Writing a World Building Style Guide

Bible_and_Key_Divination.jpgToday, I wanted to talk about style guides. No, not the Chicago Manual of Style.  I’m talking about self-generated style guides that serve as a bible for your universe(s). I’ve been working with the Human Legion recently, and I’ve spent some time organizing world building notes spanning multiple authors. Different authors, writing different series, but in the same universe.

The solution, for me, was apparent — compile the notes and make a style guide to ensure consistency. This was easier said than done. Let’s talk about how to make one, what it can do, and potential information to keep within it.

A style guide, for those of you unfamiliar, is a tool to create consistency throughout a story, world, or universe. It is tremendously helpful to an editor, because it will show them invented words, character information, and world background. We’ve talked about World Builder’s Disease before, a style guide is a great place to dump the info filling your brain.

World Builder's Disease MemeIt should be noted, some of this information is only useful if you are writing within a large world or universe. Depending on the scope of your work, you may not need an elaborate style guide. It would be useful to create a short style guide for an editor. This becomes more essential if you have created words or are utilizing an odd stylistic device.

Before I jump into what to include, I wanted to mention how a style guide will save you time. When I first started working with the Legion, they had tons of reference documents. These documents were contained within multiple folders, spread out between authors. I’m talking about more than thirty folders, and many individual documents within.

This became a battle of navigation for me. How many arms and fingers does this alien race have?  A simple question, really. So, I would open up the shared folders, begin navigation, move from one author to another, search differently labeled folders, and maybe I would find the info…or maybe not.

Waiting for an Email

You might be saying, “Why not just contact the author?” Good point! Unless they are on a completely different timezone or work schedule. For me, the more time I spend working the manuscript and not on the phone, the faster things get done.

Usually, the info was there, I just couldn’t locate it quickly among the massive archive of folders. Plus, I have proclivity to over-organize. There is nothing wrong with organizing your files however you want. If it works for you as the writer, don’t change anything.  But as the editor, I needed a more intuitive and rapid way to find information.

While the writers and fans of the Human Legion have done an outstanding job of creating infopedias (Official Infopedia, Fan Wiki), much of the information within the style guide is secretive in nature. Hidden motivations, planet histories, and tasty spoilers. It’s intel the writers understand, but the readers don’t need to know about…not yet. As one of the editors, I needed to reference these notes to help steer the ship.

moon footprint.jpgSo began the first step: compiling all of these pertinent documents into a universal source. One that would contain all of the information hyperlinked. Now, if I need to know how many arms and fingers an alien has, I click Alien Species in the table of contents (hyperlinked), scroll the alphabetized list, click the species in question (again, hyperlinked), and viola.

Format. Much like a webpage with clickable links, if you can add navigation within the style guide, you win the prize. I use Word, which allows for linking within the document. This might seem excessive, but after compiling the needed information into a living document (i.e. it will keep growing) the word count was around 15k for the style guide.  If I relied on scrolling to navigate, it would take forever.

What should you put in the style guide?

A Refined List

Character Name List. A listing of character names, properly spelled, makes the gods of writing smile. Especially, when you have tons of characters. Non-human species seem to generate the most inconsistency — a standard helps.

Once a character name list has been generated, you can begin hyperlinking supporting documents (characters sheets, sketches, etc). This made life really easy for me.

Corey question: the character’s eye color has changed from blue to green…what is the correct color?  Answer: Table of Contents -> Character List -> Click Character (confirm spelling) -> read character sheet.

Technology List. Holy bologna, this is a massive list for the Legion (and one I need to update). Depending on your genre, you may have invented technology. If it’s military sci-fi, then the technology probably has corresponding acronyms. Some of it might be written as a proper noun, some of it might not be. Whatever you decide as the writer, there needs to be consistency. Listing how these should appear is a step in the right direction.

Science_and_Invention_Nov_1928_Cover_2.jpgLocation List. Sweet mothers milk, another sprawling list. If your story spans cities, continents, planets, or farther, it might be wise to start compiling these locations and linking supporting documents. There will always be the handful of readers who say, “Wait a minute! Isn’t Planet D’s sun too intense without the aid of an exoskeleton?” If the reader has sunk into your world well enough to notice things like this, you owe it to them to be consistent.

Invented Word List. My favorite!  Nothing will blow Word’s circuits like a ton of invented words being thrown into the mix. Invented words, within reason, are one of the spices that make a universe unique. Just be sure to list those words. It might be wise to mention if only one person, species, or planet uses these words too.

Acronym List. Holy alphabet soup, Batman! This will probably only be useful to those of you who are writing in certain genres. An alphabetical listing of acronyms, backronyms, and initialisms makes me want to river dance. It becomes ten times more important when you are inventing these.

alienSpecies List.  Have you unleashed new races and species on your manuscript? Cool. You might want to compile a list and start linking reference documents. Remember the question above about how many arms and fingers an alien would have? This list solves those problems before they begin.

