Editing Rant: NOT TO BE

Acquired from the internet Hive Mind

It’s baaack. The copula spider. (First post on the topic is Copula Spiders.)

The shiny wore off real quick on being a content editor. Two manuscripts and thousands (2% of the documents) from the “to be” family – mostly “was” and “were”.

           “Editors are to leave writers’ voices intact,” claims a would-be author. “My voice is passive.”

           “Your voice doesn’t sell.” I move to the next story in the slush pile.

I’m not the only editor, or writer, running into the problem. “Was” and “were” are easy to use. One of my friends fixing a returned manuscript, complained her editor (not me) marked all the “was’es”.

“Was! Oh bane of my existence! Stop tormenting me … (cries)” she posts on Facebook.

New to content editing, I reached out and I asked her about it, and her editor replied (I guess my friend was still busy killing the “was’es” or crying, likely both as she said she averaged 5 was’es a page in her opus). The other editor wrote: “Basically ‘was’ is either taking the place of or weakening a stronger verb.“

Copula is “a connecting verb, in particular the verb ‘be’ connecting the subject and a complement”. The “to be” family includes: am, are, is, was, were, been, has been, have been, had been.

A copula spider happens when you circle all the was’es on a page and connect them. If eight or more legs result, you have a spider.

Was / were / is – the most evils of evils making writing weak. The Copula Spiders must be burned. Kill the spider. Have no more than five “was” ”were” ”is” on a page (one if an action sequence). Six would be a copula insect – and even those are unworthy of your efforts. Remove any of them running through your manuscript. Kill the spiders – burn the house and rewrite the section if you must.

READING EXERCISE: Find your favorite writer, action-based is best but any will do, see how many pages you go before you count ten copula usages.

WRITING EXERCISE: Take an action scene out of your present work-in-progress (WIP). Remove as many was-were-is from the scene as you can. Compare the original scene and the resulting scene for pace and verbiage impact.

Editing Rant: God In The Machine

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Following DragonCon this year, my publishing house, Falstaff, moved me from line editor to content editor. Not more challenging or less challenging, just different. Now I can make the content corrections I’ve been wanting to. Now I need to really watch out about stepping on a writer’s voice.

One of the things I can address in the content editing state is “Deus ex machina” or “God in the Machine”. Ever been reading a book when something happens having no connection with the story, but saves everything – like the eagles in Tolkin’s Lord of the Ring trilogy or when the hand of God literally appears in King’s The Stand, setting off the nuclear warhead? A writer can push and push and push the limit until they have no idea how to get back. Until they just fix things the way they want them outside the narrative.

Readers read to see how things can be solved, not how the writer can ignore the entire worldbuilding process. As a content editor, I may be able to save a book from god-in-the-machine.

One book I ran into clearly had the writer wanting to hit certain scenes and no logical connection between them. The heroine gets motion sick when spun around by the hero, but then goes on a carousal ride. Another motion sick attack has her in the hero’s trailer to recover and then on the back of his motorcycle to ride home after a single drink of water for recovery. At home, she immediately gets drunk. Because I know I want to get drunk after being motion sick, the two feelings are not related at all (sarcasm font implied).

And the worst offender of the writer just putting things in with no real attachment to the narrative, or a toe dipped in the reality pool: The hero comes across her drunk, and she immediately passes out. After carrying her back to her bedroom, she wakes up hangover free and totally sober so the hero isn’t taking advantage of her when they kiss.

Characters exist in the world. They need to be believable within the world. Reaction follows action. Consistency of character, action, and objects are required. Fixing things by just inserting what the plot point requires without integrating the things into the plot story arch is wrong.

Editing Rant: Clean Up #2 – Double Space

What to Clean Up before Sending to Editor #2

Before final publication, all the formatting needs to be pristine. Translating a file to multiple ebook formats (mobi, .epub, .pdf, .azw, .lit, etc) and hardcopy format takes time and effort. Dealing with extra formatting of spaces at the end of paragraph, chapters, or sentences delays the transformation from final words to publication where money is made. Remove any formatting issues, especially extra spaces and returns, prior to the editor working.

If you are self-publishing, you don’t want to be paying an editor to find double-spaces. Nor searching out the invisible extra returns or too many tabs. That is money out of your pocket for cleaning up emptiness,

If submitting to a publisher, formatting issues could mean the difference between an editor annoyed enough to eject your three-chapter sample from the slush pile or asking for full manuscript. You know you have read books where formatting issues made you toss it aside. Editors trying to pick books to work with are no different.

The biggest offender is the double-space after a period. If you are old enough to remember typewriters, you were taught to type with a double space after a period. Modern standards require only a single space.

Why the change?

Fonts on typewriters were monospace.  Each letter takes up the same amount of room, “i” and “m” for example.  To clearly see the end of a sentence, a double space was required.

Computers allow smart fonts. Letters vary in area usage. During the creation of the font, the combination of periods and spaces have been adjusted for easy reading. 

Double space is a dinosaur.

Courier New: Mmmm.  I love ice cream.

Times New Roman: Mmmm. I love ice cream.

Book Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Amazon Cover - Eats Shoots Leaves

Book Cover from Amazon


Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

We all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.



I laughed and laughed from preface where the author describes her reaction to producing a runaway best seller on punctuation to the final chapter describing how writing is changing from print to Internet medium leading to a flash on the Punctuation Murderer. Verily, I giggled, cackled, chortled, snickered, and tittered like a fiend: while she is not a disciple of the Oxford Comma, I will forgive her the heresy for the rest of her punctuation doctrine is sound.

You should seek out and read this book. Discover how the words “best seller” can and should be bestowed on a grammar book.

If the mene “I like cooking my family and my pets. – Use commas, don’t be a psycho.” tickles your fancy, this is the book for you. 

Note: Uses British grammar rules, not American.