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Copyediting 1A: Nitpick Your NaNo | Kestrel's Aerie

Copyediting 1A: Nitpick Your NaNo | Kestrel's Aerie

Copyediting 1A: Nitpick Your NaNo

As promised, this article encompasses the information I shared with Bre and Tami during the most recent Saucy Wenches Podcast. If you haven’t downloaded or listened to it yet, it’s an hour and three-quarters of fun conversation by three people who are passionate about writing.

If you are passionate about writing, too, then you should be passionate about getting it right, and that’s what I’ll help you do through the next several paragraphs.

Prepare your manuscript for editing

Currently, I do my editing in Microsoft Word 2008 for Macintosh; I also have Word for Windows 2007, but I haven’t reinstalled it under Windows 7. So when I talk about how to do a particular function, I’m speaking specifically of the latest releases of Word; however, most word processors have similar functions. In fact, the exact steps may be identical to Word’s.

Everyone has their own way of composing: I’m going to make a wild guess that 99 percent of you did so on your computers, rather than with quill pens on foolscap or #2 pencils on legal pads. For the one percent of you who are that deeply into self-abuse, this is not the help you need!

The first thing we’ll do is set up your manuscript for editing. Whether you’ll edit by hand (i.e., print the entire document and blue-pencil it) or electronically (using your software’s proofing tools), the steps I’ll discuss in this section are the same. The aim here is to give yourself some room to see your manuscript as individual words. You aren’t working on content at this point: Instead, you’re going to perform a whole slough of “mechanical” tasks first. In addition, don’t turn on your “track changes” tool in your word processing software—it’s much too early for that.

Format 1.5" margins all around; double-space; Courier-12

First, format your manuscript with 1.5” (3.81cm) margins all around. You want plenty of room for notes and proofreaders’ marks, regardless of your editing and proofing method. Next, select all of your text (usually, CtrlL-A in Windows; Cmd-A in OS X). Then, change your font to 12-point Courier.

Say what? UGH! What an ugly font! Indeed it is, but keep in mind what our objective is at this point: We want to see individual words, sentences, paragraphs. Proportional fonts (Calibri, Times New Roman, Arial, Garamond) are designed to help us read, and typically when we read, we do not read one word at a time. Thus, those fonts help words and sentences flow together. A fixed-width font, on the other hand (especially Courier), does not make for easy reading.1

Get rid of those extraneous spaces!

Since your final product will be presented in a proportional font, you need to format it as a typesetter would. So before you turn on Track Changes, you are going to go on a search and destroy mission. Many of us were taught, when we learned to type, to insert two spaces after a period (full stop) or colon. (If you are using a manual typewriter, disregard the following.) In typesetting (i.e., using proportional fonts), only one space follows a period or colon. The reason for this is the proportionality: Depending on the length of the line, regardless of whether paragraphs are right-justified or “ragged-right,” any given space may be em- or en-width. Simply defined, that’s the width of an “m” or “n” in the font.2

In modern typography, double-spacing after a period or colon is wrong. Get used to it.

Now, you may be rebelling at this dictum, but I promise you: The first trained editor who works on your manuscript (whether it’s your NaNo novel or some other opus) will obliterate those extraneous spaces. And they probably won’t be kind.3

In Word, Ctrl-H or Shift-Cmd-H brings up the Find/Replace dialog. In the “Find” window, type two spaces; in “Replace” type a single space. Then hit “Replace All.” Repeat until zero occurrences are found.4

Run that spell-checker

Still with Track Changes off, it’s time to turn on your spelling checker. As Tami mentioned in her outline to our Saucy Wenches podcast, be prepared to be blinded by red squiggly lines! You need to do something with each and every one of those beauties.

Take your time, and be sure you check and double-check everything that is highlighted. If it’s a name (especially if it’s a name!) be very sure the first occurrence is spelled correctly, then add it to your spell-checker’s dictionary.5

If your hero’s name is “F’lar” you need to fix Flar, Fi’lar, and Fl’ar.

I promise you, especially if you’re writing speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, or paranormal) and you used weird names, you misspelled a character’s name at least once. For example, if your hero’s name is “F’lar,” you want to correct occurrences of “Flar,” “Fi’lar” and “Fl’ar.”6

If you choose to “Ignore” a highlighted word, be sure you check the “Ignore all” box so all like occurrences are now accepted. That way, when you see it highlighted again, you’ll know that this time it’s not spelled the way you want.