Basic Grammar and Punctuation Section. This is more of an editing thing, but if you find yourself working collaboratively with someone from another country, you might want to flush out the differences. British and American styles differ. The goal, especially if you are collaborating on the same book, is to achieve consistency of style.

question-markThat’s it for today! I’m curious about what methods you all use to compile and organize your universe notes. Do they exist in a jumble of folders, or have you found a way to compile them intuitively? I’d love to talk about it and pick up some pointers. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always — stay sharp!

Self-Editing: Fighting Emotion with Logic

locked.jpgYou’ve written your book.  The masterpiece has been marinating in a drawer (or buried on a hard drive) for weeks.  Somehow, you managed to not tear into it early, despite it whispering into your ear at night.  Let’s face it, you both needed some time and space from one another.

The time has come.  You unlock the drawer, or click the icon, and staring you in the face is months worth (maybe more) of semicoherent words. The manuscript gazes back at you with worried eyes.  It knows.  You are about to tear it to pieces.  Now the question becomes—will you tear yourself to pieces in the process?

Many people think writing a book is the hardest thing you can do.  Then an editor comes along and breaks your heart.  As an editor, telling a writer to cut something from the work is akin to telling them to sacrifice a cute little fuzzy kitten to the writing gods.  Much of this heartbreak would be avoided if writers would practice more thorough self-editing prior to submission to an editing service.

The goal of this post is to give you some basic guidelines to sharpen your self-editing chops.  Go grab the garden sheers and put on a rubber apron…this might get messy.


Print first—word process later. I believe in this concept so much I wrote an entire blog post about it (located here). Because it’s linked, I won’t go into this.  I do encourage you to give the post a glance if you haven’t seen it before.

Work big first, then get small.  We typically write our first draft in a hurry, tired, and running on three gallons of caffeine.  There are going to be large chunks of exposition and rambling.  They served their purpose.  The purpose was to help you continue writing and bridge gaps in the story.  Additionally, when we are writing the first draft we make assumptions about what is going to be important later on.  We tend to over describe certain items, places, and people.  Now that you know all the punchlines, it’s time to gauge their worth.

editing.JPGRoy Peter Clark in his book, Writing Tools, recommends that you, “Cut any passage that does not support your focus.  Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes, and scenes to give greater power to the strongest.  Cut any passage you have written to satisfy a tough teacher or editor rather than the common reader” (p. 51).

It’s good advice, but it’s hard to follow.  The reason is emotion versus logic.

Here’s a real world example.  One of the people I edit for wrote a beautiful, page long description about a set of revolvers one his minor characters carries.  After reading it, I could picture every line and blemish on the them.  He told me he did extensive research to make them feel real, and it was truly great writing.  I bit my lip and recommended he cut it.

Why?  Well, it was placed in the middle of a heated interaction.  Everything was building, the action was coming, and boom—we interrupt this gunfight to bring you a dissertation on handguns in antiquity.  Worse even, the character wielding the pistols is only in the book for a handful of pages.

The takeaway here is this: no matter how slick the dialogue or description is, if it isn’t pushing the story forward, it’s got to go.  Your readers want to read your story, don’throw down roadblocks.

Redundant Meme

Get rid of all those redundancies.  I already wrote a post on redundant prose, so I won’t go into this too much.  The only additional piece of information I’ve found since then is an interesting rule.

This comes from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, written by Renni Browne and Dave King.  The rule is  1+1=1/2.  They explain that, “When you try to accomplish the same effect twice, the weaker attempt is likely to undermine the power of the stronger one” (p. 178). It’s a great tip and something to look for when you are going through with the hatchet.

Syllables—check those big words.  If you really want to wear your reader down, use words with a ton of syllables.  Conspiratorially.  Automatically.  Conversationally.  Many of these big beasts tend to be adverbs, but not always.  Look for those five-dollar words and ask yourself, Will the average reader know what it means?  Will something shorter work in it’s place?  Am I using this for effect?

Regarding effect.  I’ve heard this rationale used before,  “My character is a smarty pants so he/she uses big words in a condescending sort of way.”  Cool!  I’m all for it.  Just know there is only so much the reader can take.  Also, if this is the only tool you use to enforce this character trait, the character can feel one-dimensional.

measure twice cut once.jpgMeasure twice, cut once. Anyone who has done construction, or is a DIY weekend warrior, has likely heard this advice.  The concept is simple.  Ensure you know where to cut before you drop the blade.  I encourage you to do the same when you are self-editing.

William Zinsser, in his book On Writing Well, offers a brilliant bit of advice he developed while teaching his students at Yale.  “I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work” (p. 15).

Writers who edit onscreen (using a word processor) have a tendency to prolong editing time because they are constantly doing the, backspace, rewrite, backspace, rewrite, tap dance.  A way to defeat this is to utilize the tool Zinsser is describing.

