Expressing thoughts and imagined dialogue

There are no hard and fast rules about displaying a character’s thoughts. It tends to be dictated by trends of the moment or personal preference. The one rule is that once you have chosen a style, be consistent in the use of it.

Below are a set of published conventions for the expression of thoughts.

Thought and imagined dialogue may be placed in quotation marks or not, so long as similar instances are treated consistently within a single work.
Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003

…Italics are also used for emphasis…In fictional works italics may be used more creatively, for example, to convey unspoken thoughts.
Mitchell & Wightman, Book Typography, A Designer’s Manual, Libanus Press, 2005

(It is worth noting here that there are conventional editorial rules for the use of italics, and I shall cover these in a future post.)

Some authors have their own system of quotation marks, which they are anxious to retain: for example, double quotes for speech and single for thoughts…Try to persuade your author not to do this, as it can be more confusing than helpful.
Butcher, Judith, Butcher’s Copy-editing, The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, 4th edn, Cambridge University Press, 2006

Placing quotes around direct thoughts is now deemed old-fashioned. Modern convention is to display them without quotes. Italics can be irritating for the reader, especially if used a lot. It’s worth researching traditionally published novels to see how thoughts are displayed. Here are a few examples:

‘Wish they could see famous Harry Potter now,’ he thought savagely, as he spread manure on the flowerbeds, his back aching, sweat running down his face.
Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998

She looked up from her desk and glanced at Mma Makutsi, who was busying herself with the typing of a letter which Mma Ramotswe had drafted, in pencil, earlier on. We must try to help her, she thought. We must try to persuade her to value herself more than she does at present.
Smith, Alexander McCall, The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Abacus, 2004

So then I went back to the clearing he still wasn’t there and I thought Well, I guess he just made up he was coming and he didn’t want pants so bad after all.
Niffenegger, Audrey, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Vintage, 2005

(It is also worth noting that the first two are written in third person, and the third is written in first person.)

My personal preference is to use italics to display thoughts and imagined dialogue, but this will depend on the context, and how much text has already been italicized. 🙂

Editing tip 4: Unnecessary Words

Every word counts when writing a novel. Your prose ought to be concise and not contain unnecessary words and clichéd or overused phrases, particularly in the narration. In dialogue, you can get away with it, but not if it is repetitive. For instance, people do say, “At the end of the day” and “When all is said and done”. Having a character say it once will be excused by the reader, but several times? It will become irritating and is likely to be interpreted as a sign of lazy writing. As you self-edit your work, keep an eye out for this kind of thing. Read the sentence without the unnecessary words or phrase and, if it makes sense without, delete it, or replace it with something more meaningful.

Below is a list of common overused words and phrases, with given alternatives.

As to whether: whether is sufficient.

At this moment in time: simply use now.

At the end of the day: replace with the adverb finally or ultimately.

For the foreseeable future: unspecific. Tell the reader how much the foreseeable future is.

For/to all intents and purposes: replace with the adverb effectively or virtually.

In any way, shape or form: this phrase can be dropped without changing the meaning of the preceding text, but if it must be included, simply edit to in any way.

In spite of the fact that: simply use though or although.

In this day and age: simply use today.

One of the most: just use the most.

Par for the course: my favourite. People often mispronounce it as ‘path for the course’. It’s a golfing term that actually means normal or as expected.

The reason why is that: simply use because.

There is no doubt that: replace with no doubt or doubtless.

The truth is/the fact is: simply state the truth, or the fact.

The words who is and which was are often overused and can be removed:

Her son, who is currently living in Rome becomes Her son, currently living in Rome

Wales, which was the last place he lived becomes Wales, the last place he lived

This is just a small selection, but some Internet research or the purchase of a book of clichés will provide many more.

When editing for unnecessary words and phrases, first ask yourself what  meaning you are trying to convey; then decide if you need the phrase at all; then delete the text or rewrite it. 🙂

 

 

 

 

How long will it take to edit my novel?

This is a question that I am often asked by independent authors, and one of the reasons why I, sadly, turn prospective clients away. Some have unrealistic timescales, but this is usually because they don’t understand the editing process. They haven’t carried out any research (or bothered to read the information on my website!). Understandably, they are keen to submit their typescript to a literary agency or get on with the task of self-publishing, so want editing to be completed as soon as possible. Some also think that the more time editing takes, the higher the fee, but this is not necessarily the case.

To provide a realistic answer to the question, one needs to be aware of the traditional publisher’s schedule.  It can take nine months for a book to reach actual publication, with copy-editing taking 6 weeks, first page proofs taking 3 weeks, and revised proofs taking a week.* That’s almost 3 months taken up with editing alone.

