Tag Archives: fiction

CIEP social media round-up: August and September 2022

Our social media team takes you through the CIEP content we’ve shared on our social media platforms during August and September 2022. This time, the emphasis falls on fiction.

Editing fiction

Several blog posts from August and September had the theme of fiction editing. There’s a common misconception out there that fiction editing is just a form of rather intense reading that you could carry out while sitting in a soft armchair drinking a mug of cocoa.

The first article listed here, which forms part of our curriculum for professional development, is by Jane Moody, our Training Director. She gives a detailed table of the competencies, skills and attitudes that we should be able to evidence as a professional fiction editor. Cocoa is optional.

One of the best sources of advice for CIEP members about how to become a fiction editor – or any type of editor – are the CIEP forums. This ‘Forum matters’ article points you in the direction of some of the best places to access information about fiction editing.

Rachel Lapidow edits role-playing games. The style sheets for such complex projects are detailed – the style sheet of her current work-in-progress is 60 pages long! She shares the structure of her style sheets and the process of creating them, and shows us how they can be useful for fiction editing too.

While you might think the main focus of fiction editing is dealing with fantasy, Sue Littleford reminds us that we also need to think about facts. Keeping records about your current work in order to optimise your future work is essential for editors of any subject matter, and fiction is no different. She describes three ways to keep records and introduces the CIEP’s free spreadsheet designed for record keeping.

‘Definite articles’ is our pick of recent editing-related content from all around the internet – and, in this edition, themes included the language of fiction, dialogue and character, plot, story and scenes, and the business side of fiction publishing.

The writing software Scrivener has some enthusiastic fans among the writing community. Scrivener allows you to restructure a piece of writing much more easily than is possible in Microsoft Word. In his ‘Talking tech’ column, Andy Coulson investigates whether Scrivener might also be a useful tool for developmental editors of fiction.

And in the editorial department …

Agile planning

An ‘Agile’ approach to planning – and the changes that occur in that planning – is a style of teamworking. It’s a project management model more familiar in the world of technology. Its principles make a priority of individuals, deliverables, collaboration and response to change. Steven Martin considers whether the Agile approach might work in publishing.

Project management

What does editorial project management actually involve and where do copyeditors and proofreaders fit into the process? In this post, editorial project manager Julia Sandford-Cooke describes her typical week and some of the tasks she often undertakes. Check out the CIEP’s Editorial Project Management course if you want to learn more.

Translation editing or copyediting?

Gwenydd Jones is an experienced translator. Early in her career she noticed clients were asking for ‘translation editing’ – with the term ‘editing’ being used very loosely. She explains what’s involved in the field of translation editing and considers how it shares similarities with copyediting.

Apostrophes

George Bernard Shaw hated them, but could we do without them? Is it time to ‘kill apostrophes’ or would that be ‘just plain wrong’? In her regular column ‘A Finer Point’, Cathy Tingle goes in search of the genuinely useful apostrophe and makes some interesting findings.

Working through the menopause

It is encouraging to see increasing numbers of conversations about menopause and perimenopause. Members of the CIEP forums shared their varied experiences of working through the menopause, which Liz Dalby has gathered here. This post also includes some links to helpful resources.

Networking and conferencing

September is usually the month of our annual CIEP Conference, so networking is on our minds. The word strikes fear into those of us of a more introvert nature. In this article, BookMachine’s Laura Summers puts paid to the image that networking has to be awkward or scary. And while networking is about making new connections and building on existing relationships, it’s also about learning and confidence-building. All things that you’ll experience at our annual conference, which you’ll be hearing about in various blog posts in the weeks to come!

The CIEP Annual Conference took place on 10–12 September 2022. Our theme was editing in a diverse world. It was our first hybrid conference (with sessions available online as well as in person); and it was our first in-person conference since 2019. Look out for blog posts in the near future on the sessions and some conference experiences from our delegates.

Our speakers did not disappoint, and special thanks go to Katherine May, Reverend Richard Coles and Ian McMillan.

CIEP Language Quiz 16

Finally, dare you try Quiz 16? It’s all about aspects of punctuation, grammar and usage when editing fiction.

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About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: wheat field by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Flying Solo: Facts for fiction editors

In this Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford looks at how the Going Solo toolkit’s work record spreadsheet can be modified for use by fiction editors, and finds out how three fiction editors keep records about their work.

Fiction editors can’t avoid diving into non-fiction when they’re running their businesses rather than editing. The Going Solo toolkit’s work record spreadsheet (available as a member benefit – you’ll need to be logged in to the CIEP website to download it) is heavily geared towards the kind of breakdown of jobs that a non-fiction editor will find useful. Those categories don’t really work for fiction editing, beyond word count, time taken and fee charged, so I’ve been talking to three fiction editors about their own record-keeping.

Why keep records about completed work?

Editors and proofreaders in all niches need to keep track of their work and the time it takes them if they’re to have a solid basis from which to calculate quotes of cost and time. In June 2021, I looked at how to use the filter with a spreadsheet of data about the work you’ve done to get the best use of it when it comes to preparing a new quote or estimate.

Another benefit of compiling records of your work (for CIEP members and prospective members) is that you can send in a spreadsheet of the relevant details with an upgrade application instead of having to type out everything again on the application form, and it’s easy to see when you’ve achieved the necessary hours of experience.

But the main and ongoing benefit is not having to snatch figures out of the air when it comes to your pricing, and knowing the answer to the eternal question ‘How long will it take?’ You can also see if you’re getting faster or slower overall, see the impact using a new tool makes on your speeds (or a change in the material you’re working with) and, especially with repeat clients, ensure consistency in your pricing approach, and see how jobs from a particular source compare.

If you provide several services – manuscript assessment, development editing, structural editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading – you can also see which is the most rewarding in a financial sense, which gives you best return for your time, and it helps you to tailor bundles of services at a sensible price for your business.

And now, a warning! You may be tempted to keep minimal records, perhaps just your invoices, but you really should be keeping full records: anyone planning on upgrading (and all members will need to achieve PM status to remain in the Institute, which means applying for at least one upgrade: see p4 of the Member Handbook for time limits) will need a record of the work they’ve done to show that they have the requisite hours of the right type.

In addition, in the UK, you will need to be able to show HMRC evidence of the hours you work, in order to support your calculations for tax relief on the costs of working at home. If you live (or at least pay tax) elsewhere, be sure to check your own country’s requirements – but if you still have CIEP upgrades to do, you’ll need your breakdown of hours worked available and categorised.

Facts for fiction editors is definitely A Thing!

Three editors, three approaches to record-keeping

Here’s how three editors handle their records.

1. Going Solo toolkit with modifications

Now an editor of fiction and creative non-fiction, APM Jill French started her business mainly focused on non-fiction, and finds the Going Solo toolkit’s work record spreadsheet works well for her way of thinking, with the addition of ‘manuscript assessment’ as a category of work. Each round of editing the same book is logged as a separate job, which gives her enough data to analyse when it comes to pricing another job of the same stage.

