Monday, January 4, 2010

Last Revision Before Submission

I'm going to start a checklist for writers who are about to submit, just a checklist for the most common grammar and usage errors. So help! Any additions? I'm sort of concentrating on what I find most annoying, but you know me. I find it all very annoying. :) I do like a pristine manuscript. Make use of grammar sites (particularly university writing centers) on the web, or grammar textbooks (there are many, and often available cheap at used bookstores-- just choose one that explains things in ways you like). There is no excuse these days for mechanical mistakes in submissions.

1. Check for apostrophe problems. Apostrophes are used in possessive nouns and in contractions, and their proper use is a signal to the editor that you know what you're doing with words and sentences. You want to show that you understand what words mean-- that this noun is a possessive, or that this word has letters left out to make a contraction. Here's a good site to help with apostrophe use. Apostrophe mistakes are a real "mark of the amateur"(TM) for me, and I doubt I'm the only editor who cringes at "Shirleys mom really believes in marriage: She has had five husband's herself."

2. Check for commas after introductory elements. This comma isn't always needed, but in my experience, most house stylebooks call for it. So most editors will read a submission and make mental note of each intro element that needs a following comma, as they will have to fix this if you don't. You don't want the editor making mental notes of how much work your manuscript will require if bought. So:
If she had her way, Joey would have gone to college and become an engineer.
All things considered, he would have been happier then.
Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money to pay for school.

3. Check for misused words, including homophones ("sound-alikes") and misspellings that get past spell-check (that is, they are words, just not the right words). More than a couple uses of wrong words tells the editor that you aren't reading your own sentences for meaning, or you'd notice that you mention "the blogger form Indiana". And if you don't read your own work for meaning, real meaning is likely to be a haphazard process. Read ALOUD. You will hear the sentences as sentences, not as collections of words. And then you'll figure out if there are any wrong words, because the sentence won't mean what you want it to mean.
For more on homophones, see Commonly Misused Words.

4. Check for run-on sentences. You thought I was going to say fragments, didn't you? Well, check for them too. But fragments can be used occasionally to good effect, while run-on sentences are usually another sign that you're not reading carefully. (I've seen run-ons used to good effect in action scenes, and sometimes in highly emotional scenes and love scenes-- but that intensity is seldom created by accident, and most run-on sentences are... accidents.)

5. Check for sentence length and complexity. There's no actual right or wrong here, of course. Just check the sentences against the effect you're trying to achieve to make sure you're not undercutting (like a series of short sentences won't give that lush feeling you want as the heroine relaxes in the hammock).

6. Check for transitions in time and space. If the characters move or if time passes, show it in the narrative. It doesn't take much, maybe a few words at the start of the new sentence, but it makes all the difference. If you use these transitions (like now, across the room, a few days later, when she got into bed), the editor will get a sense of flow in your paragraphs, and also follow the action better.

7. Check for dangling modifiers. These tend to be invisible to the writer but jump right out at an editor. I'd start by checking every participial phrase, as those are the ones most likely to dangle. Then look at prepositional phrases. Almost any adjectival phrase can wind up dangling. Again, reading aloud is your best revision technique at this point. LISTEN to your narration.

What else? I mean just mechanical things. I'll add more when I am feeling more inspired, or exasperated. :)



Skeptic said...

I can read and re-read and still miss things like from/form. This is another handy-dandy use for the Kindle.

I can upload to the device and use the voice function to have the MS read to me. It helps with all sorts of things, including sentences that might've sounded right in my head when I wrote them. When I hear them in a different voice, it becomes obvious that the structure or wording is bad, bad, bad.

Keeping the document open on the screen while hearing the MS read aloud makes editing a whole lot easier. (Or in some cases, results in fits of uncontrollable laughter).

Skeptic :)

Edittorrent said...

That's a great idea, Skep, having the Kindle read to you.

I am assembling reasons why I need the Kindle. Keep at it. I think another 2 or 3, and I'll get out the credit card!!!!


Skeptic said...

1. Instant gratification. No lines at bookstores or frustration that they don't have the title you want. No reliance on USPS for painfully slow delivery.