Print out the pages then read through them silently, and then aloud.  Go slowly through the words and decide what is doing work and what isn’t.  Be realistic.  Throw those words, phrases, and pieces of dialogue into brackets.  Once you are done, read the copy and omit the bracketed words.  Did it flow faster?  Was it smoother?

copy editing_2

[Editor’s Note]

This is a timely re-post for me as I recently reopened the first draft of my book up and started rewrites.  I can tell stepping away for more than a month (as painful as it was) has really opened my eyes to some major issues.  It’s a good feeling catching those mistakes now and knowing readers will never see them. I’m also glad to be back with Drake and playing in the wasteland.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for stopping by and reading.  As usual, I only scratched the surface.  Do you have advice or ideas you use during self-editing?  Please share them.  I’m always looking to toss more pencils into my writing toolbox.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Redundant Prose: Weighing the Value

Redundant Meme

Redundancy in writing and storytelling is a powerful tool.  By redundancy, I am talking about repeating statements, thoughts, and descriptions.  Within character dialogue it can give sense of neurosis as is the case with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart.  The repetitious statements and rhythm provided by the narrator are maddening, which is perfect because the narrator is a madman.  Unfortunately, like all tools, repetition can be used oddly leading to reader confusion and jarring prose.

So in regards to repetition, here are some examples and basic guidelines I’ve come across and employ.  None of these are set in stone, but they are something to consider.

Does redundancy enforce or detract from the personality of your character?  If your character is a straight shooter throughout the book, would he/she be redundant in how they speak or think?  The trap writers fall into is they shape a perfect ‘ah-ha’ line or two that uses redundancy, and because it looks good, they leave it in. They forget about how it impacts the readers view of the character.  When introduced earlier in a book, this could create a false sense of who the character is as readers grow to understand them.  If it’s done later in the book, it becomes jarring and unbelievable.

Arguing Meme.jpg

It makes sense that characters who are pretentious or neurotic would tend to have more repetition in their dialogue.  “As I have explained once, and will explain again, and will continue to explain,” or, “I couldn’t believe I had to take the subway.  The subway!  The disgusting subway packed with filthy vagrants.”

If this type of repetition fits your character—great.  If not, steer clear.  At the very least, use in moderation.

gordian knot.pngIs the redundancy used for emphasis or comparison? 

The book Write and Revise for Publication, written by Jack Smith, provides these examples:

“Life’s full of Gordian knots, but this one is especially difficult, ” and, “There are many mansions, but this one is much larger than the mansions most of us have in mind.  This ones takes up two city blocks” (p. 273).

The first example shows emphasis.  We know a Gordian knot is a beast to untie (unless you have a knife handy).  However, by adding, “…this one is especially difficult,” it takes it to the next level. The second example does a great job of showing comparison. The final line, “This one takes up two city blocks,” catches you nicely at the end.

These are examples of utilizing the tool with a purpose, and as long as it’s used in moderation it can leave a powerful impression on the reader.

redundant.jpgAre there redundancies in plot?  If so, do you really need them?  Sometimes in an effort to reinforce an important plot point, or provide foreshadowing, we tend to repeat information when it’s not needed.

I’m not sure they are going to catch it, I better mention one knife was missing from the knife block again— “The kitchen was ransacked.  Something was off about the wooden knife block on the counter.  Something was missing.”  And boom, you’ve opened everyone’s presents and Christmas isn’t until tomorrow.  Don’t open the presents for your reader.

Sometimes a particular piece of backstory or description is vital to the forward momentum of your story, and you may feel the need to touch on it more than once.  In the moment, do it.  Especially if it is going to propel you forward in the creative process of writing.  I would recommend making a notation of this repetition to refer to later during revisions.  Once you come back through on your second pass (hopefully after you have been away from the work for a while), read it again and see if it was necessary or if you are simply regurgitating what the reader would already know.

Mark Twain Read AloudWatch for redundancy in interior monologue.  The best piece of advice I’ve seen regarding this comes from Renni Browne and David King’s book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  They explain:

“Interior monologue is also prone to needless repetition, possibly because our thoughts tend to run in circles when we’re upset.  True, sometimes you can capture a character’s mood by showing his or her thoughts chasing their tails, but more often than not, repetition in interior monologue is like rambling, repetitive dialogue – authentic but tedious” (p. 180).

The best way I have found to sort this out is to read the copy aloud.  Sometimes when viewed on screen these interior rants look great, but speak them out loud and suddenly it feels disjointed and awkward.  Crisp dialogue should flow and drive the reader forward, not leave them re-reading.

chainsaw.pngLast tip: Grab the chainsaw and chop out those repeated words.  In your second pass, depending on your own writing style, you will probably notice a bunch of repeated words.  I know I do.  They aren’t there for effect, they were just your minds way to build bridges for the narrative to move forward.  As an editor, and a self-editor, I try to weed out those repeated words or sentences.  Or for the purposes of this blog, hack them with a chainsaw.

Repeated words or sentences cause my eyes to instinctively jump backward to where I saw the same words before.  This halts my forward progress and causes me to focus on writing mechanics instead of enjoying the story.  The best stories, in my opinion, cause you to forget you are reading.  Every time a reader gets jarred by one of these errant repeats, they are suddenly aware again this is just a story and that they are reading—the imagination station screeches to a halt.

question-markThanks for reading!  I appreciate you all stopping by and checking out my daily rantings.  I hope you found a couple nuggets of useful information.  Do you actively utilize repetition in your work?  Do you know of any authors/examples where it was done well (or badly)?  I’d love to expand my own understanding and talk about it!  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Writing Groups: Purpose, Productivity & Professionalism

A Bored Writing Group

Some people can write in a vacuum.  For others, collaboration is essential.  I lurk around somewhere between the two.  I feel it’s important to flush your story out independently before you let other people in who might influence it.  Personally, I don’t want someone else’s visions polluting the story I am writing.