2. Combining two off-the-shelf systems

IM Katherine Kirk uses both the work record from the Going Solo toolkit and Maya Berger’s TEA system (CIEP member discount available). Katherine is working towards PM status and finds the analysis and tracking offered in the jobs spreadsheet helps her to maintain a good record to support her application in due course. But she finds that TEA works better for her for financial records, and so she maintains both, having simply hidden the columns that are irrelevant to her business (columns N–S from the Going Solo spreadsheet).

Katherine uses the average words per hour for that particular kind of work to inform her estimates, but, depending on the client, may also do a sample edit to check. She records these sample edits in TEA in order to be prepared if that client comes back. If the client doesn’t return, Katherine has data ready to hand on the price she quoted, and can see what impact changing the price has on landing the client.

3. Tailored record-keeping

Nicky Taylor, an APM, has developed her own record-keeping system over the years. Like Jill, she records each type of work for the same book as separate jobs, so a development edit and a copyedit get their own rows in her spreadsheet.

Nicky said to me, ‘Looking at all my data made me realise that manuscript critiques on their own were simply not financially viable, so I stopped offering that service; if I hadn’t recorded everything, I doubt I would have known.’ Music to my ears about the real-world value of keeping business data.

For a development edit, Nicky records the onboarding time, reading time, report-writing time; for a copy- or line edit, she will record the time spent on each pass – she always does a full read-through and two passes, and has a column in her spreadsheet for each of these.

Included in her records are columns for pre-returning the job, which covers time for checking comments, checking over the style sheet and completing the handover tasks. Another column captures the time spent on post-edit revisions, post-edit discussions with the author, and emails. If a PDF conversion or layout work is required, this time also goes into that post-edit column.

Most of the time, the production of the style sheet is absorbed into the two passes, but may be recorded separately if the occasion demands. Production of a bible, perhaps for a planned series, will be logged separately.

Nicky includes an ‘Other’ column in her spreadsheet for different kinds of jobs, such as consultancy and other requests, recording the exact nature in the job description column. Like Katherine, Nicky also uses TEA for her financials.

The Going Solo toolkit: Work record spreadsheet

The CIEP has decided to follow Jill’s recommendation, and has added manuscript assessment to the dropdown list of types of work, which would include the kinds of tasks covered by Nicky’s ‘Other’ column. If you’re already using the spreadsheet and would like to add this to your own records, you can either download the new version (be sure to be logged in to the CIEP website first) and copy your records across, or extend that dropdown list yourself. It’s easy!

NB: All screenshots show Excel 365 on a PC. The instructions apply to PCs but Microsoft tells me they also work for Macs.

1. Select column ‘Type of work’ by clicking on the column header (D), which turns the column grey. A black down-arrow shows when your cursor is in the right position to select.

2. On the Data tab …

… open Data Validation in the Data Tools group by clicking the little down-arrow:

3. Select Data Validation from the dropdown menu:

4. You’ll see this:

Click Yes.

5. You’ll see this:

Now you can type a comma, a space and MA into the end of the Source box.

Check the ‘Apply these changes to all other cells with the same settings’ box if you’ve added other tabs that have this same list, otherwise you can leave it blank.

It will look like this:

Click on OK.

You’re done! You can now use the new code, and you can, if you like, add others that suit the work you do. You might want to add consultancy as a category, for instance, if that makes sense for the work you do. You don’t have to use codes – you could spell out the entire word, or use a fuller abbreviation. Once you’ve got the hang of this, you can personalise your spreadsheet exactly as you like. That said …

Four reminders

Reminder #1

The Admissions Panel explained to me, when I was developing the Going Solo toolkit, that they want to see your copyediting and proofreading hours on your upgrade application, so remember to keep recording these clearly and separately, no matter what else you decide to record.

Reminder #2

If you’re not sure how to get the best use of the data you’ve gone to the trouble of collecting, see my earlier ‘Flying solo’ post on using the filter functions.

Reminder #3

The sooner you start keeping detailed records, the sooner you’ll have compiled a useful bank of data to help with price and time estimation for new jobs.

Reminder #4

If you’re inspired by Nicky’s level of detail, don’t forget that you can continue to personalise your own copy of the Going Solo toolkit work record. Inserting additional columns is easy!

1. Click on the column letter immediately to the right of where you want to insert a new column.

Here, I’ve highlighted column I – see the colour change where the column’s label is, and the column itself has turned grey.

2. Right-click, then select Insert and a column will arrive between, in this example, Author name(s) and Total time taken (hours).

3. … and you will get this:

4. The Author name(s) column is still H, but Total time taken (hours) is now column J and we have a new, blank column I. Type in the name you want for the heading. Repeat as often as you need to add new columns, always clicking at the head of the column to the right of where you want to add a new one.

5. Columns in the wrong order? Move them with cut and paste. The column will always paste in to the left of where you click, as creating the new column did.

6. Unneeded columns? Instead of clicking on Insert, click on Delete if you’re sure you don’t want that column, or Hide, if you think you may need it at some point. (To unhide, select the columns on either side of the hidden column(s) and right-click; click on Unhide.)


Buy a print copy or download the second edition of Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business from here.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: office desk by Jessica Lewis Creative, laptop by Karolina Grabowska, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Forum matters: Fiction and other specialisms

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to the posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

Headline graphic saying 'Forum matters: Fiction and other specialisms' with books laid out on a white surface

Supporting members’ specialisms

One of the best things about the CIEP community is the sheer breadth of knowledge held and shared freely by its members. From FRedit to flamingos, there’s bound to be a tasty morsel that will make your life easier, or at least a little more interesting, especially if you dig a little deeper into the specialist groups, which were created to avoid overwhelming the core forums. Find out more about joining one or more of these forums.

Since this issue of The Edit is all about fiction, it’s an opportunity to draw your attention to the Fiction forum, which has over 500 members. Of course, fiction editors will gain a lot from the main forums in the first place, and recent useful threads have covered checking facts, how deep down the rabbit hole you need to go (and whether you should charge extra for spelunking), flamingo migration and the etymology of riverbank architecture. Might these reappear in this year’s CIEP conference quiz? Best take notes.

An exploration on SfEPLine of which tools are available to editors with vision loss or impairment (reassuring to know that loss of vision might not necessarily mean an end to an editing career) connects quite nicely with a thread in the Newbie forum (an underrated goldmine of good advice, if you ask us) about screen readers and Latin abbreviations. Meanwhile, a Marketplace offer spurred a sensitive discussion on SfEPLine about the ethics, legalities and practicalities of working with an author who is not yet an adult, in order to safeguard all stakeholders.

The Macros forum also has useful information for fiction editors, and if you’re looking to add more macros to your toolbox but don’t know where to start, try one of the ones recommended in this thread. A handy macro for fiction editors might be Paul Beverley’s ChapterChopper, which shows the number of words per chapter. This could help editors to pinpoint developmental issues like pace slumps or info-dumping.

If you work with science fiction, you might be interested in Reedsy Sci-Fi week (August–September 2022), or catch up with recordings afterwards. This information appeared on the Events forum, full of links to happenings of interest to editors that you might regret missing.

If your special interest is fiction, this is just the tip of it. Come along as we open the curtain and show you what the Fiction group has been up to.

