Tag Archives: Romantic Heroes

Fact in Fiction. by Guest Author @wendyproof

A well-researched novel is a joy to read. I love it when an author seamlessly weaves his or her research into a story. An excellent example of this is Susan Louineau’s The Chapel in the Woods. I enjoyed this book so much, I felt compelled to write a review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/576806766

However, too many facts can get in the way. The research overpowers the fiction. I had to stop reading one political thriller because the author wanted to tell me everything he knew about the workings of the British Parliament from its inception to the present day. I was so lost in the detail that I couldn’t locate the beginning of the actual story.

Equally, a lack of research can also get in the way of telling a good story. If the facts are wrong it undermines the fiction.

These facts include things like the spelling and punctuation of the names of well-known companies, products and people. When proofreading novels I regularly have to remove an extraneous apostrophe from a popular coffee chain, and equally regularly add one to a popular burger chain.

I need the internet to do my job efficiently. Without checking online I wouldn’t know how many ff’s and whether it’s ei or ie for Michelle Pfeiffer.

I often wonder what the internet bods who monitor everyone’s online life must think about me. Driven by the proclivities of the fiction I’ve been proofreading in the last few months, I have recently found myself looking up French fashion designers of the 1950s, automatic pistols and yoga positions. I fondly hope they think I’m a well-dressed, dead-eyed assassin, who can balance on one leg for an hour.

As well as confirming spellings of the names of Renaissance artists, towns in Madagascar and the odd rare cheese, I sometimes carry out more extensive fact-checking and research online. Not to the level and expertise of an editor, but when proofreading I double-check dates and historical references if they strike me as incorrect. It gives me great joy to spot an anachronism or two. Allow me a little fun:

Debbie put the phone down and dashed to her diary. Turning to 10 January 1983, she wrote: “First date with G!!!!” Finally, finally, the man of her dreams had asked her out. Admittedly watching Pulp Fiction at the local cinema wouldn’t have been her first choice, she would have preferred a romantic meal at the new Italian restaurant in the high street, but a date was a date. And it was with Gary!

Not the ideal first-date movie, I’ll grant you, but that’s not the biggest problem for our young couple. They should be more concerned that that particular film won’t be out for more than a decade.

Living so close to London, I love proofreading books set in the capital. They give me an excuse to double-check all sorts of snippets about its history and geography. The London Underground is my favourite obsession – the three maps on my dining room walls can attest to that.

This is why I was thrilled when a few years ago, author Larry Brill asked me and my husband (an even bigger London buff than I am) to help him with some research for his satire on modern media, set in 1760s London. He’d written the story, but wanted some advice on the authenticity of the dialogue and the accuracy of the depiction of London geography.

Part of the humour of this story is generated by the juxtaposition of modern phrases alongside authentic eighteenth-century London language. However, the reader needs to feel secure that the author is in control and is using modern idiom on purpose, rather than in error. As soon as a reader starts to wonder whether a particular word would really have been used at that time, the suspension of disbelief is broken.

We looked for words that might jolt the reader out of eighteenth-century London and undermine the whole wonderful conceit. We debated long and hard about the use of words such as “moniker” and “conniption” (nineteenth century) “doozy” and “ginormous” (twentieth century).

As well as spending a lot of his time in London pubs, the lead character also wanders the streets of London. So we spent many a happy hour poring over old maps to check that his walks along Fleet Street and The Strand would indeed take him to his intended destinations.

We also double-checked the dates for the construction of the now-familiar bridges across the Thames. We were surprised to learn that there weren’t many options for walking over the Thames in 1760s London: only London and Westminster Bridges existed at that time. We suggested to the author that he remove or amend references to Blackfriars, which didn’t open to the public until 1769, and Waterloo Bridge, which wasn’t ready until 1817.

I would hesitate to put myself forward as a professional researcher, but it was heaps of fun and I hope we played a tiny part in helping the author ensure that the reader fully enjoys the reading experience.

In case this has whetted your appetite for this gem of a book, here’s a link to The Patterer by Larry Brill: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18587008-the-patterer?from_search=true

To sum up…

An untrue “fact” or a historical “blooper”, while delighting the sort of person who loves to spot howlers, can spoil the flow for the majority of readers who want to be entertained as well as educated.

