Monday, July 15, 2013

7 Steps to Effective Copy-Editing

Most writers need an Intellgent Editer [misspellings intentional]
Most writers need an Intellgent Editer [misspellings intentional]
(Major Clanger from Flickr

by Leo Walsh.

You can find his science fiction novel even snow melts on Amazon.

Like most writers, I loathe editing. It is boring, time-consuming – but necessary. Copy-editing requires detachment. Which is difficult, since we all tend to get attached to our work – an issue I addressed earlier using the lens of Behavioral Economics' IKEA Effect.

As an indie writer, I can not afford to hire an editor. And editing my first novel, even snow melts, took me a long time.

I realized that humans struggle with new tasks: assuming I would edit better as I grew more experienced. This seems universal. But not with editing. Months later, however, I still sucked at copy-editing.

I realized a truism: “I had no process for efficient and effective editing.” And processes at work – from checklists to project management flow charts – make me more effective than many.

But how do you bring in rational process so it does not kill the creative sparkle? I think I succeeded. But it required discovering a free online copy-editor called Pro Writing Aid (

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Don't Badger Readers with the "Never-Ending Plot Line"

You want me to read 20,000 pages to get to the punchline?
You want me to read 20,000 pages to get to the
punchline? (Titanic Belfast on Flickr)

...Learning from Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Terry Pratchett and C.K. Chesterton

by Leo Walsh

Creative writing, like all arts, lacks rules: There is no algorithm that will provide a reliable best seller every time. There are conventions, of course -- writers workshop saws like "show, don't tell" and "kill your adverbs -- find stronger verbs" for instance.

In practice, there is considerable lee-way; readers read for the story, and not the mechanics. For instance, many Postmodern novels break the "Third Wall," and announce that there is a narrator telling a story -- Slaughterhouse Five comes to mind. This is a writer's workshop taboo. Yet, Vonnegut's wonderful character, the hapless Billy Pilgrim, and creative treatment of the themes of the pointlessness of war keeps me rereading the story every few years.

By the way, Vonnegut enchants, makes me laugh and covers an immense theme in 288 pages. That's writing.

But there are, of course, trends in an publishing. At present, most Fantasy -- from Urban to High Fantasy -- suffers from the "Multi-Tome Epic Arc" plague.

Fantasy author Charles de Lint's book review column in the July 2013 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction addressed this trend, and solidified my thoughts on epics, which has bothered me for many years. He maintains, and I concur, that focusing on marketing the Series instead of creatively writing an excellent book is hurting the Fantasy genre. 

Genre fiction, even in its pulpiest days, was never like this. De Lint mentions the Edgar Rice Boroughs' John Carter books as examples -- stand-alone books filled with brilliant characters with quirky action. Rice Boroughs draws readers into his world, introducing them to setting and characters in the course of storytelling. Once a reader completes one of his books, Rice Boroughs offers an invitation. If you like Mars and John Carter and wanted more, you could buy another book. If you didn't, at least you read a rousing good yarn that resolved.

If this is the high-road, contemporary authors frequently take the low-road. They withhold the "ending" by finishing a novel on a cliff-hanger. This engages the human bias for completion. Whether readers like a book or not, they desire completion. Which manipulates them into buying the next book in the series.

The high-road is an invitation to read more. The low-road manipulates people into buying a book. Both de Lint and I find the practice tawdry. It leads to predictable books with comfortable plots instead of forcing a writer to "dig deep," and produce something original. One need only compare a classic like Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle to Robert Jordan's interminable, albeit popular, Wheel of Time series to sense the difference.