Regardless, at some point, (hopefully after you have finished, or are close to finishing the first draft) you might want to start reaching out and getting outside feedback.  For me, this is the stage before going to Beta Readers and after the first draft.  Essentially, it is an element of my self-editing phase.

I was messaging a fellow blogger, A.M. Bradley, who wrote a post about trying to locate writing groups.  While I will let this intrepid pioneer chronicle the journey of searching for the perfect group, I thought I would touch on what you should look for in one.

lewis-inklings-featuredA writing group is a gaggle of writers who meet to discuss their work and provide useful feedback to each other.  I always envisioned them to be similar to the literary club the Inklings.  Their membership included J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and many other greats.   They were just a group of brilliant writers, in a pub, talking about their classic works and enjoying each others company.  The sad truth is, a lot of writing groups are full of literary blow-hards who are only interested in quoting other peoples work and listening to themselves talk.  Fear not!  There is a group out there for you, and these are the things you should look for in one.

Look for groups operating within your genre.

You don’t go to a restaurant and ask the chef to give you a close shave, so why rely on someone who only reads and writes romance to provide feedback on your horror novel?  The naysayers are probably going, “But a real literary connoisseur isn’t limited by genre!”  Maybe there’s some truth to that.  I’m just saying, if I’m marketing a book to horror or romance readers I want someone who enjoys these genres to be critiquing it.  Not someone who is forcing themselves to read it to appease a writing group.

There should be some ground rules.

Writing Group Rules.jpgThis may seem like common sense, but if you are new to writing groups and you’ve stumbled into one lacking structure, know that’s a red flag.   The group, upon meeting, should have to stand, place a hand over their heart, and recite from memory the groups rules.  Okay, so that’s crazy.  However, there do need to be rules.

Depending on the size of the group (I would advise a smaller more intimate group) time is going to be essential to the success, enjoyment, and usefulness of your meetings.  For example, each meeting you will submit X number of pages for review the following week.  We each have X amount of time to provide feedback.  We have X amount of time to respond to feedback.  No cell phones (barring emergencies obviously) and so forth.

People should know when to show their cards and when to hold them. 

A Waterloo.jpgSo you’ve found your genre specific group and it has rules.  Good deal.  You are all huddled together in the corner, clutching coffees (or booze), and waiting with baited breath to hear feedback.  The feedback is coming, but wait, this clown missed the point I was trying to make with that passage.  You open your mouth to protest.  Stop.  Just don’t.

Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells made a phenomenal podcast on their website Writing Excuses about writing groups and touch on this specifically.  Keep in mind, these aren’t my words, they are the words of super-legit published authors (I’m not worthy…I’m not worthy).  If you won’t listen to me, listen to them.

Wells states that, “When your thing is being workshopped, shut up.  You sit, you don’t talk.  If you start to defend your work while others are critiquing it, you will get into arguments, and it will be a useless writing group.”

Taylor adds, “And the other thing to keep in mind, in that regard, is that if you’ve written something and it can’t defend itself without you saying stuff, it’s broken and it needs to be fixed.”

People should know the difference between providing feedback and inciting a duel to the death.

Unwanted Feedback.jpgLimit feedback to match the goals of the group or individual.  Some group members may want you to provide them with ideas as to where the story should go (not recommended). Some just want to know what you thought of what is already written, and why (recommended).

No writer that I know of wants to hear, “Hey, have you considered completely changing your main characters motivations to more align with this?”  That’s not feedback — that’s changing the course the voices in someones head are guiding them down.  We have enough voices in our heads pulling us along without another one derailing us into no mans land.

Even worse, no writer wants to hear, “The last few paragraphs were riddled with typos and didn’t make any sense at all – maybe grab a grammar book and try again?” That my friends is a word bullet.  Rephrase to, “There were some inconsistencies in the last few paragraphs that made it a little hard to follow.  To be honest, it left me a little confused.”  This sort of social awareness should be common sense, but I’ve heard worse statements made.

Even in my own group, which has been meeting together for years, I have an understanding of how to communicate effectively with each member.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all method.

People should share what they think, not what some amazing wiz-bang published author wrote and would think  (because we don’t really know what they think).

Angry Critic.jpgIf you can’t think of a bunch of feedback, that’s okay.  It means the writer conveyed their story in a well written and interesting manner.  Just say that.  You don’t need to start searching through memoirs, autobiographies, and self-help books to create feedback.

Don’t say, “Stephen King would probably tell you to stop focusing on describing clothes so much.  You know that’s a pet peeve of his?  I read about it in his book On Writing.”  We would all be so lucky to have Stephen King in our writing group — bad news though — Stephen King you are not (unless Stephen King is reading this, then you are more than welcome to cite yourself old chap).  When it comes to writing groups, be you, not the mouthpiece of someone else.