The work that an experienced, and qualified, freelance editor or proofreader carries out should be no different to that carried out by in-house staff, except perhaps the hours they work. Although, due to increasing workloads and financial restraints, publishers now often outsource editorial staff.

Until a freelance editor has built up a reasonable amount of experience, it may be difficult to determine how long it will take to edit a novel. Word count is a factor, as is the level of editing involved, and the number of hours that an editor can commit to in any one week.

So, to answer the initial question, I would suggest that an independent author be prepared to wait at least 6 weeks for their typescript to be copy-edited. If it’s sooner, then that’s a bonus. If they are serious about having their work professionally prepared for publishing, the wait will be worth it.

It’s also worth mentioning that traditional publishing companies usually set their publishing date at the outset and work towards it. For independent authors who wish to self-publish, this may be a useful working practice to acquire, as timing is important from a marketing point of view. 🙂


*Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, Inside Book Publishing (fifth edition), Routledge, 2014.

On a personal note…

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s mainly due to family illness.  My elderly mother, a widow of three years, was recently diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. As the only child, any duty of care falls on my shoulders, but I have a family of my own, with the responsibilities that go with it, as well as some minor health issues, so there is only so much I can do.  However, I have made the decision to put my editing work on hold, and am not taking any new bookings at the current time.  This is the second occasion that I have done this.  In 2013, it happened because my father became unwell and my mother found it difficult to cope. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in the April, and he passed away at the end of August the same year.  It was very quick, and stressful for all concerned. In fact, over the past few years, I’ve had a bit of a time of it with family members and friends becoming unwell and passing away!

I am fortunate in that I do not have to work for a living, and I am grateful for that because if I did go out to work, I would not have been able to help my mother as much as I have.  However, I enjoy being a freelance editor.  I enjoy helping fiction writers to achieve their dreams of becoming authors, whether self-published or trying to become traditionally published, and the extra pennies always come in handy.  I have a contract to fulfil with my clients, as they are paying me for a professional service, so I am still in the process of trying to work out how to strike a balance between my mother’s care and existing work commitments.

The nature of editing work means that I need peace and quiet, and the ability to concentrate and focus. Well, my concentration has flown out of the window, and my focus is currently on my mother.  Any peace and quiet I have, I use to recharge my batteries. So I have not even been trying to edit, but I will be keeping my hand in with regards to editing-related topics; this blog being one of them. I have also returned to my next passion, creative writing. Certainly, I have created all sorts of rubbish these last few weeks, including entering a fiction competition, hopefully not with rubbish!

After a four-week stay in hospital, my mother is now at home, with carers visiting three times a day. With this care in place, I am hoping that I can find the time to finish off my existing editing project. I am planning to return to a more normal editing service in the New Year, but this will depend on circumstances.

Self-publishing: an explanation

I thought it would be useful to cover this topic because there are still misconceptions about what it is. First, it will probably help to explain about traditional publishing.

A traditional publishing company will only take on work that they consider commercially profitable. After all, they are a business. Generally, manuscripts are submitted to publishers by literary agents, and the decision to accept or reject them depends on the potential of the story, market trends, and production costs.

If you are fortunate enough to have your novel accepted by a publishing company, all of the hard work required in the production and selling of the book is done for you. That’s the editing, cover design and typesetting, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution. You will receive a payment in the form of an advance, which you pay back, over time, out of the royalties you earn from the sales of your book.

With true self-publishing, you publish your work independently and at your own expense. No literary agents or traditional publishing houses are involved. You manage the whole process from start to finish. However, the amount of work you can realistically do by yourself is dependent on a number of things, including: IT skills, time, and a reasonable understanding of the processes involved.

If you just want to see your work in print and don’t mind about quality control, you could complete the whole process at little or no cost. That’s an achievement in itself. But if you lack the resources required, or you care about how your work will be received, or you would like your novel to be produced to a professional standard, you will have to pay.

The ability to self-publish was made possible by the arrival of Internet companies such as CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords, back in the early 2000s. Prior to this, the only way to publish a book outside of the traditional route was to use a vanity publisher, where an author paid quite a lot of money up front to have their book ‘professionally’ produced. This was often regardless of potential or quality, with little or no editorial service, marketing, and distribution. As a result, vanity publishing earned a bad name.

These days, many independent publishers have sprung up to offer self-publishing services, but in essence, these are no different from vanity publishers. The author still has to pay up front. As I write this, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists over 100 such companies. Some are even offshoots of traditional publishers (where rejected manuscripts are passed to a ‘self-publishing’ department). Prices vary greatly, depending on the service offered. You could pay anything from £200 to £2000 to see your book in print. If you decide to take this route, shop around and find out what is offered for the money.