Digging deeper

This section is link-free because not all of our forum users are members of the Fiction forum. If you’d like to access it, find out how in ‘Joining a specialist forum’, below.

The Fiction Special Interest Group (Fic SIG) invites any member to give a talk on a relevant topic of their choice. Kath Kirk gave a webinar on the special considerations copyeditors need for editing science fiction and fantasy novels. She discussed how to keep track of wibbly-wobbly timelines, and this spurred further discussion in the Fiction forum about which software can help editors to visualise it.

Clare Law’s talk on using data-driven editing to become more efficient, get paid more, reduce anxiety and beat imposter syndrome led to robust discussions in the Fiction forum about which silent changes fiction editors usually make, and which queries they’ve stored in their TextExpander arsenals.

Members of the Fiction forum also shared resources for working on children’s fiction, and how to format a fiction manuscript for submission to a literary agent, as well as recommendations of courses for editors who are looking to build their fiction-editing skills.

If you missed these fabulous discussions, don’t worry! Notes from the talks are shared on the Fiction forum afterwards.

Joining a specialist forum

There’s no barrier to CIEP members’ entry into the specialist groups. Everybody should join their local group forum. Even international members can be local through the Cloud Clubs. Apart from Fiction, other topic-based groups are Music, English Language Teaching, Education, MedSTEM, Languages (translation), Legal and more – and sometimes they’re where the real action is!

If you’re interested in a deeper exploration of a niche or subject related to editing, follow the step-by-step instructions on this page or get in touch with one of the forum moderators.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: books by ready made and woman in a hat by Olivia cox, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Definite articles: Fiction

Welcome to ‘Definite articles’, our pick of recent editing-related internet content, most of which are definitely articles. This time, our theme is fiction. If you want to view the CIEP’s own recent content, head straight for CIEP social media round-up: June and July 2022.

Header image with text Definite articles: fiction. Photo of cat sniffing a flower on a book.

In this blog post:

  • The language of fiction
  • Dialogue and character
  • Plot, story and scenes
  • The business of fiction
  • Fiction past
  • And the prize goes to …

The language of fiction

Words: they’re what books are made of. If you’re stuck for one, the internet’s a good place to start in finding what you need. During May, June and July, Cambridge Dictionaries published a number of useful articles for any fiction writer or editor groping towards the right words, including how to describe textures, breathing, people you like and admire, looking for information and then finding it, enjoying yourself, and animal noises such as howling, mewing and snorting, and grunting, lowing and bleating.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary posted its ‘Great big list of beautiful and useless words, part 1’, with links to Parts 2 and 3. Each list contained 50 words that were obscure and attractive in equal measure. Our favourite was peristeronic: suggestive of pigeons. (So useful.)

Dialogue and character

A major element of fiction is dialogue. In July, Carol Saller for The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) explored interjections, because:

Not all fictional characters are meant to be smooth-tongued and lyrical in their speech. Rather, just like us, they sometimes mumble or stumble. Giving a character flawed speech is a way to make dialogue more realistic. And this very human kind of talking often involves the use of interjections.

Continuing the theme of writing authentic dialogue, Edwin L Battistella described how we’re likely to deal with pronouns and joint possession in normal speech – for example ‘Paul and my home’ or ‘Kace and I’s text’. Battistella set out the grammar rules but explained why we often break them when chatting. This practical approach may explain why the article attracted so many likes on the CIEP’s social media platforms.

When we write beyond our own experience it’s crucial to conduct research – for example to interview people with different lives to ours, and to learn about variations and dialects in Englishes and other languages. The internet can offer some pointers on the latter, although this should only be the first step. In June, The Guardian focused on Multicultural London English (MLE), which is rapidly growing in the UK.

In ‘How (and how not!) to write queer characters: a primer‘ on Jane Friedman’s website, Susan DeFreitas gave advice about how to avoid writing stereotyped characters (for example the ‘Magic Gay Bestie’) and biased plot devices (for example when a gay character is killed off early), and suggested best practices for writing queer characters (for example, ‘Don’t make them the sole representative’).

ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) shared Sacha Black’s podcast on levelling up your side characters, a Self-Publishing Conference Highlight, in audio and transcript. Black’s talk featured Mr Wheezy, the penguin from Toy Story (remember him?), alongside many minor characters you might have temporarily forgotten who are important for plot and theme.

Another useful article about characterisation on Jane Friedman’s site was Heather Davis’s ‘7 questions to design a better arc of change for your protagonist’. We posted this across our social media platforms in mid-July to wide approval. One follower commented, ‘this is a great article!’

Plot, story and scenes

In fact, there was a run of great articles from Jane Friedman’s site this summer. Many of them considered plot, story and scenes, from ‘The vital difference between plot and story – and why you need both‘ by Heather Davis to ‘The building blocks of scene’, ‘Moving between scenes with summary and spacers’ and ‘Good scenes require specifics’ by Sharon Oard Warner.

Back on the CMOS Shop Talk blog, Carol Saller considered ‘What makes a chapter of a novel?’ including purpose, length and endings.

The business of fiction

The profile of self-publishing was high this summer. Radio 4’s Money Box devoted a programme to self-publishing, and at the beginning of August The Guardian published a step-by-step guide to getting your book published, which mentioned the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates for editors and proofreaders to help with budgeting.

Talking about the CIEP, the AFEPI published a version of Averill Buchanan’s CIEP blog on fiction book production. Alongside this, you could read ALLi’s ‘Ultimate guide to formatting your print book’, posted in May.

In addition, there were articles on book blurbs, creating a copyright page and how to make a great author website, as well as ALLi Twitter chat on common book marketing failures. All useful stuff.

Fiction past

Reading fiction is an important part of writing and editing it. Recent online content on past fictional works included ‘A literary history of modernism’, which starts with psychologist and philosopher William James’s ‘stream of consciousness’, a quiz on Mary Shelley, five little-known facts about Dracula, fictional worlds you might belong in (one follower commented: ‘I ended up in Mrs Dalloway’s world. Need to dig out the cloche hat’) and, after we’ve finished reading, ‘How to survive the post-book blues’.

As the summer got hotter, the OUP created a playlist inspired by Oxford World’s Classics, so you didn’t even have to go to the bother of reading to be inspired. It’s on Spotify, if you want to hunt it out.

Small gold trophy on black stand

And the prize goes to …

In June, writers and others in the publishing industry expressed dismay that the Costa (formerly Whitbread) book awards were being scrapped after 50 years.

In July, a writer responded in the most positive way to the ending of another award. When it was announced that the Blue Peter Book Award had finished, Elle McNicoll, a former winner, started her own prize for UK books with a disability focus. She specified that winning books had to be ‘about JOY more than MISERY’.

Another book award led to an unexpected result this summer: it shone a spotlight on plagiarism in fiction. An examination of John Hughes’s novel The Dogs, longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, revealed that parts of the book displayed similarities to parts of major works by Svetlana Alexievich, Leo Tolstoy, Erich Maria Remarque, F Scott Fitzgerald and others. Author John Purcell wrote an account of the saga, ending with, ‘Needless to say, all of Hughes’ other work is now being placed under the microscope. This is far from over. Oh goodie.’