People should take notes.

take notes.jpgNothing says, “I don’t give a flaming crap rocket about what you are telling me,” more then someone who sits blankly and stares at you during feedback and doesn’t take notes. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you should be jotting down notes.  Honestly, even if you do have a mutant eidetic brain you should take notes anyways.

Part of the strength of writing groups derives from the camaraderie of coming together with a sect of like-minded individuals.  If you are sitting down with people you don’t know, taking notes, and being receptive to criticism, it tells everyone you mean business and take this writing thing seriously.

Let me put it another way.  You sit down with two pieces of work to critique.  One is your best friends, who always gives you useful feedback.  The other is some weird guy/girl from your writing group who doesn’t take notes and just mouth breaths at you the whole time you provide feedback.  Which one will you read with more interest and care?  Be the best friend.

Lastly, and most importantly, people should check their ego at the door.

ego.jpgIf you are looking for someone to read your work and gush about how amazing it is, email it to your parents, or girlfriend/boyfriend, or siblings, or whoever.  I’m not saying you can’t be upset about criticism (never let them see you bleed), but if you are going to turn red and go radioactive when someone tells you they aren’t connecting with a character, or idea, then maybe a writing group isn’t for you.  For me, I would rather a small circle of people tear my work up so I can rebuild it stronger, then go willy-nilly into the night and have critics publicly crucify my work on every review website and blog scattered among the interwebs.  (It will probably happen anyways, but hey, that’s writing for you.)

Happy hunting! 

Hopefully, some of this helped.  There’s plenty more hot tips out there, and I encourage you all to share them.  Heck, maybe you disagree with some of this completely.  If you have an experience or differing opinion, share it, I’ll make sure it posts (as long as it isn’t a string of incoherent expletives).

question-markSometimes you just fall into a writing group and it’s hunky dory. Sometimes you have to search far and wide.  Regardless of your situation, don’t settle for a crummy group.  If you can’t find a group, it’s time for you to make one.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Freelance: Find & Manage an Editor

You’ve finished your masterpiece and want to get it professionally edited.  If you have no access to brick and mortar editors, you might be considering using an online, freelance editor. Scrolling through freelance profiles on the many sites they populate sometimes has the same seedy feeling of looking through the personals section of a newspaper  (we’ve all done it—let’s just call it morbid curiosity).   How do you separate the amateur from the professional?  More importantly, how do you ensure this person meets your expectations?  Here’s a few basic tips to help you along.

Know how much you should pay.

paying frog.jpgA good place to start would be to check out the Editorial Freelancers Association website. This organization provides a pay rate chart which offers common rates for different types of editorial freelance work.  While this chart provides hourly rates, you may want to pay a flat fee.

The danger of the flat fee is some people make the mistake of paying the freelancer everything up front.  Don’t let this be you.  If you agree to hire a freelancer based on a flat rate, most websites (Upwork, Freelancer, etc.) allow you to set milestones for the freelancer to meet.  Money is not released until each milestone is achieved and approved by you.  If the website doesn’t, or you are dealing with someone who owns their own business, you need to work this into a contract (more on contracts below).

money on the shoulderFees for work will vary.  The more experience the editor has (which should be reflected in a portfolio and resume) the more they might charge.  Knowing this, resist the temptation to take the lowest bid you see.

For example, if you post a contract to get your 80,000 word novel copyedited and someone offers to do the work for $50 (USD), know you are likely dealing with an amateur.  In my opinion, no legitimate editor is going to offer to work for .000625 cents per word.

A legit editor should send you a contract of some sort. 

contract evil.jpg

Read the fine print…

If you select a person, start corresponding with them, and they never mention a contract—that’s a red flag.  Freelancers get shafted by clients just as often as clients get shafted by amateur freelancers.  By this I mean many people like the idea of being a freelancer (reading is fun, thus, reading in my underwear while imbibing and getting paid is more fun), but the application (long hours, lots of style guide searching, strained eye balls, formal training) causes them to throw the white flag up before they finish the work.  On the other hand, plenty of freelancers have had clients disappear unannounced, rage quit, or simply lose interest before they could finish their work.  For these reasons, a contract is essential.

The EFA website offers an example of what a contract could look like.

Also, for the purposes of transparency and education, here is a sample template I work with in my own business.  Keep in mind this contract was specific to a client and not applicable to all situations.  It blends together elements I needed for that specific job.

The contract should specify what work is required.  It’s not good enough for it simply to say “editing” or “copyediting.”  It needs to indicate exactly what kind of editing is required and what this means.  Even among editors, there seems to be some disagreement about these definitions.  With that being said, ensure you are both clear with what work will be done.

While I focus on general editing, as explained on my services page, there are many other types of editing out there.  If you are unfamiliar with the different types of editing, I would encourage you to swing by North of Andover, The Sentranced Writer, and Dario Ciriello’s WordPress sites.  They are all editors who I have corresponded with via my blog who I feel have intuitive breakdowns of their various services.  They also do a good job of providing definitions of service.

Do a test run as part of the interview process. 

interview.pngYou do a test drive before you fork out money for a car.  Why not take your freelancer for a test drive before you pay them too?  After all, it’s better to hire a professional once, then stumble through multiple amateurs who may still not make the grade.  Personally, I don’t mind if a prospective client asks me to edit a chapter or two for free.

