Absence Makes the Heart

heart I’ve been too long absent from my personal blog site, http://sharonboninpratt.wordpress.com/ having spent the last two months making final edits on two of my three adult novels. The activity doesn’t account for all of my lengthy absence, but does excuse much of it. A personal life with job and other family obligations (read problems) has taken over most of 2015, making it an unproductive year at Ink Flare. Still, it has not been a waste.

Absence makes the heart – you know the rest of the well-worn maxim. I’m not sure if anyone misses me at my blog, but the work I’ve done on my books will move me forward in pursuit of publication. It had been a very long time since I’d looked at the first two books, as I’ve worked on the third for the past three years. And a funny thing happened on the way to prepping for book-in-print stage – there were lots of mistakes, weepy phrases, repetitive words, boring filters, mixed metaphors, vapid words, and the most common of my mistakes: the word “that,” sometimes written more than once in a sentence. Ugh! You know that you must edit with a sharp knife when what you’ve written comes across as more clumsy than that which you remember. (Please laugh. OK, maybe chuckle. Grin?)

I’ve edited my books so often, some sections are memorized. I’d even memorized a few parts I’d already excised. Also discovered I’d forgotten some minor characters, or at least, certain traits I should know about them. What’s that guy’s name again?

My great discovery proved what I’ve long said must be done about one’s own writing: take lots of notes and read all your work out loud. Notes make it easier to check back about details: what a person looks like, how you chose to spell a name, when an important event was introduced, the dates of births, marriages, and deaths, etc. Reading aloud points out the clumsiness of one’s writing, inconsistent verb tense or points of view, and gaps in the story arc. It helps you tighten the story because no one wants to read a loose bag of words. No one will publish it.

I scrapped about 2500 words to my first book, but also added about 600, making incidents better realized and motivations more likely.

There is another thing I learned during this round of editing: I’d forgotten so much, my stories read like new to me. My own novels were my summer beach reads, absorbing my attention. I was able to track the build up of suspense, character development, plot elements, and chronology of events.

My favorite revelation has me convinced I should continue on this challenging course of writing, eventually seeking agents and editors. I like my books. They are works of passion but also of intellect. My protagonists are too flawed to approach sainthood; my antagonists have a nugget of humanity. The problems are complex and don’t offer ready solutions; the resolutions are satisfying but incomplete, leaving room for future and for wonder. Subplots are engaging and themes hint at underlying psychological confusion. In short, I like the books I write. They are similar in kind to the books I enjoy reading.

May your summer prove a wealth of opportunity to write and edit your works in progress. May you be stimulated by your writing. And may any absence from your writing make your heart grow fonder of this journey, whether avocation or occupation. At least, may your journey lead to new adventures, all of them exciting and worthy of your time.

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Demystifying Proofreading

Getting a story or document “proofread” holds a certain mystery as the lines between beta reading, proofing and editing are often blurred and misunderstood. There are several stages a manuscript enters on its way towards submission or publication. After the author has acted upon the suggestions of their beta readers and self-edited, sending the work to a proofreader to review before it is handed to their editor will ensure that their editor can focus on structure and elements without being distracted by grammatical errors. With editors fees normally being charged per hour, minimizing lower level, time wasting tasks will maximize the skills the editor has to offer. A proofreader’s fees are generally less than an editor, due to the type of checks and tasks required and is often a fixed fee, rather than an hourly rate.

Proofreading can be defined as identifying and correcting typographical and grammatical errors. A professional proofreader will check the work a few times, looking for different aspects each sweep. These include checks in:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Name, word and term consistency. A proofreader will ensure that a characters name is spelled the same way each time, that the author has consistently capitalized specific words or terms.
  • Layout. Proofreaders check that font choice and size along with the page layout remains the same across the entire document.
  • Style guides. Often submissions to literary agents or competitions have very strict style guides to adhere to. A proofreader can ensure that these have been followed.
  • Dependent upon the length of the document, checking that the table of contents match with page numbers.   

It’s difficult for an an author to do a thorough proofread of their own work as often they are too close to the text, story and characters and will overlook errors without realizing it. A fresh pair of eyes will spot inconsistencies and mistakes quickly.

It is important for the author to have clear communication with their proofreader to outline the expectations they have for proofing the manuscript. Generally, a proofreader will read the document quickly and jot down questions and queries they may have arising from the first sweep.  Often these notes are inserted into the document as comments using Word Track Changes.  It is up to the author to address these queries and to accept or reject any alterations made to the original manuscript.   

A quick Google search will turn up pages of proofreaders with varying fees. Personal recommendations through your writers groups, or the writing professional body in your state are better methods of sourcing a reliable proofreader than choosing a random service based on an attractive website. Most countries have a society of editors and proofreaders which can be contacted for qualified professionals.

Many authors believe that proofreaders only check for grammatical errors.  Whilst this is a basic element of the role, a good proofreader has a grasp on a wide range of topics, has an extensive vocabulary and the ability to express ideas and images concisely. Not only do they need to be both tactful and confident in order to challenge an author on word choices, a proofreader needs to disciplined with their time and be able to deliver their skills with a quick turnaround.