Fortunately, other prizes continued unbothered. At the end of July, along with others, Lit Hub announced the 2022 Booker Prize longlist.

Another prize that has survived the summer is the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. Sir Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was the nineteenth-century author of the famous opening line ‘It was a dark and stormy night’, and entrants to the contest are tasked with writing ‘an atrocious opening sentence to the worst novel never written’. The 2021 Grand Prize Winner was Stu Duval of Auckland, whose opening started: ‘A lecherous sunrise flaunted itself over a flatulent sea, ripping the obsidian bodice of night asunder with its rapacious fingers of gold’ … you get the general idea. Keep checking www.bulwer-lytton.com for the news on this year’s winner, which will be widely proclaimed anon. While we wait with breath baited, enjoy Amber Sparks on Twitter (@ambernoelle), who got right into the Victorian vibe:

Normal people: I met this guy, he was average

Victorian writers: He was, in the way of most men, possessed of a rudimentary intelligence, his countenance ordinary, his bearing mild, with some weakness about the shoulders, his hair the color of ash; he spoke of the weather

What more is there to be said? Hand Amber the Bulwer Lytton crown, someone.

Online fiction resources

We hope you enjoyed this edition of ‘Definite articles’. Here are the resources we featured for reading, writing, editing and publishing fiction.

Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi): selfpublishingadvice.org

Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers of Ireland (AFEPI) blog: afepi-ireland.com/blog

Cambridge Dictionaries blog: dictionaryblog.cambridge.org

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) Shop Talk: cmosshoptalk.com

Jane Friedman: janefriedman.com

Literary Hub (Lit Hub): lithub.com

Merriam-Webster Words at Play: merriam-webster.com/words-at-play

Oxford University Press blog: blog.oup.com

Penguin: penguin.co.uk

From the CIEP

We recently shared these CIEP fiction resources on our social media platforms.

Cashmore, Stephen. ‘Editing dialogue’. Members-only fact sheet. ciep.uk/resources/factsheets/#ED.

Donaldson, Sara. ‘Common problems encountered in fiction editing’. Blog article. blog.ciep.uk/fiction-editing-common-problems.

Introduction to Fiction Editing. Course. ciep.uk/training/choose-a-course/introduction-to-fiction-editing.

O’Grady, Carrie. ‘Sharing is caring: collaboration among freelance fiction editors’. Blog article. blog.ciep.uk/collaboration-among-freelance-fiction-editors.

Taylor, Nick. ‘Editing LGBTQ+ language with sensitivity’. Members-only fact sheet. ciep.uk/resources/factsheets/#ELL.

Trail, Katherine. ‘A look at editing romance novels’. Blog article. ciep.uk/romance-novels-editing.

You can find us online on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cat and books by Klaudia Ekert on Pexels, trophy by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Curriculum focus: Fiction

In this regular feature for The Edit, training director Jane Moody shines a light on an area of the CIEP’s Curriculum for professional development.

Header image, text Curriculum focus: Fiction, Jane Moody. Image of someone reading on a beach towel

Fiction editors use all the same tools as every other kind of editor, but there is an extra dimension to this particular type of work. For this reason, we include fiction as one of the specialist areas, with its own set of competencies. Its main knowledge criteria are: 1. Liaison with the author; 2. Assessment of the manuscript and brief; 3. Structural editing; and 4. Line editing.

The table gives details about the competencies, skills and attitudes that you should be able to evidence under each of the criteria. I’ve listed our suggested supporting resources under the table.

KNOWLEDGE CRITERIAEDITORIAL COMPETENCIES, PROFESSIONAL SKILLS AND ATTITUDES
3.1.1 Liaison with author• Understands the importance of being sensitive to the author’s words, creations and intentions and not discounting elements of the work out of hand or imposing the editor’s own viewpoint on the material
3.1.2 Assessment of the manuscript and brief• Has the ability to assess a manuscript and agree a brief
3.1.3 Structural editing• Understands the principles of structural editing: detailed analysis of the text, advising the author of any structural or major changes required
• Can identify and analyse themes and plot types; author’s voice and style; different points of view; dialogue; consistency of plot, timeline and setting, character, language
3.1.4 Line editing• Understands the principles of line editing and advising the author of any textual inconsistencies, contradictions and anomalies within the text

Resources to support your learning and CPD

Courses

The CIEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing is a good start. Another introductory course is Louise Harnby’s Switching to Fiction.

Louise’s course How to Write the Perfect Editorial Report and the following courses by Sophie Playle offer more specialised training:

  • Tea and Commas: The Foundations of Line and Copy-Editing Fiction
  • Developmental Editing: Fiction Theory
  • Developmental Editing in Practice

Books, guides and general resources

The CIEP’s guides Getting Started in Fiction Editing by Katherine Trail and Editing Fiction Containing Gender-Neutral Pronouns by Louise Harnby are free in PDF format for CIEP members. Louise’s books Editing Fiction at Sentence Level and Making Sense of ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ support more specific aspects of editing fiction. These books are part of Louise’s fiction editing resource library, which also contains free articles, booklets and webinars as well as paid content. You can find more books in the Recommended reference books and resources on the CIEP website.

Blogs

Two fiction-based blogs to support your CPD are from Sophie Playle and Emma Darwin, but there are many other well-respected blogs out there. Take note of what your editing colleagues share and recommend.

About Jane Moody

Jane has worked with books for all her working life (which is rather more years than she cares to admit), having started life as a librarian. She started a freelance editing business while at home with her two children, which she maintained for 15 years before going back into full-time employment as head of publishing for a medical Royal College.

Now retired, she has resurrected her editorial business, but has less time for work these days as she spends much time with her four grandchildren and in her garden.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: beach by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Levelling up style sheets for role-playing games and fiction

The style sheet is an essential part of any copyeditor’s arsenal. In this post, Rachel Lapidow explains how she expands her style sheets to help her edit complex role-playing games. Though some of the extra sections she adds are designed specifically for RPGs, they could be useful for fiction too.

I love creating style sheets for projects; in fact, it is one of my favourite parts of copyediting. This is fortunate because the style sheet for my current project, a 600-page role-playing game (RPG), is over 60 pages long.

When I was first learning how to be a copyeditor, I took a certificate programme online through the University of California, San Diego. One of my instructors gave us a style sheet template, and over the years, I’ve modified and added my own categories to that template.

I’ll be discussing how I set up certain aspects of the style sheets that I use for RPGs in the hopes that you may find some of these sections useful for your own projects, including non-RPG works. Some of these I learned from fellow editors, and some are my own invention.

One of the best tips I can give when dealing with a longer style sheet is to make use of Microsoft Word’s Styles section (I’m assuming that Google Docs and other word processing programs have something similar). When you click on the Home tab in Word, you will see the Styles box to the right-hand side. By using different styles for your headings and subheadings, you will be able to use the Navigation pane. Open the Navigation pane by hitting Ctrl+F and selecting the Headings tab. By using different levels of headings, you will be able to nest subheadings under headings. This will allow you to easily navigate to different sections of the style sheet without having to scroll or search.