*Note.  Before you ever send your manuscript to anyone, you should generate a nondisclosure agreement.  This prevents them from farming the work out to a third party, or using your manuscript for nefarious purposes.  

It’s also essential to check out profiles, resumes, and portfolios.  Gloss over the soft sell information (lover of fiction, bibliophile, editor of the school newspaper) and hone in on formal training, established past work, or better yet, both.

Establish how you will communicate, and follow through. 


Hopefully it’s more efficient than this.

Most, if not all, contracts between freelancers and clients stipulate some kind of timeline.  It’s really unnerving to ask a client a question and not get a response for days, or to get a poorly written, one sentence response.  It’s even more of a low blow to schedule a video or phone conference and have your client be a no-show.

Remember, you are entering into a professional contract with a professional person.  The more of a relationship you establish with them, the more they will care about the work they are doing for you.  Some freelancers might even have professional connections of their own to share.  Start developing these pro habits now, because the next step may be courting agents and publishers—miss a meeting with them and it’s game over. *sad trombone*

Don’t take it personally.  

sad cat.jpgI’m a writer.  I get it.  It’s hard to receive criticism sometimes.  However, it’s far better to flush out the issues in private than to hire an amateur editor to tell you the work is amazing.  I have friends who are editors who can rip my work to pieces, but somehow make me feel warm and fuzzy about it.  On the flip side, I have friends who could edit, but I only ask to beta read because their editorial process makes me want to punch kittens—and I love kittens.

The point is, not all editors are good fits for all authors.  There can be personality conflicts on either end.  Try to flush these issues out in the hiring process by asking questions and paying attention to the responses.  Don’t be afraid to do a video or phone interview.

Lastly, don’t rush into hiring.

Just because you posted a job, doesn’t mean you have to hire someone immediately. Check multiple websites, make multiple posts, or see if there are non-freelance options that might suit you better.  In the end, no one is going to care about your work more than you will.  It’s up to you to place that precious cargo into the best hands available.

question markThat’s it for today.  What have your experiences been like working with, or as, a freelancer?  I’d be interested to know viewpoints from both perspectives.  Given I have only been working as a freelance editor professionally for around a year, I am constantly learning and tweaking my process.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The Zombie Test & Passive Voice (ReBlog)

Late last night I was doing my daily commenting rounds when I stumbled across a delightful post that met all my reblogging prerequisites.  A writing tip that uses zombies as a teaching point?  Yes, please.

zombies.pngThis tip comes from the Mercenary Proofreader Thomas Weaver who mans the helm over at North of Andover.  If you enjoy solid writing tips and frequent examples to sharpen your knowledge, I would encourage you to follow his page.  If not for the knowledge, do it for the tongue-in-cheek commentary and fresh perspective.

As for the Zombie Test, check it out here.

My favorite writing tips include the following: don’t take me hours to write, offer a logical takeaway, come from respectable sources, demystify grammar, and involve brain eating corpses.  I think you will find today’s reblog hits all those criteria.

That’s it for today (short and sweet).  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Template for Tracking Character Arcs

I had a couple emails from folks regarding how I track character arcs.  Specifically about the extra notes I take chapter to chapter to track changes in character.  I’ve talked about character arcs in the past here (use in self-editing) and here (what they are).  I do have a standard template I work from and attach to chapters as I roll through.

Below is the one I mocked up a while ago.  I just recently converted it to Flickr so you can click on the image below and print it out if you need it.  It’s been formatted to fit a standard piece of printer paper (landscape) so you should have no trouble printing.

It’s pretty self explanatory as you look at it, so I won’t go into any great detail about how to use it.  If you do have questions about it, don’t be afraid to leave a comment. I’m pretty good at getting back to people.  I destroy trees at an alarming rate so I just print them off as I need them.  This template would cover six chapters.

Character Arc Tracking Sheet.jpg

Give the image a click and get teleported via interweb majesty to my Flickr page.  You can print a higher-resolution version there.  Created by me, and as always, free to use and share.


Today is a mercifully short post, but provides you a handy tool.  If you can get your beta readers to use something like this – you win the prize.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Self-Editing: Before You Wordprocess

to do list.jpgEveryone loves a list.  Okay, maybe not everyone.  But given the number of lists I see on Pinterest, the interwebs, and other social media outlets, I figured I would toss one together about self-editing.

For many of you, the prospect of hiring an editor is daunting.  Fear of feedback and fear of costs both play a role in this.  It can be expensive.  Some indie authors don’t have the money to do it for those first couple books.  At least until you get discovered and take over the world!   World ruling aside, you still can apply decent editing techniques to your writing on a budget.

This is the basic process I would recommend to self-edit your work before you start editing on your word processor.  Obviously, this is a daily blog post I create so some steps might be missing (i.e. I didn’t spend days writing this post).  Also, if you are going to self-edit, I would highly recommend buying some books on editing and self-editing.  I will offer an assortment of references to consider at the end of the list.

forgetful gentleman.jpgStep 1: Write book.