This is also a good time to have a real dictionary handy: There is a good possibility you misspelled a word because you don’t use it often. And if you don’t use a word often, there is likewise a probability you are using it improperly. A list of examples is outside the scope of the current article, but Temerity-Jane’s “Winceable” article is a great place to find some.

More fun with find and replace

If you are into self-flagellation, this next suggestion is for you: Get a list of homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently, such as their, there, they’re or to, too, two) and do a search on each of them. Be sure you used the right form. Alternatively, if you consistently use the wrong spelling of “there,” for example, just run that through your finder, and be sure you get them all right.

As you can see, you do a lot of mechanical stuff with Find/Replace: Your imagination and capacity for self-abuse are the only limits.

Now you’re ready for the heavy lifting. I hope you’ve been working out.

If you happen to have a copy of the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, or Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, I respectfully suggest you loan them to a friend for the duration; preferably, a friend in another country.

The first two of those resources are intended primarily for journalists and other nonfiction authors, where strict adherence to style is considerably more important than in fiction writing. To a newspaper copy editor, for example, adjectives are anathema.7 In nonfiction, there are a lot more strictures to be observed than in nonfiction, so those books are essential.8

On the other hand, a good dictionary is now your very best friend. What you do not want your readers to do is sound like Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride: “…that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” A good dictionary (and I can’t recommend Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Web11) too highly) does a lot more than provide proper spelling: It is replete with usage examples, as well as comments on style.9

And now…start reading. But not for content; not to find out “what happens next.” You’re looking for misplaced modifiers, missing (and extraneous) commas, punctuation errors, missing words. Oh! the drudgery.

  • Do your sentences and paragraphs flow?
  • Did you suddenly start referring to a character you never properly introduced?
  • Is the timeline correct?
  • Does your hero’s eye color change from blue to green and back to blue?
  • Does the heroine’s hair change from short and curled to long and straight, from blonde to redhead?

And those are the simple things!

In case you didn’t do it while writing (or beforehand), now is when you must do research.

If your novel is set during WWII, your characters shouldn’t be drinking mojitos.

  • If your story takes place in another country, and you write about a Saturday mail delivery, are you certain the post is delivered on Saturdays there?
  • If your protagonist is driving from Kansas City to St. Louis, is she driving east, and on Interstate 70, rather than west on I-80?
  • Are the period details in your story accurate and contemporary? If your novel is set during World War II, for example, you probably shouldn’t have your characters drinking Long Island Ice Tea and mojitos. (Gin and tonic or Scotch and soda would be more appropriate, in case you’re wondering.)

I think this is probably a good place to stop for now. The next Saucy Wenches podcast, and a future article of mine, will discuss some of the other parts of copyediting, such as what to do when you realize you skipped a whole chapter, put it in the wrong place, or wrote a chapter that doesn’t even belong.

In addition, I’ll have several shorter (thank God!) articles on specific elements of punctuation and grammar. In the meantime, I’d like to know from you what specific problems you’ve run into, and if you’d like me to address any of them. (And yes, I fully intend to address the who/whom question from the podcast!) Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

  1. This could be why court documents and decisions are still rendered in Courier, unless courts are still using Underwood typewriters from the ’30s!
  2. There are, in fact, other variables that enter into this equation, such as kerning and hyphenation, but that is well beyond the scope of this article.
  3. In WoW terms, don’t be a “writetard.” If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then you’ll simply have to trust me.
  4. If you’re one of those who double-spaces after periods, you probably shortened your manuscript by about two percent. Congratulations! Just kidding, but in a 2,000 word story I recently edited, I had 280 occurrences of consecutive spaces—and that was just on the first pass!
  5. Caveat: If the word you’re adding is very close in spelling to a more common word, take care—you may be setting yourself up for more misspellings!
  6. Ten super cool points if you can tell me the origin of that name without Googling! (Or Binging.)
  7. If you listened to the Saucy Wenches podcast, you knew this was coming, right? There’s that word: anathema.
  8. Well, that’s debatable with respect to the AP Stylebook, at least: A considerable number of copy editors and other professionals have some serious issues with some of the proscriptions and rules in that particular volume. However, it does help one maintain consistency. Conversely, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”—Emerson.
  9. If you order it from Amazon using the link in this article, I get a few cents from the sale. Get yourself a copy for Christmas!