One, two, or hyphenated words

I spend a lot of time checking to see if words should be hyphenated, one word or two words. On the advice of another editor, I created a separate section of my style sheets to list those words and phrases. Anything that I need to look up in The Chicago Manual of Style hyphenation table or the dictionary is included. I list the word(s) along with what part of speech it is – adjective, noun, verb, etc. Plenty of words are open in one instance but closed in another (eg ‘take out’ as a verb, ‘takeout’ when referring to a food order).

Abbreviations/acronyms

RPGs, especially militaristic RPGs, tend to have a lot of acronyms in them. Many of these will exist outside the game, like VTOL (vertical take-off and landing), and a number of them will be unique to the game, such as the names of guilds, armed forces, fictional companies, etc. When proofreading the encyclopedia for a video game series, the acronym section included things like HEDP (high-explosive, dual-purpose) and MARFOR (Marine Corps Forces). There were simply too many abbreviations and acronyms to remember. By listing them all in one place, I saved myself a lot of time instead of having to look up each instance.

Italicised words

Vessels, like ships, planes and spacecraft, are often in italics, depending on what style guide you are following. So too are the names of magazines, newspapers, plays and movies, whether or not these works exist only within the RPG. It’s far too easy to miss a name that should be in italics. By listing all italicised words together, I’m less likely to pass over a term that should be in italics.

Role-playing dice and character sheet

Game mechanics

Should game terms, like character attributes, skills, spells and more, be capitalised? Should they be in bold font? Should these terms be in italics or quotation marks? Here’s the place to record that information. For example, in the game I’m currently editing, character attributes (the qualities of a character) like Awareness and Physique are capitalised. In a game like Dungeons & Dragons, spell names, for example cure wounds, are written in lowercase italics. For the current game I’m working on, I have a section that lists all the attributes and skill sets so I know how those terms need to be formatted.

Characters

Here’s where to list details about characters, historical figures and divine entities in the RPG. If given, I will note a character’s pronouns, age, physical appearance, location, unique traits and relationship with other characters. An entry may be just a few words for a background character to as much as several paragraphs for a character who drives a lot of the plot. There have been instances where a character has been misgendered or their name has been misspelled. By referring to my character section, I help ensure that characters appear and behave consistently throughout the RPG.

Locations

For the game I’m currently working on, there are towns and cities spread across an entire planet, but that planet is just one place inhabited by humans. In the world of the RPG, people live on multiple planets, moons and space stations located within two solar systems – so it’s easy to forget where places are in relation to each other. Because earlier versions of this game have been published, I was able to copy and paste a map of one of the planets into my style sheet. In addition to this map, I have created a list of towns, cities and settlements. I like to add the key features of each town, its population if known, and any nearby geographic features.

A dragon sitting on top of a building breathing fire

Timeline

Creating a timeline for my current project was a considerable upfront time investment, but it’s helped me so much to keep track of when major and minor events happened. Because of the game’s sprawling nature, I’ve also colour-coded entries depending on where they occurred. I’ve caught a number of errors in the manuscript because of this timeline, such as events happening in a city that hasn’t yet been discovered or settled. I use Microsoft Word’s highlighting ability to indicate certain planets, moons and continents. When I ran out of colours (there are a lot of locations) I used coloured typefaces. Another option is to enter your timeline into an Excel spreadsheet. This allows you to easily sort by year, place or some other attribute.

And then of course the style sheet includes more standard sections, such as punctuation, spellings, how bullet lists are treated, how numbers are dealt with, etc.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and that you’ll find one of these sections worth incorporating into your next style sheet. In a full circle moment, one of my instructors from UC San Diego asked me to share one of my RPG style sheets for her to use in her class. It’s a bit surreal to imagine future copyeditors looking at a style sheet I created while they’re learning how to utilise this tool. But it’s also pretty darn cool.

About Rachel LapidowHeadshot of Rachel Lapidow

Rachel Lapidow is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader who works on RPGs, board games, comics, manga and fiction. Visit her website at www.rachellapidow.com.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: blue and gold role-playing dice by Timothy Dykes, role-playing dice and character sheet by Gian Luca-Riner, dragon by Jimmy Blackwell, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Reading for pleasure – can editors and proofreaders still do that?

When you come into this profession you may well think to yourselves: is this the end of my nights curled up in front of the fire with a good thriller? Am I going to be able to read my psychology newsletter with the same interest? In this blog post, Alex Mackenzie quizzes editors and proofreaders to find out if they’re still able to read for pleasure.

My preoccupation with this question led me to quiz CIEP members about their reading and whether the job has changed their habits or enjoyment in any way.

Everyone who contributed to this blog post said they have changed their reading habits since starting in the profession, and in these ways:

  • what I read
  • when I read
  • where I read
  • how much I read.

How my reading habits have changed

People who used to read a lot of fiction (up to a hundred books a year) now read less – or have even dropped it entirely – and may compensate with film. People who don’t work with fiction don’t necessarily feel an effect on their reading for pleasure, but possibly have noticed a slower speed when reading non-fiction. Others now select their reading to complement or distract from the job.

‘I wasn’t exactly keen to sit down with a novel after I’d turned my computer off for the day.’

‘I spend all day reading academic writing that’s usually not written too well, so by the time I’m done with the day’s work, I’m exhausted and my brain can’t take in another fact.’

‘When I worked in an office, I commuted across London for an hour each way so I used that time to read, but when I changed career and became a proofreader, working from home, I found that reading on the stairs between the kitchen and my spare-bedroom office wasn’t terribly practical. I’ve always read in bed before I go to sleep, but only for 10 or 15 minutes each night, so I found I wasn’t making much of a dent in my to-be-read pile.’

‘I’ve been struggling to focus on reading for pleasure for quite a number of years (too much work/stress).’

‘I’ve been an editor for 28 years. Historically, I have never been a fussy reader – as long as a book had a well-structured, compelling and plausible story, I was always able to ignore most other issues if not being paid to correct them (!), whereas at one time I prided myself on having finished every book I had ever started.’

‘As my workload has intensified and become more fiction-orientated, I have discovered that I don’t want to read anything too taxing when not working.’

‘My editing work is focused on business and marketing topics, which has allowed me to maintain my strong fiction-reading habit. What has suffered over the years is my professional reading. I used to read so many more books on language, editing and business. These days, I just don’t have the time.’

‘I have a pile of fantastic profession-related books waiting for me to find the energy to read them.’

‘My reading as a result of the job relates more to my translation work than to my proofreading and editing. Last year I was being mentored as an emerging literary translator of Welsh to English and, as I have no training in translation, I read a lot of books translated into English from various languages as a kind of CPD.’

How I feel about this

  • I’ve lost some of the pleasure.
  • I notice mistakes more.
  • I tune into the author’s style straight away.
  • I appreciate good writing.

The people who responded find themselves to be fussy fiction readers. Low-quality writing, an author’s idiosyncrasies and editorial oversights such as sloppy punctuation in dialogue are unwelcome distractions. With cheap ebooks available for 99p, fiction is accessible but often poor, so people now give up on a novel where they never would have done before.

‘My editing brain now hijacks the suspension of disbelief, which means that much of the pleasure I previously derived from fiction has vanished.’