Step 2: Forget the book exists for a month or so. This is essential.  The reason people buck against editors is because we see your work with fresh eyes and mistakes are more apparent.  To be your own editor, you must acquire fresh eyes too.

Here’s an example to drive this point.  Every now and then, I will jump back a month or so and look at a blog I posted.  In just a few seconds, I will often find numerous issues.  When I published those posts, I read them aloud, and studied them for mistakes – it was perfect to me.  With fresh eyes I see the mistakes.  Check out one of your own older blogs and see if this rings true for you.

During this painful waiting period, I encourage you to crack open some books on writing and editing.  You can sharpen your tools while you wait to apply them.

hourglass.pngStep 3: If you have alpha readers, send them the manuscript during this wait time.  Ask them not to talk to you about the book during your waiting period, or you will remove them from your Christmas (or whatever holiday you prescribe to) card list.  If they follow through, send them a gift basket as well as the card.

A note about alpha readers.  Alpha readers should be trusted and competent folk who are willing to give you more detailed feedback than a beta reader likely would.  I would generate a basic template that allows them to give feedback for each chapter.  I like to have one to three of these people, no more.  I’ll explain why in Step 14.

Step 4: After wait time has elapsed, print pages.  If not double spaced, make it so (said in Captain Picard’s voice).

Corot_Monk_Reading_Book_1.jpgStep 5: Set aside blocks of time to read the book in seclusion.  If you can do it all at once, even better.

Step 6: During this first pass note obvious issues, but don’t dwell on them.  This isn’t the time to go into the computer and start editing.  You wrote the book in chunks, see for the first time how the entire thing flows together.  You don’t have to use copy-editing hieroglyphics.  Just circle, one-line, and jot notes down in the margin.  The goal is to move as quickly as you can through the work, the notations are secondary.

Step 7: Do take the time to put a plus, minus, or equal sign (or however you want to indicate it) on the last page of the chapter.  This is a notation regarding pacing.  It’s a quick way for you to reference chapters that drag, are too rushed, or were just perfect.  This may likely be the only time you notice those pacing issues as you are reading the work in its entirety in a sitting or two.

Step 8: Start over.  This time treat each chapter as an independent entity.

rewritingStep 9: Read each chapter aloud, or have someone do it for you.  Listen to the words.  If you stumble when you read it aloud, people will stumble when they read.  Again, circle or underline those areas and write a note above them.  You could write things like, awkward, reword, needs punctuation, or break sentence apart.

Step 10:  Look at description, setting, transitions, dialogue, and other aspects during this 2nd pass.  Jot down basic notes, “Add description,” “Where are they?” “What does this look like?” “What the heck was I thinking with this?”.  Hopefully, because your eyes are fresher, the basic blunders are going to really smack you in the face.  You might have noted some of these issues while you were in Step 6, this is a good time to expand.

Step 11: As you are tackling one chapter at a time, consider character arcs.  Write down characters as they appear and write a sentence or two about what they do in the chapter.  I do this on an extra piece of paper and clip it to the end of each chapter.

For character arcs, I take the notations I made and compile them.  This is easy to do if you did it on a separate page like I indicated above.  It makes analyzing this information easier when an entire character arc has been summarized on a single page.

This allows me to look at the course the character took through the duration of the work.  I consider how (and if) the character changed.  I take special care to note if certain characters were simply floating along in the story.  Also, because you tracked this by chapter, you will know exactly where to go to revise.

character arc.png

Step 12: In the same way I handled character arcs, I address plot.  I consider the value of the plot devices (conflicts) as they pop up in.  Were they resolved?  Were they prevalent?  Did they matter to the characters?  Again, compiled on a single paper it’s easier to see where issues are.  Another bonus, if you did it for each chapter, you know where to go to when you start revision.

Step 13: After you finish, your manuscript is going to look like an insane Frankenstein monster.  It will be likely covered in marks and have pages of additional information attached to it via a paperclip.  You can’t blame your editor, blame yourself!  But hey, the more destruction the better.  It’s the road to polished success.

kids with paper.jpg

All of my notes came in!

Step 14: In addition to your own self-editing notes, you should also have detailed feedback from alpha readers at this point.  The reason I like to only have a 1-3 is because you already have a lot of self-generated information to sort through.

Final Step: Gather large quantities of stimulants, sit down at the computer, and apply the compendium of notes.

That’s the basic pre-computer editing process.  Like I said, it’s far from complete, but it’s a good start.  Every editor develops unique and creative ways to note information quickly.  You will likely do the same as you edit your own work and become faster and more efficient.

Some of you may be saying, “QE, what about adverbs, show versus tell, punctuation problems, verb tense disagreements, and all of that other stuff?”  Hopefully some of that jumped out at you during the more thorough handwritten revision (2nd pass) and you noted them.

But honestly, I generate a blog post every day covering each one of those little ideas.  If I made a list of all of those things, it would be pages long.  Outside of formal instruction, this is where reading some greens will help you notice and isolate those issues.

book in hand.pngHere’s a shortlist of books to help with the editing process (all links send you to GoodReads).

