Top 10 Tips for #NaNoWriMo – An Editor’s Perspective by @perfect_prose #MondayBlogs

Here’s a guest post I wrote for author Shelley Wilson’s blog – An Editor’s Perspective – Top 10 Tips for NaNoWriMo – hope it’s useful to you all (and you don’t actually need to be doing NaNo to benefit from the tips!).

Shelley Wilson

I’m delighted to have special guest, Susan Buchanan, from Perfect Prose Services on my blog today. She shares her top ten tips for all the NaNoers preparing for 1st November, from an editor’s perspective.

top-10-tips-for-nano-pinterest-graphicTop 10 Tips for NaNoWriMo – An Editor’s Perspective

Only a day to go. On November 1st, fingers will be poised over keyboards, ready to create the next batch of NaNoWriMo babies. You’ve done your research and are fully prepared. Cue hammering of keys for 30 days.

November 30th – the 50K words are complete and you’re at the stage of popping the manuscript in a drawer for a month or so before going back to it; that’s really when you should be looking at lining up an editor and proofreader, if you haven’t done so already. Editors and proofreaders tend to be booked up months in advance, so it’s advisable not…

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Ellipses and Suspension Points

Most people think of an ellipsis as the three dots. Yes, well, there’s a bit more to it than that. Quite frankly, there’s a lot more to it than that, but rather than bamboozle you all (and myself!) I will concentrate on the key points. If you have any questions outside of what I cover, please feel free to leave me a comment and I will do my best to answer. Basically, when something is missing it’s an ellipsis, and when those three dots are used with interrupted speech or hesitancy, they are called suspension points.

The New Oxford Style Manual defines an ellipsis (plural ellipses) as “a series of points (…) signalling that words have been omitted from quoted matter, or that part of a text is missing or illegible”.

Some reference guides suggest spaces between the three dots, but most stipulate a space either side also. A rising trend is to use the Unicode. In MS Word this is done by going to Insert Symbol and choosing Unicode 2026 – Horizontal Ellipsis – as so … This produces a single character of 3 dots.

There are several schools of thought on whether there should be spaces around the ellipsis. The New Oxford Style Manual generally says yes, such as in the case of words or sections which are missing from quoted material.

Professor Roth cited his sources … and had been for some time.

Interestingly, if you do employ the industry-wide accepted form of a space around the three dots, you don’t have a space directly before a closing quotation mark.

“I thought he was going to …”

Also, if your sentence which tails off ends in an exclamation mark or a question mark, it still keeps the relevant mark.

Do you think …? Never in a month of …! The exclamation or question mark may come either before or after the ellipsis (the sense will dictate this).

And if the sentence is a complete sentence, the full stop/period is retained also before the ellipsis (New Oxford Style Manual practice) and is closed up to the final word.

“I thought I had made myself clear.… “

But, when the ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence which tails off, you don’t place a full stop after the last word.

“I don’t think I’ll be …”

If, however, that sentence is part of a larger sentence, which contains quoted matter, then you place the full stop or relevant punctuation mark after the closing quotation mark. (confirmed UK usage – New Oxford Style Manual)

I was just saying, ‘Mikey, you know you’ve been working …’.

However, some style guides, editors and authors prefer to have the ellipsis with no spaces on either side of it, but still as three individually typed and spaced dots, not the Unicode. Others too prefer to have no spaces between the dots and no spaces on either side. And then there are those who put a space after the final word before the ellipsis but no space after it and also the converse.

The key, as ever, is to be consistent. Don’t have one usage with spaces and later on another without. Don’t retain the full stop or period in one sentence but omit it in the next.

You should normally not use an ellipsis before the first word of a quotation, although you can have it before the first word of a sentence which isn’t a quotation. Nor should you put an ellipsis after the last word of a quotation.

I have often been asked if you should capitalise the first letter of a new sentence if it immediately follows the ellipsis. Yes!

“I am not going to … At her request, I did.”

You can also use an ellipsis for effect:

“He unwrapped the parcel layer by layer …”

or to show hesitation:

“I’m … not really … sure I know …”

Nowadays there is a tendency to overuse ellipses when we are writing, however their usage should be limited in formal writing, as too many of them can drag your readers’ attention away from your story.

Parting shot: I can’t emphasise it enough – be consistent!

Next time: Direct and indirect questions





Apart from the eloquent and poetic usage of repetition in writing, it is viewed as something writers should limit.

e.g. ‘It was a veritable masterpiece, a masterpiece which would endure for centuries.’