Regardless of the route taken, there is a lot of work involved in publishing a novel, whether it is produced as a printed copy or an e-book. It is not a quick process, either, taking months rather than weeks.

I hope this offers an adequate explanation as to what self-publishing is. If I’ve missed anything, or you have any questions, please feel free to ask. There’s one last thing I would like to mention: whatever your resources, try not to skimp on the production of your novel. If you do, the hard truth is that you are unlikely to sell many copies beyond your circle of friends and family, however good the story. After all your hard work in writing it, this would be a shame. It does not necessarily mean paying someone else to do the work, but just spending some time researching what is involved in the production process. 🙂

 

What is…Narrative voice?

I thought I’d start a series of ‘What is…’ blogs to explain in layman’s terms (as best I can) what a professional editor looks for when preparing your work for publication, whether you are self-publishing or have been accepted by a mainstream publisher.

The interesting thing about the subject of these blogs (I think so anyway!) is that they will serve a dual purpose: not only will they explain a bit about editing techniques, but they will enable you to further understand the art of creative writing, which is always a bonus if you are writing for publication.

So, narrative voice. What is it? It is, simply, who is telling the story; and when, where, and how they are telling it, using a combination of voice and perspective. A story can be told from three different perspectives:

  • First person, narrated from one character’s viewpoint, using the pronoun ‘I’
  • Second person, narrated from one character’s viewpoint, using the pronoun ‘you’
  • Third person, narrated from the point of view of a third party: character(s) or narrator.

First and third person are the most popular. Writing in second person is limiting and rarely used.

Each character should have their own unique voice, based on their age, gender, personality, experience, and view of the world. Therefore the tone, style, and language that is applied by the writer to each character needs to be relevant and appropriate.

Below are some common errors that writers make with both perspective and voice:

  • In first person, the character reveals thoughts or actions about other characters. (Generally, they can’t do this unless they are witness to them, or they are told.)
  • In third person, a character narrator slips out of character, back into that of the author or another character.
  • The tone and the style of the character voice does not fit the character (most common: a child character narrated in an adult voice.)

In first person, a character’s view of their world will be limited, compared to third person, where the narrator can have an all-seeing viewpoint (or ‘omniscience’). Third person offers more narrative styles than first person, which makes it a more flexible method of writing. The most common are single third-person limited, multiple third-person limited, and third-person omniscient, but there are more.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing the narrative perspective, but some stories will work better in one than the other. Reading novels in third person puts a distance between the reader and the characters, as if the reader is just watching the action, whereas first person is more immediate, making the reader feel that they are part of the action along with the character. Although not always an easy decision for the writer to make, it’s a good idea to try and get it right from the start; otherwise, a lot of work is involved! 🙂

Editing tip 3: Using Styles (Headings)

Publishing companies generally use a typographical specification. This document instructs a typesetter on such things as font style, font size, how to display extracts, paragraph indention, styles for headings and other design aspects of a book.

If you are self-publishing, and doing all the work yourself, then you have to become a typesetter, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of applying simple styles at the writing or editing stage. Not only will it save you time and give you a ‘typeset’ document, it will also be easier for you to navigate to different parts of the text whilst you are editing.

In this post, I am going to cover headings. I use Word 2010, but other versions, and compatible software, will show something similar. To begin with, you’ll need both your Navigation Pane and Styles pane displaying on the screen.

Generally, the Navigation Pane appears down the left-hand side. From the three tabs that display, select the first one: ‘Browse the headings in your document’. This pane will be empty when you have no styles applied.

»Find your first chapter heading. Select the first chapter heading, or click on it. From the Styles pane, choose the style named ‘Heading 1’. You’ll notice two things: one, your chapter heading now appears in the Navigation Pane; two, your chapter heading will have a style applied to it, but perhaps not in a way you would like.

»Format your chapter heading as you would like it to be displayed – for example, bold, centred, in a bigger font, increased line spacing – and then, right-click on the style named ‘Heading 1’ from the Styles pane. From the menu, click on ‘Update Heading 1 to Match Selection’. The style for Heading 1 will now reflect your chosen style.

»Find your next chapter heading. Select it, or click on it, and from the Styles pane, click ‘Heading 1’. Do this for the rest of your document, remembering to save as you go along.

This may seem like a laborious process, but you will benefit in the long run. Not only will all of your chapter headings display in a uniform style, they will also show in the Navigation Pane, which means you can move easily between chapters, just by clicking on the one you want.

If you’re not doing so, you may also like to start each chapter on a new page, as this is how a published book will display them.