscript, my stumbling may occur often or intermittently; and depending on the scope of work, I’ll emend, query, or ignore the stumble once I’ve identified its cause.

A stumble can be anything. Because different readers perceive the same book differently (i.e., reader subjectivity), it’s impossible for an editor to anticipate every conceivable stumbling point. Consequently, I frame my expectations according to genre conventions and commonly held standards of craft (writing technique and storytelling), and respond to what breaks my attention.

Where start-to-finish reading differs between me and the pleasure reader is that I stop and act at any stumble, whereas the reader reacts to stumbles by sliding past them or abandoning the book if there are too many of them. My job is to keep the reader attached to the story by removing stumbling points.

The first few chapters always go slowly, for that’s when characters are introduced, the plot and conflict(s) are established, and the writer’s skill or lack thereof becomes evident. It’s also when I construct the primary elements of the style sheet and decide upon its best layout. After that, things proceed more steadily and smoothly.

Simple corrections, such as spelling, punctuation, and minor deletions and transitions, can be popped in as I go. Stumbles that require more than a few seconds to address get highlighted in yellow. Some of them might be explained later in the story, so there is no point spending time on them prematurely. If a stumble is not explained by the end, I’ll have to do a bit of research, or give further thought to recasting or querying. I make these decisions in a dedicated pass after completing the main edit.

The need to highlight occurs so often that I created a macro to reduce multiple menu steps into a two-finger keyboard command that’s easy for me to remember. For yellow highlighting, I use the command CTRL+y, and to insert a comment balloon, I use CTRL+F11. My comments range from simple queries, such as selecting a word and suggesting an alternative with a question mark (e.g., in a description of a sword with an ornate handle, the query would be hilt?), to complex descriptions of a story problem and suggesting solutions. Other queries are just requests for clarification of ambiguous phrasings or actions.

I also use some of Word’s built-in keyboard shortcuts, such as ALT+F6 to jump between open Word documents (e.g., the manuscript and style sheet), and ALT+Tab to move between applications (e.g., between Word, email, reference websites, and a search engine). This saves a lot of mouse clicking.

One of the most time-saving macros I’ve found is one of the hundreds provided in Paul Beverley’s macro collection, Computer Tools for Editors. I overlooked it until Louise Harnby wrote about it in “How to never forget you’ve switched off Track Changes!” in her Proofreader’s Parlour blog. Once the macro has been installed, it places a symbol on Word’s toolbar, which upon clicking changes screen color to signal that Track Changes is OFF. This alert has saved me hours from having to backpedal and reedit after getting crossed up with Track Changes’ active/inactive status. The alert plus two single-key commands I recorded for showing and hiding tracking (F10 to show, F12 to hide), put an end to Track Changes fumbles.

Another big time-saver came from purchasing access to Merriam-Webster’s online unabridged dictionary. I used to check spellings in my paper copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., until I realized how rapidly seconds were adding up to minutes and hours. I recovered my cost for the online version in the first book I edited afterward. I’ve not yet made the paper-to-online switch with my primary style guide, Chicago Manual of Style, because in fiction adherence to style is more flexible than in nonfiction, and I use CMS much less often than the dictionary. Nevertheless, I gained efficiency through an online/hardcopy combination. I’ve always found the CMS index to be confusing, and therefore time consuming, so I was prone to not consulting the reference when I should. I’m also frugal, so I didn’t want to spend for a resource I wasn’t going to heavily employ. Now I use the online CMS site as an index (no charge) by searching for a topic. That usually brings up the relevant chapter number and section, leading straight to the information I want in the book.

Second pass

After completing the main edit, I review everything I highlighted and address whatever the highlights flagged. That may require rephrasing clumsy wording, or investigating a questionable fact, or composing a technical explanation about a hitch in scene logistics and suggesting solutions. At first I searched for each highlight by scrolling; then I tried opening the Find/Replace window and searching for Highlight. That required a tiresome number of menu steps, so I recorded a macro for keyboard commands that advance to the next highlighted text and remove its highlighting. The pair of close-together key sequences (CTRL+Shift+| for find highlight and ALT+\ for unhighlight) lets me use my nonmouse hand to rapidly jump to and clear highlighting. (This combo is also useful during preflight when reviewing the many highlights inserted by Never Spell Word.) When I want to mass-clear highlighting or catch any highlight I failed to remove manually, I run EditTools’ Remove All Highlighting macro. Although this tool can remove particular highlight colors on demand, I don’t differentiate colors during my process so have not employed that option.

Next I review my comments and queries, to make sure they are courteous and clear. This, too, I previously did by scrolling, but now I use EditTools’ Comment Editor. This tool puts all comments in one window and lets you jump to whichever one you want with a click.