When editing authors’ work, I often come across repeated words. Word processing packages don’t always pick up that an identical word has been put down twice: ‘than than’ springs to mind. It’s so easy to think you’ve only typed a word or even a phrase once, but you’ve actually written them twice. It’s not unheard of to see something like:

‘He was a quiet man by and large by and large, and he had the biggest heart.’

So whilst editing watch out for words or phrases that might mistakenly be there more than once.

I tend to advise my clients if a word is repeated within three or four lines. Of course there are exceptions. And although you might be able to get away with certain words like ‘with’, ‘more’, and so on being used more than once in a sentence, I suggest that the less common the word, the more sparing you should be with repeating it. If I came across ‘cumbersome’ twice on the same page, without good reason, I’d be having a quiet word in the author’s ear.

It’s not uncommon to see a writer use the same verb twice in just a few lines and then the noun form of that word too. If there’s an alternative which doesn’t jar (important!) it makes sense to use it.

James caught the edge of his jacket on the door. Glancing at his watch he saw it was ten to five. He’d have to run if he was to catch the train. As he left the building it started to rain. He hurriedly opened his umbrella. The last thing he wanted was to catch a cold. 

Now, the first instance ‘caught’ could easily be changed to ‘snagged’ or similar. Likewise, ‘to catch the train’ could be ‘to make the train’. Not so easy to get around the idiom ‘to catch a cold’. But I’m guessing your reader would notice the two usages of ‘catch’ in that short section. If your work was littered with examples like this, it could eventually grate on the reader’s nerves.

I mentioned that it was important the word didn’t jar. Quite. If as a result of changing the word simply to avoid repetition, the sentence sounds stilted or doesn’t fit the context as well, then you shouldn’t substitute it, or you should find another way of saying what you are trying to.

An easy way to get around repeating a noun is to use its pronoun. This may sound really obvious, but surprisingly not everyone does it all of the time.

‘She picked up the mug, drank from the mug and placed the mug back on the table,’ would sound odd. It would be more natural to say, ‘She picked up the mug, drank from it and placed it back on the table.’ And it would sound wrong to hear, ‘She picked up the mug, drank from it and placed the tankard back on the table.’

Likewise your reader will notice if you overuse certain words throughout your entire novel. Your aim is to engage your reader, so anything that might annoy them needs to be vetoed! I often notice this with dialogue tags. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with having a different dialogue tag to ‘said’ or ‘told’, it might detract from the reader’s enjoyment if you use ‘countered’ or ‘harrumphed’ or ‘huffed’ three times a page for two hundred pages. Each of us I am sure has pet dialogue tags or words we overuse – mine is smiled.

And be aware of how your paragraphs start. If you have several paragraphs in a row starting with ‘she’ or ‘he’, it’s maybe time to rejig things a little.

As a final example, you might repeat a concept four pages later in your novel without being aware you are doing it.

P139 – He put his feet up on the desk and stretched.

P143 – He stretched his arms over his head and placed his feet on the desk.


So what’s the solution? Read your drafts out loud. Use a thesaurus. Make a list of words you know you overuse and keep it handy when you do your second and subsequent drafts.

Next week: Ellipses and suspension points – by special request!









Italics, Quotation Marks or Capitals?

Italics, “Quotation Marks” or CAPITALS? Have you wiped the sweat off your brow yet?

It’s a minefield – truly.  As with most things in writing, one of the most important rules is to be consistent.  Often there isn’t only one way – as a future post on ellipses and suspension points (to laymen – the 3 dots) will show.

But for today, we’re talking about italics.  And the reason I’ve lumped quotation marks and capitals into the name of this post is because if you aren’t meant to use italics, apart from when you are using them for emphasis, you could well be using capitals or quotation marks.

Fact!  Most people tend to overuse all three.

But when should you use italics?  Did you like what I did there?

Well, I’ve already mentioned their usage for emphasis, although your prose (company plug!) should mainly be able to carry that off on its own, although not always.

Many writers, at least those who go to the effort of checking, frantically look up ‘italics’ on Google along with the item they are searching for, or they pick up a reference or grammar book when they are at the editing stage, just to be sure.  I don’t blame them.  In many cases there is more than one right answer.  However, I tend to go with the New Oxford Style Manual for British English and The Chicago Manual of Style for US English.  Even they don’t cover every eventuality.

But, I digress; let’s look at some examples of where italics should be used as per best practice.