2. At this moment, I have 57 books in the palm of my hand. A quite a few are research sources for stories percolating in my brain. My shoulders are grateful for the lightweight solution to the volumes of books I used to carry around at any given time.

3. I can approve email addresses to my amazon kindle account and read the WIP of other friends on my Kindle too. Either I can pay $0.15 per megabyte, or use my address if I don't want the miniscule fee to upload.

4. It has kept me from becoming homicidal at JFK in New York during delayed flights.

It doesn't make sangria or pop the cork on stubborn wine bottles, but nothing in life is perfect. ;)

Skeptic said...

3a. I can also make notes in those WIP stories for discussion at a later date. That is incredibly helpful!

Megs - Scattered Bits said...

The one that has me up in arms is how MANY people don't seem to know that tagged dialogue is not a complete sentence and dialogue tags are not complete sentences. Use a comma and capitalize correctly. Please!

Jami Gold said...


Great list! One other thing I struggle with (should this be added to the list?) is overwriting - especially of the telling/repetition-type variety. (See, Theresa? I read that Self-Editing for Fiction Writers book you recommend on Goodreads. :) ) Any suggestions for how to know how much is too much? I know that I'm supposed to look out for sentences where you draw a conclusion (telling), but what if it's the POV character that's drawing the conclusion? Does that make it okay?

I have a feeling that didn't make any sense, so...example time :) (from "her" POV):
After her outburst, James stared at her, his brows drawing together in confusion.
I know that the "in confusion" is a conclusion, but is that an example of overwriting, or it okay because it's the POV character's assumption of his reaction rather than "in anger" or something?

Megs, I'm right there with you. I don't know if this is technically correct or not, but it even drives me crazy when I see something like: "Eric," she said, and his smile faded. "You need to leave." To me, that seems broken because unless the author is trying to emphasize a significant pause after the "Eric" (in which case they could add in an ellipsis before the tag), I think those two dialogue sections should be joined as the address obviously goes with the rest of the sentence. Like I said, maybe it's technically correct because they're all complete sentences (or maybe because it's inserting something about a character other than the speaker), but I still don't like it. :)

Jami G.

Wes said...

Thanks for the heads-up on commas after introductory elements. I probably don't use them often enough thinking they slow down the pace.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm beta-reading for a friend who's multi-published and yep, I've got my eyes open for some of this. Only some because that's all that seems to be an issue.

However, I've noticed a trend of run-ons (or fused sentences, as we had to call them when I taught freshman comp) in erotic lit. Makes me nuts; it's like a deliberate sabotage of a great book.

Leona said...

I KNOW I'm guilty of some of this because I've caught it LOL

My worst thing of late is the dialogue capitalization and punctuation. One day I woke up and realized I'd been writing it wrong and I went around trying to correct it LOL

I've found the best way to see errors is to send it to an editor that you wanted to impress with everything you know. Seriously best way to see all those issues. Like the instead of they LOL

I'm thinking of making up someone that is an editor and sending them the manuscript first and see if it helps me see errors that are glaring when I see them later. Maybe I'll name this person Murray in honor of Murphy's lost twin :D

From some of my corrections, I've also seen some of the problems similar to those Jami G mentioned. So something in your elequent prose tlaking about overwriting would be good. I've read a couple of blogs/books that don't explain it very well, but did make me aware of the issue.

**Sigh. Everytime you write a post like this, I go through my WIP's and start fixing things. So much work, so little time. :P

Seriously though, it's made my work better. Thanks again.

Kristen Stieffel said...

Hyphenate compound modifiers, e.g.:

brown-eyed girl
red-headed stepchild
well-known actor

I recently read several unpublished manuscripts by various writers, and this was the most common type of error I found in them, except for danglers and incorrectly deployed commas (missing when needed and used when not).

Annette Fix said...

Periods belong inside the quotation marks.

Watch excessive use of "scare quotes."

One space after all ending punctuation.

No spaces between the em dash and the words--except when using the AP Stylebook for journalism -- then it's correct.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a great book. Also a writer's desktop must-have: The Chicago Manual of Style.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for these tips. Some of these mistakes have been my weakness, and I've been reading a lot of books to make my writing tighter.