Archive for the ‘editing’ Tag

Update — No, I have not entirely abandoned my website

After recovering from the breast cancer reconstruction that refused to cooperate (no, I will not go into details as I don’t want to freak out anyone; let’s just say I burned off some bad karma), I dove into The Ocasek Opportunity, the story of Tasha’s little brother and how he saved two civilizations from the boogeyman aliens.

Currently, it’s resting before I start editing the first draft into a book.

Now I’m fighting with Kindness of Strangers, the Ganymede Survivors story of Colonel Singh and the elusive Chandra Ramasamy.

And I’ve got one more editing pass on The Unique Solution–the redemption of the evil twin from Blade’s Edge–before I can get it published.

I’ve written more in the last year than in the previous several, just none of it on my website/blog. So now you know.

Thanks,
Val

The Importance of Syntax

Way back in the nineteen-mumbles, I took a programming class. I was in the very last class at my university that started Fortran programming on punch cards. Yes, punch cards. You can buy them on Etsy as antiques. The professor thought we should know how bad his generation had it so we would appreciate dumb terminals (insert eye-roll here).

At any rate, the mini-mainframe system was so amazingly primitive that your program output might be a single sheet of paper (with tractor-feed margins still attached, of course) that bore the message “Syntax Error”. Which meant you had screwed up in punching one or more of your cards and the resulting code would not compile correctly, let alone run and give you the results you had to turn in for a grade.

It’s an excellent catch-all message that can be used to describe so many grammatical errors in English:
“Try and do it” = syntax error
“Graduated college” = syntax error
“Happened on accident” = syntax error
“Your so right” = syntax error
“I could care less” = syntax error

Luckily, English is extremely redundant and the human brain is highly resilient (unlike computers). We can interpret statements full of syntax errors, although a personal opinion of the speaker/writer’s intelligence might be revised down in the process. Unless English is not his or her first language, of course; syntax can be tricky to port between different grammatical systems.

For example, French uses postpositions, positional-descriptive words that are placed after a noun phrase, as well as prepositions. When French is transliterated to English, you sometimes get sentences that sound like Yoda came up with them — full of syntax errors…in English.

Genre fiction publishers are reluctant to include semicolons in books, because they believe (or so my editors have said) readers can’t understand them. Not fair, really, to either readers or the semicolon, but there it is. The result, if the writer is using the punctuation correctly, is unnecessarily choppy prose or (shudder) comma splices without appropriate conjunctions. In other words, syntax errors.

Many syntax errors are so common they’ve become idiom (a nice way of saying everybody does it so grammarians have given up), which is why idiom is almost untranslatable — it didn’t actually make sense in the first place, so moving it into a different language is tricky at best.

Study your syntax, be aware when you’re using idiom. Control it; use it for effect and not just because it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Just because everyone is doing it does not make it right, or good, or readable twenty years from now when idiom and syntax have moved on.

If you do that, you’re less likely to include the word “hassle” (origin in the late 19th century, rarely used before 1950) six times in a Regency romance novel.

Back to the word mine….

Val

How To Know You’re Doing It Right

The first time I held a job with the word “Editor” in the title was ninth grade–I was chosen as editor of my junior high school newspaper. Primarily it meant I typeset the columns, by hand, on an IBM Selectric.

I also held various editor jobs on my college newspaper over the course of five or six years. (I was on the 9-year plan for a bachelor degree, because I had trouble choosing which one I wanted; that’s how I ended up with enough credits for a doctorate, and minors in math, physics, English, history and music.)

When I decided to learn how to write novels, I studied characterization, point of view, plot structure, and all that other good stuff, but I always figured I sort of knew how to edit. I had all that experience with “editor” in the job titles, but then, writing fiction makes you neurotic. I don’t know why. It just does.

I signed up for an online class about self-editing last month, with lessons based on the James Scott Bell Writers Digest book, Revision and Self-Editing.

The very first exercise we had to do was to read the work in progress from beginning to end like a reader; we weren’t allowed to edit or rewrite anything during the read, just make a note of it.

My notes basically said I needed to rewrite the second half of the book (on page 137 I wrote, “this is where it falls apart, rewrite from this scene”), because I realized about about the mid-point that it had the wrong protagonist; it was really her story, not his.

But other than that, I can heave a sigh of relief, because I found out I’ve been doing it right, going for tightness and coherence of story over interesting side trips into backstory or fabulous conversations that don’t quite move the plot forward.

I can describe the hero’s and heroine’s character arcs in one sentence, name the main turning points of the story, and even describe how the last scene mirrors the first scene of the book. Writing the synopsis took about fifteen minutes.

It’s a good feeling, to have someone else verify you’re going it right.

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