Last, I attend to miscellaneous. Throughout the main edit I jot notes about items I don’t highlight or query in the manuscript because they might not fall within scope of work. Usually they involve the writer’s technique. For instance, if the manuscript was loaded with fuzzy phrasing, like he made his way through the crowd (vs. he wove or shoved through the crowd); or weak phrasing, like he was running (vs. he ran) or he started to run (vs. he ran); or the author has a pet word or phrase that’s been overused (one of my memoir clients hopped on his bike about two hundred times, when he could have gotten on, jumped on, or mounted the bike occasionally), I might run searches for the phrases in question and reconsider them for editing or querying.

Once every note is crossed off my list, I tidy up any lingering mechanical and consistency details.

Stage 4: Cleanup

I start cleanup by making another copy of the file, then work down a checklist.

Quotation marks come first, owing to the prevalence of dialogue in fiction and the myriad typos it can contain. Using a series of search strings I haven’t bundled into a macro yet, I ferret out missing punctuation inside quotes (Find: ^$”) and missing periods at paragraph ends (Find: ^$^p), then switch to wildcard searches for incorrect punctuation between the quoted matter and the speaker, such as, “I’ll go to the store.” she said (Find: .^0148 ([a-z]), with variations on caps and period/comma). I also make sure all quotation marks and apostrophes are “curly” typographer style rather than straight (Find: ^0034 for ” and ^0039 for ‘).

Finally, I run Paul Beverley’s MatchDoubleQuotes macro to catch any quotation mark pairs that are incomplete. I use another Paul Beverley macro to find duplicate phrases, since Word’s spellcheck will only find duplicate single words (e.g., the the). The Duplicate Phrase macro finds two-word repeats and three-word repeats, including a variant that highlights them, to catch such errors as she went to went to the store. However, it can’t find illogical sequences resulting from clumsy revisions, like he the will. For those, I must reread the document and hope my eye will catch them second time around.

It’s been suggested that I save the illogical phrases as I come across them to an F&R Master dataset in EditTools, which is a good idea that I plan to try. No such phrases have popped up since I received the suggestion, so I can’t yet testify to the utility of the idea. In the meantime, I’ve tried different settings in Word’s grammar checker, and investigated other grammar checkers on the market, but not found anything to help catch my worst and most frequent editing error (he the will and its ilk). I therefore never promise a client a perfect job.

Before my own proofreading pass, I run PerfectIt to find consistency errors in spelling, hyphenation, abbreviation, and capitalization, followed by Word’s spellchecker to catch the last typos and dropped spacing between words or sentences. When that’s done, I set up for proofreading: change the font (and eyeglasses), move to a different computer and chair, hide the tracked changes and comments from showing onscreen, and read the book from start to finish. Leftover bloopers and questions reveal themselves during this phase.

Last, I play it safe by manually checking for little mistakes I might have introduced during the edit, such as extra spaces between words or before punctuation — but I don’t rerun File Cleaner, having done so in preflight. At the end of the edit I’m afraid to do anything involving a global replace as I will not see the whole manuscript again and deeply fear an ugly surprise when the author reviews it.

Closure

Before delivering the edited manuscript, I take an extra spin through the comments to make sure they meet the three p’s: polite, professional, and precise. That’s the final editing step. For delivery, I prepare two files: the first with all edits showing, to demonstrate that I’ve done my job and let the author accept or reject whatever they please; the second with all edits accepted and only comments showing. Most clients work with the second document because they are satisfied with the edits and want a clean version of the manuscript to enter their own revisions into.

Finally, I organize and pretty-up the style sheet and prepare a cover letter to the author (or project coordinator for a publisher job). With new clients or iffy payers, I create a PDF of the all-changes-showing file and send it with the bill. With proven clients, I just send the final Word files and the author sends back a check.

The job usually ends here because most of my jobs involve copyediting or line editing and the client moves on from there. Sometimes I get the book back for revision checking and commentary, and I always keep the door open to author questions. Many of them keep in touch regarding their progress. Better yet, they come back with their next project.

By the time I receive the author’s next project, I’ve learned another tool or trick and refined my procedure — although not always for the better. Learning is as much about figuring out what doesn’t work as what does. The route to finding out what editing process works best for oneself is to acquire the proven software tool packages — EditTools, Editor’s ToolKit Plus, PerfectIt, and Paul Beverley’s macro collection, Computer Tools for Editors — and start experimenting. Also, take classes, read how-to books and blogs, and participate in forums where colleagues discuss their methodology. It’s a dynamic process that never really ends and can be adjusted as one’s skill set matures.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

1 Comment »

  1. Carolyn, your editing process is quite detailed and you use all the tools to make sure you deliver an almost-perfect copy.

    Like

    Comment by Vivek Kumar — October 9, 2017 @ 4:49 am | Reply


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