‘I notice mistakes all the time. They just sort of jump off the page or screen. But when I’m reading something that was most likely edited, it’s more difficult. I know that everybody has really tight deadlines and horrendous workloads, so it’s not that the mistakes upset me, but reading something that’s full of errors makes me really, really tired because by the time I get to the end, I’ve mentally corrected each mistake I noticed.’

‘The thing that editing has ruined changed in my reading is that I notice an author’s style really quickly. From favoured sentence structures to being overly attached to commas, it takes me just a few pages to notice it.’

‘I used to read fiction – Arthur C Clarke, Dick Francis, C S Forester – but apart from the latter (whose prose I enjoy for its own sake) I’ve more or less stopped reading fiction, mainly because learning to edit fiction has reduced my suspension of disbelief to near-zero.’

‘My shelves are now littered with books I couldn’t be bothered to finish as they were so poorly constructed/written – including some by well-known and successful authors.’

‘So for me to like [it], there must be some phenomenal writing going on.’

What am I doing about it?

  • I just ‘shake it off’ and live with it, compartmentalising the day job.
  • I choose more carefully (either for pleasure or for professional development).
  • I joined a local book group.
  • I stop reading if I don’t enjoy it.
  • I appreciate quality writing.

People realise the importance of regular reading; developmental editors especially need to read widely. We can be coin-operated, switching our editing brain on and off, and we make a big effort to specialise in areas that don’t trespass on our reading for pleasure. We may be able to compartmentalise our minds, and shifting physical positions helps too – keeping a foot in academia at the desk, critiquing fiction on the bean bag. And sometimes a complete change of routine forces a book upon us, and we find ourselves whisked away by the magic.

‘For a while, I accepted that this was just how things were.’

‘I’ve consciously decided not to edit fiction because I want to keep enjoying reading fiction in my free time. It’s the thing that keeps me going in tough times, and the last thing I do every day before bed.’

‘Were I to edit fiction, I wouldn’t be able to lose myself as easily in my free reading.’

‘Following a house move, I found a local book group and signed up, thinking it would encourage me to read more and in new areas. It was all fine for the first book (yes, I was cram-reading in the hours before the meeting); then, with exquisite timing, lockdown came along. We continued to meet online but I found reading almost impossible during that first period of confinement (there was so much on Netflix to watch, after all) so I missed a couple of sessions. I picked it up again earlier this year and I’m so glad I did. I’ve read some fabulous books that I wouldn’t have even considered normally, and I’ve made some new friends.’

‘I took this book away with me during the first year of Covid and it completely carried me off into another world. The fact that it was linked with a highly infectious disease probably helped!’

‘In informal, unedited writing, I can just shake it off (after all, I know my writing is also bound to be full of mistakes). To combat this, I’m picky about the stuff I read, from news websites to novels. I choose sources with writing that is generally carefully edited and produced over a longer time, I don’t read any self-published novels, and I tend to favour authors who have been writing for longer. I have stopped reading some authors just because of an annoying tic in their writing. I just choose my authors with care. When a book is written really well, the mistakes fade into the background because my mind is filled with vivid imagery. My tiredness fades away because the book is giving something back. Some books manage this with plot, some are really funny, some have characters who feel truly alive, some are like paintings done with words, some are written with almost painful empathy, and the very best manage to do it all.’

‘I read fiction almost exclusively (non-fiction tends to be limited to a few articles a week), and usually fiction that isn’t too heavy. I also like videogames with good stories, where I can zone out and read a few lines at a time. [Some] are brilliantly written games that have a lot of stories to tell, but you’re only reading a little every few minutes, so it’s not so exhausting.’

‘I churn through vast quantities of best-selling crime fiction and thrillers, and various other types of commercial fiction, which, apart from allowing me to switch off, also keeps me abreast of the latest trends and conventions in the various genres. And of course, finding out whether I guessed correctly how they’re going to end or whodunnit is always entertaining – I’m rarely wrong, which is, I suppose, an occupational hazard, but doesn’t usually detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.’

‘I save more demanding works of literary or ‘must-read’ fiction for quieter periods of work or for holidays, when I can give them the attention they deserve.’

‘I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, as well as 19th- and early 20th-century literature or stories that take place during those times. I like to be taken out of my everyday life. Sometimes I like a slow, reflective pace (especially in the winter) and other times, I like a fast, adventurous pace.’

‘If the story is good enough I won’t think.’

Reading choices mentioned:

‘Anything about how things around us, and about us, work.’

‘[certain authors] for when I want to shudder/marvel at the universality and resilience of the human condition, [others] for when I want to marvel at a writer’s ability to unfurl, with tenderness, the gender roles and hypocrisies of people in a seemingly moral society. And love that makes you weep.’

Videogames: ‘Sunless Sea’ and ‘Sunless Skies’

Authors: Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Jane Austen, Rutger Bregman, the Brontës, Bill Bryson, David Eagleman, Giulia Enders, C S Forester, Neil Gaiman, Kevin Hearne, N Mahfouz, Naomi Novik, Maggie O’Farrell, Herman Pontzer, Catherine Poulain, (as translated by Adriana Hunter), Kate Quinn, John Scalzi, Ali Smith, John Steinbeck, Ian Tregillis, Anthony Trollope, Ali Turnbull’s blog.

Wrapping up

The bottom line is that there are occupational hazards, but good writing is worth the distractions. And we appreciate how editors invisibly facilitate our reading for pleasure!


Without contributions from CIEP members, this would be a short and dull read! My thanks go to: Caroline Petherick (especially for editorial assistance), Riffat Yusuf, Erin Brenner and Melanie Thompson, among others who prefer to remain anonymous. Thanks also to those in Cloud Club West who incidentally dropped me a tasty morsel!

About Alex Mackenzie

Alex Mackenzie is a British copyeditor and proofreader living in Asturias, Spain. She moved into editing from a 30-year career in international schools across nine countries. Alex is a published English language teaching (ELT) author with a Master’s degree in education. Areas of specialism are ELT, education, sustainability and meditation, adding creative non-fiction and fiction. She is a Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: coffee and cake by Pixabay, couple reading by Andrea Piacquadio, books by a window by Lum3n, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The 2021 CIEP conference: Fiction line-editing essentials: Narrative distance

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Katherine Kirk reviewed Fiction line-editing essentials: Narrative distance, presented by Louise Harnby.

Near! Far!

Louise Harnby is one of the most helpful editors around, and her Switching to Fiction course will earn you two points towards CIEP membership upgrades. This year, conference attendees got a taste of that high-quality content with Louise’s fabulous introduction to narrative distance. In her session, she explained:

  • what narrative distance (or psychic distance) is
  • why it should be dynamic, not static
  • how problems with narrative distance connect to showing vs telling, info-dumping, head-hopping and other common pitfalls
  • how editors can show writers how to adjust narrative distance to make their writing stronger.

Discussed in more depth in The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, narrative distance is a stylistic tool that affects point of view, showing versus telling, and more. It’s all about the relationship between reader and character: how deep in the character’s head is the reader, and how connected are they to the character’s emotions? To understand narrative distance, editors should know about narrative perspectives and their effects. Second-person is creepily intimate, third-person objective has the widest narrative distance, and third-person omniscient may have some intimacy between the reader and narrator, if not the characters. Editors who want to learn more about these would get a lot out of the CIEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing course.