This list is not exhaustive:

  • titles of books and magazines – Far From The Madding Crowd, Catch-22, Hard Times, Vogue
  • film titles – Dirty Dancing, Armageddon, Jaws
  • names of ships, aircraft, spacecraft and trainsHMS Beagle, Air Force One, Challenger, the Hogwarts Express
  • music album titles – Up To Now, Achtung Baby, Rattle and Hum
  • orchestral works – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major
  • operatic works – Madama Butterfly, Turandot
  • paintings – Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam, Starry Night
  • foreign words and phrases which haven’t been absorbed into the English language (my take on this is if it doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, it goes in italics). But there’s a caveat – more on that later. Me llamo Susan. Non trovo la casa.
  • titles of plays – A Streetcar Named Desire, The Taming of The Shrew

But be careful not to put punctuation in italics unless it forms part of the title of the work/item. So those pesky commas, full stops and question marks afterwards should be in roman type.

Talking of roman type, if you want to emphasise something which is already in italics, perhaps for one of the above reasons, then the way to do that is to put the part to be emphasised in roman type.  Alternatively this can sometimes be conveyed by being put within quotation marks. Do you see now how difficult it is to talk about italics without talking about other punctuation types too?

And here are a couple of examples where italics are generally not used

  • song titles – are conveyed by quotation marks around them. “Rhythm is a dancer”, “Stay”, “Angel of Harlem”
  • band names – capitalised only – Snow Patrol, U2, Duran Duran (yes, you can see my musical tastes are not particularly up to date)

With regard to foreign words and phrases, it’s normally only on the first instance of using the foreign word that it’s italicised, unless the sense is still ambiguous in subsequent occurrences.  In addition, words like vol au vent and tête à tête are not italicised from the outset, as they are in the English dictionary and readily understood.

Tune in next week for a post on Repetition

20 Commonly Confused Words

It has been a long time since I’ve written a commonly confused words post, so I figured it was time for another one.
None of us are immune to being tripped up now and again, even those of us who consider ourselves good at spelling. Sometimes even words we know how to spell might slip through the net. Do any of these errors crop up in your work? Do you notice them when you are redrafting? Do your beta readers point them out, your proofreader, your editor, or heaven forbid, your readers?

Altogether means completely, but all together means everyone in the same place.
Censor can mean to examine and suppress, but sensor is a measurement device.
Clamber can mean to get oneself out of something, but clamour (clamor) is a loud noise.
I might have a discerning palate, but I unloaded a pallet of boxes last night
Bells peal, but I have to take the orange peel off before eating the orange.
Someone might have an annoying tic in their eye, but they would avoid being bitten by ticks, and they would receive a tick and a gold star from the teacher for doing well in class.
You take your cue from those who know what they are doing, but you would stand in a queue at the post office (I realise that in the US people stand in lines!) And yes, it’s a snooker cue.
You could challenge me to a duel, but you would say James has dual nationality.
I couldn’t give a whit about football (not one iota!) but his brand of sarcasm and wit appealed to me.
You’d watch someone like a hawk and you’d hawk your wares at a market, but you might sip a nice glass of German hock
Someone might require you to come to their aid, but the prime minister’s aide was present at the conference.
You lose some weight, but your clothes are loose on you because of it.
You might pour yourself a nice glass of wine at the end of a hard day’s work, but students pore over their homework each night
You might bear a child, but the woman’s face was bare of makeup.
The principal reason we are here is to write, but I might not do something because it goes against my principles.
You might buy some stationery to put in your office supply cabinet, but your car was stationary when it was hit by the bus.
Sven was loath (reluctant) to wear his good clothes for work, but I loathe (hate) when people don’t say thank you.
Practise your English, but I visited the new doctor’s practice in town (NB: practise does not apply to US English)
The apartment I went to see was dingy (gloomy), but I went out in a dinghy on Lake Windermere.
I might invite you to my gaff for a party, but it would be a real gaffe to unintentionally invite all of my friends except one.

There are many more. I hope that has helped a little.
My suggestion is make a list of the words you know you confuse or are prone to mix up and continue to build upon it. Use it as a crib sheet when you are writing and redrafting. You can’t go far wrong!

Next time: italics

To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate – The Eternal Dilemma

It’s the one thing I can safely say every writer I’ve ever known has trouble with, except those with photographic memories, of course.

Should a particular word be hyphenated, or is it one word, or even two words?

