An Introduction to Copyediting

I finished a month-long workshop on copyediting last week and learned a few new things. I was also relieved to find that I haven’t been making too many mistakes in my own writing. So what exactly does a copyeditor do? And what’s the difference between editing, copyediting and proofreading?

Copyeditors work in the world of publishing, whether it be book, newspaper, magazine publishing, or online publishing. Any industry which requires written material will need a copyeditor. The copyeditor will perform his or her complex set of tasks behind the scenes: fixing awkward sentences, correcting mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling, and checking that titles and other proper names are accurate. Copyediting is much more than proof reading; it requires a mastery of the rules of grammar and a desire to make the written word shine. A copyeditor will transform an awkward or clumsy sentence into one that is as smooth and graceful as a choreographed dancer.

The process begins with the writer producing the article, feature or novel. This raw material is presented to the editor, who reads it with an eye to the story and structure of the piece. The changes they may recommend will include: plot modifications, character adaptations; and in nonfiction pieces, adding additional resource material. After the writer has made the changes and the editor has approved the manuscript, deeming it to be ready, the piece will passed on to the copyeditor.

Using the company stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook, the copy editor reads the manuscript with an eye toward lucidity, consistency, and errors. He will closely scrutinize punctuation and spelling, check the accuracy of titles and other proper names, and modify sloppy or lazy sentences. When changes are made, the copyeditor does so while keeping in tact the author’s voice and meaning. If the author’s meaning is unclear, the copyeditor will include a note asking for clarification. When the changes made are satisfactory to the writer, editor and copyeditor, the manuscript is passed along to the proof reader to check for typos or other errors that may have sneaked into the copy. The manuscript is nearly ready for publication and if the editor and copyeditor have done their jobs, the piece is now the best it can be.

I’m sure you can see how learning the basics of copyediting would be beneficial to an aspiring author. A submitted manuscript that is clean, free of errors and smoothly written will be much more attractive to potential agents and publishers than one that is sloppy and clumsily written. And especially for the Indie author going the self-publishing route, having a copyeditor’s eye is absolutely essential!

Thoughts On Writing A Series

I was having a conversation with my friend Tom, a new writer still working on the first draft of his novel. He emailed me to say that he was beginning to get some ideas for a new story. He asked me what I thought about writing a sequel to his first novel and extending the tale of his current characters. Since I’m a series writer, my first instinct is to say, go for it. But with some caveats. Of course it gave me the idea for this post.

Writing a series is really a lot of fun. A series writer creates the world they would like to live in. There is a great deal of satisfaction in making your fictional universe just the way you want it. However, there is also a great deal of meticulous planning and record keeping that must be done to make sure that your world remains consistent throughout all the stories set within it. Additionally, if you have recurring characters, they must also remain inside the parameters you’ve already written for them. For example, they can’t be the town sheriff in book one and the town dentist in book two. Or ten years older in the sequel if only six months have passed since the original story.

One of the ways I keep record of the details of the fictional world I’ve created is to have a database of information on each character, a map of my town and in some cases a drawing of the layout of a house or other building. Each character has a detailed biography including age, appearance, occupation, relationship to other characters and personality traits that may impact the way I write them. I will add to that biography after each new story so that the experiences they have had along the way are included for future reference.

Writing a series can mean following the life and times of one recurring character, as in a detective series like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan series (Bones) or Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels.

Another way is to have each new story focus on a different character from a collection of which we’ve already been introduced. Nora Roberts does this with her trilogies and quadrologies. Three or four women (or men) will be introduced in book one, but the story will focus on the romance of only one of them. The other women (or men) will be well-developed secondary characters that return in the subsequent story, one of them as the main character, and so on. This is the format I followed for The Bucks County Novels. There is a risk in this approach, however….

Each of our characters deserves a unique voice. It is very difficult to write a story set in the same locale, perhaps within a circle of friends and not have the personalities of all your male and female characters blend together. My real world friends who have read my book Three Empty Frames say they hear my voice narrating the part of my main character, Jen. I had to try really, really hard not to sound exactly like that for the other women I wrote for the subsequent books, but I’m sure there are overlaps even so. Our own writing style makes that task difficult. We always sound like ourselves. That is why, in writing this sort of series, it’s even more important to have the detailed biographies on each one of our characters; to help focus on their unique attributes and distinguish them from the rest of the cast.

I am not sure if I will write another book in The Bucks County Series. At the moment, my focus has turned to a couple of stand-alone ideas. Perhaps when they’re brought to completion, I’ll go back to Doylestown for another series story. There are some fun characters in my fictional world who could have an adventure of their own.

Wishing you happy writing and productive editing!

Featured illustration my own.

Wednesday Workshop: Reading

I had to share this wonderful post from my friend and mentor Roger Moore. His thoughts on reading and why writers should be readers are pure gold. Enjoy!

rogermoorepoet

IMG_0167Wednesday Workshop
11 April 2018
Reading for Writers

Miguel de Cervantes once wrote that he was so fond of reading he would pick up even the scraps of paper he found in the street to read them if anything was written on them. This is well-known. What is less known is that Don Quixote, his immortal novel (DQI, 1605, DQII, 1615) is a masterpiece, not only of writing, but also of reading.

From the initial sortie, a prose transcription of an earlier short play, to the Scrutiny of the Library, Cervantes demonstrates right from the start his awareness of current trends in poetry, theatre and prose. In addition, he shows (especially DQI, chapter 47) his acquaintance with contemporary literary theory, as E. C. Riley has so ably established in Cervantes’s Theory of the Novel.

Cervantes begins with the traditional Renaissance novel (DQI, 1605) in which he experiments…

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