Louise describes narrative distance as a continuum that readers can zoom in and out of. The level of intimacy should gently ebb and flow. When it leaps around, that’s where problems come in. Overreliance on a wide degree of narrative distance makes the writing static and can result in info-dumping (and pace-killing). Spending too long in an intimate distance, putting emotion before description and action, can feel sentimental and overblown. Jumping too far from one degree to another can be jarring, like shifting gears too fast. Head-hopping is where the perspective leaps abruptly from one character to another, and readers get confused or can’t invest in the character’s experience. Some authors might overuse filter words (noticed, watched, felt) to avoid head-hopping, but this adds a degree of distance between the immediacy of the experience and the reader.

Louise says editors should not be too prescriptive regarding narrative distance. Instead, we should use our instincts and acknowledge subjectivity. A small change that shifts the narrative distance can have a huge effect on pace, emotional impact, and characterisation. We can use techniques like:

  • free indirect speech
  • removing filter words and words like ‘suddenly’ or ‘instantly’
  • using characters’ full names
  • changing direct speech and thought to reported speech or thought.

Being aware of narrative distance helps editors with the flow of prose, the shifts of intimacy with a single narrative style, and shifts of viewpoint. It helps authors to know how and why to fix problems, and it helps readers to enjoy the story more. Within a day of Louise’s talk, I’d already applied it to my own work. I can’t wait to see the lightbulbs pop on over my clients’ heads when I explain narrative distance to them.

Katherine Kirk is a fiction editor who lives halfway up a volcano in Ecuador. She works on all types of fiction for adults, especially Science Fiction and Literary Fiction.

She also edits Tabletop Role-playing Game (TTRPG) content. Katherine spends far too much time on social media, and is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The 2021 CIEP conference: Guiding principles for developmental fiction editing

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Umber Khairi reviewed Guiding principles for developmental fiction editing, presented by Sophie Playle.

‘Remember, it’s not your book!’

That was one of the important principles of developmental editing that Sophie Playle reminded us of repeatedly throughout her well-attended session at the 2021 conference.

Her presentation was useful for both experienced editors and relative newbies to fiction editing because it revisited what exactly developmental editing consists of. Sophie emphasised the need to formulate a framework of guiding principles to steer your work as a developmental editor

Before understanding what developmental editing is, one needs to understand what it is not. Sophie made this clear, reminding us that as a developmental editor you are not acting as a beta reader – a reader whose response is essentially subjective and reactive. Neither are you acting as a copyeditor; your role as a developmental editor is to help the author get the foundation and structure of the book right, rather than polishing it and adding finishing touches. Here, she used the analogy of acting as an architect or engineer rather than as a professional involved in the decorating and finishing work on a building.

Sophie shared the four guiding principles she uses as a developmental editor. She said these help to keep you focused on the nature of your role. Her four principles are:

  1. It’s not your book
  2. Define your service
  3. Be objective
  4. Understand the ‘rules’.

As she elaborated on these four points, Sophie pointed out that having clear principles in place can ‘keep things consistent and give you a clear sense of direction’…

Sophie emphasised the importance of remembering ‘It’s not your book’; it’s not the developmental editor’s job to rewrite the book. Instead, you should aim to understand the author’s goal and simply help them to make it the best book they can. This is where communication with the client is key. Sophie pointed out that it is fundamental to understand the author’s objectives – what they are trying to achieve with their book and their publishing goals (eg mainstream commercial or a family history project). Once you have understood their intent, you should make sure you are empathetic to the author’s vision; also, when you give feedback, do not be didactic or overbearing, rather ‘frame your feedback as suggestions’.

In terms of the second point – that you need to define your service – this is obviously key in any job that we, as editing professionals, take up but it is especially crucial in developmental fiction editing. Authors may be confused as to what exactly this involves and some may be under the impression that the developmental editor will magically transform the book, rather than help the author to work on pulling it all together. Sophie mentioned that you can choose how to name and define the service you are providing and what exactly it will entail. She added that the author must be made aware that you won’t be copyediting their work – the only line edits a developmental editor will make relate to the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of the book.

Her third guiding principle related to the question of objectivity and here Sophie emphasised that in developmental editing work, ‘analysis is key … tastes will vary but analysis is not opinion’. She mentioned that analysis should be rooted in theory so a developmental editor should have some knowledge of this as well.

The last principle was that a developmental fiction editor should understand the ‘rules’, that’s to say the conventions and expectations of different genres (romance fiction will have different expectations and ‘rules’ from a crime thriller, for example). She said it is true that convention can be flexible but that it is rare that authors can successfully subvert genre conventions – some do experiment but very few succeed.

There was a lively and useful Q&A session following Sophie’s presentation and quite a few participants seemed interested in the courses on developmental editing that she offers through her business, Liminal Pages with several people asking if these could count towards CIEP points for upgrading.

All in all, this was an extremely interesting and engaging session and one which provided clear and constructive guidance.

Umber Khairi is a new CIEP member and has a background in journalism (print, then news websites, then radio). She took early retirement from the BBC in 2018 and she is co-founder of the independent, journalist-owned magazine, Newsline, in Pakistan. She is a compulsive proofreader. Areas of interest include South Asia, Islamic culture, the news media, current affairs, new fiction and health and nutrition.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Using plain English to maximise immersion in fiction

When most people think of plain English, they think of functional, practical non-fiction texts rather than stories. Here, Katherine Kirk looks at how the plain English principles can be applied to works of fiction.

In this article, I’ll explore these questions:

  • What is plain English and why does it matter for fiction?
  • How can plain English principles improve the fiction reader’s experience?
  • Does writing in plain English mean stripping fiction of its artistry?

Striking the right tone

In my former life as an English teacher, I found that many of my students, in an attempt to elevate their English to the highest possible level, were obfuscating their concepts by becoming fixated on implementing linguistic arabesques which were utterly drenched in verbosity at the expense of clarity.

If you’re still reading after that ridiculous sentence, thank you for sticking around. Most readers wouldn’t.

Using loftier words to sound like a ‘better writer’ is more common than you’d think. Students trying to pad their essays will devour a thesaurus whole and vomit the longest words onto the page. Writers for whom English might not be their first language – and some for whom it is – will often turn to the flashiest word and throw it into a sentence it has no right to be in, having missed the connotations and nuances that make a word fit just right.

Writers who hold the literary arts to be the most profound form of human expression (and rightly so!) might feel that they would be doing their book an injustice by writing it the way they speak, and that readers who come across simple sentences and words might feel that their text lacks colour.

As copyeditors, one of our aims is to have the readers’ interests at heart. Hopefully, this article will help you to show your clients that writing in plain English doesn’t mean writing in boring English, and how simplifying their texts makes it easier for readers to fall in love with their story.

Aristotle said, over two millennia ago, ‘The virtue of style is to be clear … and to be neither mean nor above the prestige of the subject, but appropriate.’ He’s talking about using the right language for the job at hand. The fiction writer’s job is to write a story their readers can escape into. Our job is to help them.

What is plain English and why does it matter?