The answer isn’t always simple and sometimes it depends on the role of the word in the sentence. Is it acting as a modifier before the noun? If so, it will usually be hyphenated. But if the modifying expression comes after, protocol dictates they should be separate words:

an up-to-date dictionary


the calendar is up to date

Throw into the mix the fact that various leading dictionaries offer different spellings and it’s easy to understand why hyphenation is such a minefield for many writers.

Here are a couple of other instances where hyphens should be used

  • Numbers – eighty-three, seventy-four, twenty-seven
  • Points on a compass (although US usage differs somewhat) – north-west

And don’t confuse a hyphen and a dash – they are quite distinct and have different jobs to do.

Now for a little quiz! Ask yourself if these words are hyphenated, not, or potentially both.



cul de sac

four poster

ill at ease

nerve racking

low cost

boarded up

half cut

sixth form

well to do

well known

And to round off, horse-fly, horsefly or horse fly? I’ve added this simply as my Other Half has just taken a photo of one in the garden!

From a proofreader or editor’s point of view, unless it’s wrong or inconsistent, we won’t necessarily change it. In my own writing I still tend to hyphenate most words I’ve been brought up to recognise as requiring a hyphen, yet I know this practice is changing. English is evolving, or becoming more lax depending on how you prefer to look at it.

The most important thing of all is to be consistent!  Readers WILL notice if coal miner becomes coalminer halfway through, or indeed half way through! (for the record it’s coal miner and halfway).

So what are your thoughts on hyphens? Do they cause YOU headaches?

Do I need a proofreader, an editor, or both?

Do I need a proofreader, an editor, or both?

Well, it depends on the level of help you need with your manuscript.

In an ideal world, the response would be both. However, many authors simply don’t initially have the funds for both, and often don’t understand exactly what they are getting for their money, or indeed the difference between proofreading and editing, especially as they overlap in many areas.

Let’s start with editing, as that’s the first step.

What should I expect when asking an editor to work with me?

Well, first of all, the editor will want to check exactly what you need. Many authors say they want their manuscript edited, but they actually only want it proofread. Editing is a bit of a minefield, as editors differ greatly on the services they offer and on what items they check for, and I don’t just mean the difference between developmental editing (also known as substantive editing or big picture editing) and copy-editing. Even within those terms, what you get for your money varies dramatically. It pays – pun intended – to check exactly which items are covered. On my website you’ll see that I list what each of my services cover pretty comprehensively. It’s important when hiring an editor to be sure they are the right type of editor for your requirements. Take the time to figure out precisely what you need, and explain it to them, so they know how best to help you.

Developmental editing

If you’ve written your novel, but you think your characters are too one-dimensional, and aren’t sure how to go about creating depth in them, then you probably require a developmental edit. If you have a great idea for a novel and have written what you can, but you’re not convinced, or need some help shaping your narrative, then again, it’s likely you need a developmental edit. Stumped over a particular section? Can’t find a way through? Writer’s block? A developmental editor can help you work through your issues, make suggestions and be a sounding board for what’s troubling you about your piece of work, as well as offering excellent suggestions on how to improve it. Authors might hire a developmental editor at different stages in the writing process. Some might have written a few drafts, others might only have the idea for a story, and have written only the outline and a couple of chapters, before they hit a stumbling block.

This phase of editing is often a series of edits, where you go back and forth like a ping pong ball with your editor, until you have an end result which pleases you both.

Other things a developmental editor will look at are:

Is the novel punchy enough? Does it have enough pizazz? Do the characters come to life? Are there any gaping holes in your story line? Is there enough action? Do you have sufficient conflict?

Your work is likely to be aimed at a certain audience type, so you have to ensure your dialogue is, too. Writing a novel featuring characters from the Women’s Institute whilst having them occasionally speaking as if they are rappers is both inconsistent and highly improbable!

Another favourite and one which confuses many is Point of View. If the story is being told from John’s viewpoint, then all of a sudden we have Emilia’s thoughts, we need to have a real break – a new paragraph for clarity. It’s all too easy when your creative juices are flowing to forget this and then miss it in the redrafts.

Sometimes as authors we get carried away. We say the same thing three different ways. We repeat ourselves. We harp on. Did you see what I did there?! Or, it might be that certain parts of the story add little to the plot. A good editor will help you get rid of any redundant material and make your novel more succinct.

A developmental edit will cover this and so much more. More posts on this on my website in the coming weeks, as it’s too much for one post to cover.

Overall, your developmental editor will tell you what works, and where there is room for improvement. On the other hand, if you’ve finished your novel, and are happy with its overall content, and really want someone to go through it line by line and suggest ways to improve what you’ve already written, then you probably want to have your work copy-edited.