8 Responses to Copyediting 1A: Nitpick Your NaNo
  1. Saithir
    December 10, 2009 | 16:38

    A very nice and useful article, even if I didn’t take part in NaNo yet. Maybe next year, though it’s kind of scary.

    And F’lar is obviously from the Dragons of Pern series, where do I collect my super cool points? ;)
    Saithir´s latest blog post is Trial of the Grand Crusader Tips and Tricks, Part 2 My ComLuv Profile

    • Kestrel
      December 10, 2009 | 16:50

      The beauty is, this info is useful for any writing task! :) (Okay, some of it may be overkill for a blog article, but still…)

      And technically, it’s “Dragonriders of Pern” but here you go:


      (Count ‘em: 10 points!)

      • Saithir
        December 10, 2009 | 17:31

        Oh right, dragonriders, sorry about that. The Polish versions I own do not have the original series title mentioned anywhere, only the title of the book itself, and I didn’t want to cheat with Google.

        Yay points :)

        By the way, how do you spell-check and edit your blog posts? Do you use some WordPress plugin or just write them in Word and do the hard work there?
        Saithir´s latest blog post is Trial of the Grand Crusader Tips and Tricks, Part 2 My ComLuv Profile

        • Kestrel
          December 10, 2009 | 19:04

          Long posts like this I compose in Windows LiveWriter, in a virtual machine running under VMWare Fusion 3. It has a built-in spell-check, as does the WYSIWYG Pro3 plugin for WordPerfect, in which I compose shorter articles and do a final edit on longer posts developed in LiveWriter.

  2. Kihara
    December 10, 2009 | 18:24

    A very nice article I must say.

    However, I do feel I have to defend the courts, as per point 1 in your footnotes. While the US courts may still be using courier fonts, the courts in the UK, as well as the European Court of Justice, do use more “contemporary” fonts in their court summaries and reports. It’s nitpicking I know, but I just couldn’t resist ;)

    On another note, is there a reason you do the spellchecking and detailed search/replace before the flow and causality revision? I might be missing something of course, but it just appears to create work that might potentially be undone. Granted, it does make for an easier read that’s less likely to make your eyes bleed.
    Kihara´s latest blog post is 3.3 this week My ComLuv Profile

    • Kestrel
      December 10, 2009 | 19:11

      Ahh, that’s good to know about European courts. I just know in my last job, I spent a LOT of time reading judicial decisions (US Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court), and they are all double-spaced, wide margins, and monospaced fonts. :)

      If you listened to the podcast, you may have heard Tami allude to the point you bring up. As for how the individual author wants to proceed, that’s a personal choice. Obviously, I’ve presented mine. :) In my judgment, a lot of those mechanical things are relatively quick and easy (at least through the initial spell-check), and it gives you a chance to “get away” from the story for a bit.

      In professional publishing, once a manuscript is accepted for publication, an editor looks at the document, then a copy editor. Once the galley proofs are completed, a proofreader gets involved. Of course, after each of these steps, the author gets the document back to accept, reject, or negotiate the suggested changes.

      Deanna Hoak discusses this point in much more detail than I can here (and since she is a professional copyeditor, I’ll defer to her expertise every time). There are a couple links to her blog in the Resources section, under Writing in the nav menu.

  3. Iris
    December 12, 2009 | 19:07

    Oh my, opportunities for self-punishment!

    I should say that I have found the AP Stylebook or Strunk & White to be less that helpful. While they give good pointers, different books also seem to disagree on some basic rules. For example, is “Iris’s book” or “Iris’ book” the correct way to spell it? The correct answer is that both are right, although the different grammar books will swear by one or the other. It simply depends, in the case of fiction, of how you want it to be pronounced.

    That said, if you need a friend abroad to loan those pesky stylebooks too, I am your postal address! *grins*

    Oh, and as a random Saucy Wenches aside, Tami is not the only one to think Anathema is a cool female name. In fact, in Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (both utterly brilliant writers, by the way), there is a character named Anathema Device. Her mom simply picked her name thinking it sounded cool, and missed to check the meaning…
    Iris´s latest blog post is Meet The Demoness (Artwork!) My ComLuv Profile

    • Kestrel
      December 12, 2009 | 20:59

      You know, I recall reading about that name somewhere…had totally forgotten it. Haven’t read the book, but I should add it to my list. :)

      As for Iris’ vs. Iris’s…I’ll go with either (I forget which I settled on for “Waking Iris,” in fact, just so long as the author will stay consistent.

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