When most people think of plain English, it’s with regard to non-fiction texts, such as warning labels, legal or government documents, or instructional guides. Laura Ripper and Luke Finley wrote an excellent introduction to plain English for the CIEP blog a few years ago.

Most plain English principles tend to be aimed at businesses and organisations that want their users, clients or readers to be able to access the information as easily as possible. But how does that apply to fiction writers?

Dr Neil James sets out more general principles, saying that plain English writing should have:

  • a reader-centred approach
  • a clear core message
  • the right level of detail
  • a fit-for-purpose structure
  • coherence and flow
  • clear document design
  • a light but professional tone
  • a readable style
  • an active voice
  • an efficient style
  • an error-free text
  • evidence-based testing.

I think these can apply to fiction too. Let’s dive in!

A reader-centred approach

Good writing transmits ideas from the writer’s mind to the reader’s. The reader imagines the world, hears the dialogue, and feels the emotions. That is immersion, and the best way to get the reader into it is by the most direct route possible – using the same language they think in. When this fails, readers write reviews like ‘I felt lost’ or ‘I couldn’t get into it’. Keeping the reader in mind means making the writing accessible to them.

A clear core message

To successfully transmit that message, it needs to be clear. In fiction, the message is multifaceted: the writer is trying to convey who the characters are, what the story is, and why it matters. If the complexity of their language is getting in the way of any of those things, then readers will feel lost. They might lose interest in the story, too. Writers must beware of tangling up the meaning and concealing it behind words readers need to look up, and sentences they’ll need to read three times to decode. They should also be careful of having a storyline so convoluted that the reader needs a wiki to keep track. If the message is clear and accessible, the reader will have a better experience (and come back for more).

The right level of detail

Sometimes in the effort to convey that image clearly to the reader, a writer might veer too far in the opposite direction by being overly specific and spelling out every little detail. Encourage your clients to give your readers the benefit of the doubt and to trust them to fill in the spaces between the words; removing the fluff will make that easier.

A fit-for-purpose structure

Plain English is about more than just sentence-level clarity. If the story jumps from flashback to flashback, wanders aimlessly through nested dreams, explodes into en dash confetti and then suddenly switches to a second-person account written entirely in italics, the reader will absolutely get confused. Some books manage a labyrinthine structure. In Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the labyrinth is the point. For genre fiction, though, the ease with which your reader can navigate the story directly correlates with their ability to be immersed in it.

Coherence and flow

We can’t all be James Joyce or Samuel Beckett; sometimes the best stories are the ones that readers can actually follow. Leading readers on a journey through the story is what good writing is all about. You don’t want to lure them into the woods only to run off, leaving them to either struggle to catch up or get lost entirely. Writers should be walking just ahead, beckoning the reader around the next corner.

Clear document design

Literary fiction can be a tricky genre to get right because many writers think it means you have to be innovative with punctuation, structure and formatting. Experimentation is fine, if it’s done well – but for immersion’s sake, for writing that disappears behind the story, it’s better to give readers what they expect by following established conventions.

A light but professional tone

Readers may feel intimidated by overly formal text, or text that is dense and inaccessible to them. They might respect the writer, but they probably won’t have as much fun reading the story as they would if it were easier for them to understand. Throwing themselves entirely into the writer’s world takes a certain kind of vulnerability, and if readers feel shut out by language they can’t understand, then they’re not going to do that. Using the right language helps readers to trust the writer and to be willing to open themselves up to having their hearts absolutely destroyed by the story. If the writer is too caught up in trying to sound smarter, then they lose the readers’ trust.

A readable style

The key thing is readability. The most beautiful sentence in the world might be a multilayered, poetic work of art, but if it requires a doctorate to unpick and understand, then the writer is excluding the majority of their readership – and for what? To show off their thesaurus?

An active voice

Now, this is where many people who like to give advice to writers tend to overgeneralise and lead writers astray. It’s also where robotic grammar checkers tend to overcorrect at the expense of clarity, flow and readability. Active voice is about making it clear who is doing what, but passive voice isn’t wrong. In the famous opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen isn’t wrong to use the passive voice; she’s making a point, and a sarcastic one at that, setting up the entire premise of the novel.

The passive voice can and should be used with intention. Above all, aim for clarity.

An efficient style

Another bit of writerly advice that well-meaning but often misinformed people give is to cut specific words or sentence structures. It’s silly to make blanket rules when language is infinitely variable. What writers (and editors) can do is try to be as efficient as possible, such as choosing a strong adjective over two weak ones.

Simplicity doesn’t always mean fewer words. Sometimes it means using a few simpler words to convey a complex idea. Having an efficient style means getting the idea from your mind into your reader’s mind without a detour into the dictionary.

An error-free text

The purpose of grammar and punctuation is to eliminate ambiguity and enhance clarity. A logically and grammatically consistent text ensures the reader understands the story the way the writer intended them to. If the writer is trying to force the grammar into doing something it’s not meant to, they’re more likely to make a mistake. They may find themselves tangled up in semicolons and en dashes, and the reader will be just as muddled. That said, fiction is far more forgiving of its rules being bent. Being able to strike a balance between accuracy and a comfortable narrative voice is one of the key skills a fiction copyeditor needs to develop.

Evidence-based testing

What is being tested? It might be the theme or hypothesis behind the story (the ‘what if?’), or it might be the conflict between the characters, or the plausibility of the made-up science. Testing the characters by putting them under pressure is what fuels character development. Show, don’t tell means that fiction writers need to give their readers the evidence of that development by letting them see it unfold.

Reading levels in the UK and US

Putting all these principles together can help editors to make sure their clients’ writing is at an appropriate level for their target readers. According to the Center for Plain Language, the majority of American readers are reading at 8th grade level (12 to 14 years old), and the National Literary Trust reports that many adults in the UK have poor literary skills. So, having the novel in a register that requires a tertiary education to understand means the writer is probably not going to sell many books.

Maintaining the writer’s voice

Some writers may balk at the idea of simplifying their language, thinking that to do so would be to rob the text of any sense of artistry. Editors may worry that they’ll be stripping away the writer’s voice. Be careful to maintain the balance; suggest rather than dictate, and let the writer make the call.

Achieving clarity takes a certain kind of artistry. Do it with the readers in mind and they’ll keep coming back for more.

Wrapping up: plain English in fiction

The elements of plain English writing can apply as much to fiction as to non-fiction texts. Writers and editors can aim for:

  • a reader-centred approach
  • the right level of detail
  • coherence and flow
  • a readable and efficient style
  • an error-free text.

How do you apply plain English principles in your writing or editing? Drop us a line in the comments below.

More guidance on working with plain English

The CIEP has some helpful resources to help you work with plain English.

About Katherine Kirk

Katherine Kirk is a fiction editor who has to force herself to simplify the English in her own writing.

Rumoured to have eaten a dictionary as a child, she suffers from abibliophobia (the fear of running out of books to read). She speaks four and a half Englishes and can often be found muttering to herself about the New York Times Bee’s prejudice against most of them.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

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Photo credits: reflection by Jingwei Ke; hedge maze by Tycho Atsma; straight road by Karsten Würth, all on Unsplash.