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read on self-editing.
The Elements of Style – Arguably one of the greatest books on the craft ever written, and shortest.
Writing Tools – Full of great general writing information and revision techniques.
The Chicago Manual of Style – Massive in size, but it’s considered by many the editor’s bible.  You can kill a full sized raccoon with this thing.
Manuscript Makeover – An amazing book on revision.  Each chapter offers a checklist to help you out with revision.  Those alone make this book worth buying.

tools.jpgI hope you found some useful tools here.  I hope this also gives you an idea of the amount of work some editors do before they even go into markup mode and touch your manuscript.  You can see the process is lengthy (and this is even before you start typing).  But if you are going to self-edit, you need to really take your time and be thorough, there is no way around it.  What’s the rush after all?  You likely spent months writing, why not devote a fair amount of time to polishing?

Did I miss a step?  Do you have a method that should be on the list?  Let me know, I’m always open to new ways of doing things.  Like I said earlier, the list is incomplete.  But this is a good start.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The Adverb Addiction: Save Yourself!

To keep my head from exploding, stay on track, and improve my weak sauce skills, I have been reading books about writing and listening to podcasts from author friendly sources like Writing Excuses while I hammer out the last bit of my novel.  One of the books I am finishing now is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.  I actually did a blog post about this book once before here, but hell, the book is good enough to mention twice.

book-coverSo here’s the rub.  My name is Corey, and I am addicted to using -ly adverbs in dialogue. This addiction has, and will, affect me in the following ways.  I will spend hours and hours fixing this in re-writes (after the first draft is done).  The realization of my addiction has shriveled my precious pint-sized ego in ways a cold shower could never replicate.  If not corrected, according to Browne and King, I will be nothing more then a hack writer of fiction.  Let’s cut into it!

Browne and King provide these examples:

“I’m afraid it’s not going very well,” he said grimly.

“Keep scrubbing until you’re finished,” she said harshly.

“I don’t know, I can’t seem to work up the steam to do any thing at all,” he said listlessly. 

They continue on to explain, “Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence on the writer’s part, perhaps it’s simple laziness, or perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to break up the monotony of using the unadorned said all the time, but all too many fiction writers tend to pepper their dialogue with -ly’s” (p. 87).

Now lets take a look at my hack fiction, slather on some Neosporin, wrap it in some maxi-pads and duct tape, and back away slowly.  Here are some randomly selected excerpts from Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.

Wastelander Layout

“Easy kid, I’m from Stanley Station just like you.  I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like you” I replied calmly.  The use of calmly is pointless here.  The commas I used in the dialogue to break up what Drake is saying reflects the idea that he is, at the very least portraying, calm.

“The kid’s name is Jim.  He was with a hunting party” I replied impatiently, shielding my eye from the spotlight.  “You going to let us in or what?”  Again, I don’t need to put impatiently in here.  It’s obvious Drake is impatient or he wouldn’t have followed with, “You going to let us in or what?”

“So where does that leave us,” I replied coldly.  Drake has just realized the person he is talking to may want to do him harm.  It’s obvious to the reader.  He doesn’t need to reply coldly, because the statement has an undertone of coldness to it.

Quill_(PSF)_vector.svg.pngLament with me brothers and sisters, lament and rejoice!  Another of my amateur techniques has been slain, and a slightly more polished writer emerges – stronger, better, faster.

I write this post with a hint of irony because when I edit these adverbs jump out at me.  Does every adverb have to be annihilated?  Not at all.  Sometimes there is no better word than an adverb.  But when the adverb is redundant, why waste the words?

Regardless, when I write those pesky -ly adverbs seem to effortlessly worm their way in.  I encourage you to save yourself heartache and time by avoiding the adverb addiction.  An adverb here and there is okay, but beware the sudden adverb explosions.  Good luck in your work and until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Copy Editing Marketing E-Books

online search.jpgSearch around freelance haunts for copy editing gigs and sooner or later you are going to find a few requests for editing marketing material.  These work requests are typically a mega-boring standard advert with an overly ridiculous parenthesis at the end saying, (URGENT MUST BE COMPLETED WITHIN 24 HOURS!).  Don’t stress!  These are (typically) short order jobs, living in 2,000 word land.  They are also relatively low paying, but hey, snap enough of these guys up and you can make some quick buckaroos.


  • Quick turnaround!  Is your bookie looking to break your legs?  Grab a few of these and pay those debts.
  • No story to deal with.  Unlike novels, you are typically dealing with straight up business hoopla.  You won’t be looking for plot holes, because they don’t exist.
  • Do a good job and you might be able to net some continuous work from the company.
  • A potential entry point for new freelancers to snag good reviews and bolster their online portfolios.


  • Some of the companies (or at least the poor soul tasked with hiring a freelancer) have no idea what they really want other than proofreading and formatting.  Here is a good article, 6 Tips for Copyediting E-Books, written by Joe Gillespie on the Business 2 Community website that gives you an idea of what they are looking for on their end.
  • Some freelance websites only allow you to do so many jobs per month *cough* Upwork *cough*.  Lots of little jobs for little money can exhaust your monthly jobs and leave you with empty wallets and empty bellies.
  • Can cause you to weep tears of boredom.

I’m sure more experienced hands than I could write volumes, but this is a taste.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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