What kind of mistakes might be corrected when a piece of work is copy-edited?

Continuity – well,  if you want to make sure that Bill doesn’t leave for university on Sunday, and later mention that he left on Tuesday, you need a copy editor. Or Isla’s holiday in France was wonderful, marred only by her delayed departure from Madrid Barajas airport – which is in Spain, again, a copy editor should pick this up. Do your headings say Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 5, Chapter 7?!

Sentence Structure – are your sentences almost a paragraph long? Does it take three reads before the reader has any idea what you’re talking about? Have you been introduced to a comma splice?!

Repetition – a proofreader won’t tell you if you’ve used the word ‘fight’ three times in a four sentence paragraph, or if you’ve started the last five sentences out of six with He/She. A copy editor will also tell you if you’ve repeated the same ideas elsewhere in the text, or if you overuse certain words. Some, like myself, will also point out if your work is riddled with clichés.

Legalities – this can be wide-ranging, particularly if your work is nonfiction. It covers anything which could leave you or the potential publisher of your work open to a lawsuit or libel action. This includes, but is not limited to, racist and obscene remarks, and don’t forget the all-important breach of copyright.

Consistency – spelling choices and hyphenating words. Sometimes there is more than one option, but once you’ve chosen one, you need to stick to it. The same is true if you’ve chosen to italicise certain foreign words. If you do it once, you need to stick with it throughout the text.

Fact-checking – it wouldn’t do to say Germany won the Copa América (the South American football cup).

Copy-editing can cover more or less than the items I’ve listed, but this is a general overview. It also includes many of the proofreading checks, like ensuring spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct. The main difference in how these areas differ is that after your work has been copy-edited, you still have some work to do (apart from just checking you are happy with the grammatical and spelling corrections that your editor has made). However, bear in mind that in making the edits suggested, you need to be careful not to introduce new errors or typos. So whilst a copy-edited manuscript will indicate errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, only a final proofread can be expected to catch all errors.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is the final stage before the novel is printed, or uploaded (if a digital version). Proofreaders check that your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct, and catch those infuriating typos. Some areas of proofreading and copy-editing overlap, but these four items are the mainstay of proofreading.

As an author speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that proofreading is a prerequisite. You’ve worked tirelessly on your novel. Do you really want to send your shiny new book out into the world, discover too late there are errors in it, and leave yourself open to bad reviews? Even authors who, like myself, are also editors and proofreaders, use their counterparts to check their novels. With my proofreading or editing hat on, I take delight in sniffing out errors in my clients’ work. In my own novels? Considerably more difficult to catch everything.

Most authors think ‘I can tell there from their, two from too, who’s from whose, I can proofread my own book’, but it’s amazing how many misspell accommodate, or harassment, or achieve, or put plurals when it should be a possessive and vice versa. Or what about when you miss a letter off with and end up with wit or that becomes hat? All too easy to slip through when you’re reviewing your own manuscript.

And not to mention those annoying little transpositions of words ‘put him at ease his’ instead of ‘put him at his ease’. Often authors don’t see them, as they know what the text is supposed to say, but a proofreader spots them straightaway because they haven’t read your book before. They don’t know what word is coming next.

Then there’s the misspelling of proper nouns – it’s incredible how many times we think we know how to spell someone’s name, only to discover it doesn’t have a double L or it’s McDonagh not MacDonagh. My personal favourite is when the character’s name suddenly changes halfway through – Sean becomes Shaun.

Beta readers generally help you find errors, but even they are not reading it in the same way as a proofreader. I had six beta readers for my second novel. They all noticed different mistakes – occasionally they overlapped, but if they, who didn’t write the novel, can’t see all of the errors, when that’s what they are specifically looking for, how are you, as the author meant to? The answer is, you aren’t and you won’t. Enter the proofreader!

Nothing screams amateur more than a novel littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. To avoid being lumped in that bracket, you definitely need to have your novel proofread by a professional.

As a bonus, you generally learn from the errors you’ve made and had pointed out to you, and you don’t replicate them next time around. I know, I’ve done it, and it makes your work sharper and less onerous to edit and proofread in the future.

The bottom line is, although having your book edited and proofread won’t guarantee you book sales, (nothing does) it’s likely to make your book more attractive to the reading public and to have readers recommending your book to others, and coming back to read more of your books. Whichever service you opt for – developmental editing, copy-editing, or proofreading, choose a professional, and let them help you make your book the best it can be.