Too many facts, however brilliantly researched, can take a good story and turn it into a textbook, or worse – a dreary showing off of the author’s knowledge. A little learning goes a long way.

The internet and the reference library are the author’s/editor’s/proofreader’s friend. Authors/editors/proofreaders, do you have any websites or books you use when you research that you’d like to share?

wendy_janes_author.jpgWendy Janes is a successful freelance proofreader for a range of large and small publishers and has been for over a decade. She has a Bachelor of Education degree from Goldsmiths College (London University) and a Chapterhouse qualification in proofreading and copy editing. Her own work can be found in two anthologies; A Kind of Mad Courage and Romantic Heroes , the non-fiction memoir of her grandfather The One and Sixpenny Englishman, and her full length literary fiction novel What Jennifer Knows. For her services, go to her site http://wendyproof.co.uk/testimonials/ and make certain to connect with her on Twitter, . (She in no way proofread this bio.)


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The Proof is in the Reading. by Guest Author @wendyproof

The Proof is in the Reading

If I do my job properly, I am invisible.

Very few of us finish reading a novel and say, “That book was beautifully proofread.” And who would want to? A story should transport us, take us out of our everyday lives, excite or move us in some way. We don’t want the misspelling of a character’s name or a missing full stop to jolt us out of the story. OK, maybe that can be forgiven when we’re being swept along by an entertaining tale, but repeated typos and inconsistencies can undermine our trust in the author’s ability to spin a good yarn.

When I’m proofreading, I’m always thinking about the link between the author’s words and the reader’s mind. I like to believe that I play a tiny part in ensuring that the story travels cleanly from one to the other. I often find myself asking two questions: “What is this author trying to say?” and “Will the reader understand it?” Using these questions as my focus I spend hours choosing when to intervene and when to step away. It often feels like I’m walking a tightrope.

I’d like to demonstrate some elements of this high-wire act, and share with you the types of decisions I make when I’m proofreading fiction. This post inevitably touches on the differences between proofreading and editing, and I’ll say categorically, up-front, no doubt about it, I’m in the troupe that firmly pitches its circus tent in a fuzzy grey area. However, as a general rule, when proofreading I tend to only correct proofreading errors and make suggestions or ask questions about editing issues.

So, let’s get down to details with one example of a descriptive passage and a couple of examples of dialogue.

Dirk has escaped from his kidnappers and the author is describing how he’s now lost in the desert:

The son beat down like a demon, dragging his very soul from his aching limbs. Dirk couldn’t take any more of this dessert. It filled him with a stomach-churning dread. He could be stuck hear for ever in these dessert sands that stretched for ever. The harsh, cruel, unrelenting terrain played tricks on his tired mind and his weak body.

Having corrected “son” to “sun” and “dessert” to “desert” and “hear” to “here”, there really isn’t anything else I should go ahead and amend as a proofreader. I would probably add a note to suggest avoiding the repetition of “for ever”, but however much I might want to cut down on the number of adjectives describing the terrain or think that the word “battered” would work heaps better than “weak”, I have to rein myself in because it’s not my job to put my stamp on an author’s work.

Let’s move forward to the moment Dirk is being helicoptered out from the “harsh, cruel, unrelenting terrain” of the desert. The dialogue runs:

“How long have you been out there?” The medic enquired.

“Dunno,” said Dirk, “L-lost track of t-time,” he coughed.

“Take a sip of this,” the medic offered a bottle of water.

I’d make the following corrections:

Line 1: Change “The medic” to “the medic”.

Line 2: Alter the comma to a full stop after “Dirk”.

Line 3: Amend the comma to a full stop after “this” and “the medic” to “The medic”.

Basically I’m ensuring that speech tags and action tags are punctuated correctly. I have a dilemma deciding what to do with the second line. Strictly speaking “he coughed” is action rather than speech and so the comma after “time” should be a full stop and the “h” of “he” should be amended to upper case. However, the hyphens suggest to me that Dirk is coughing as he’s speaking (probably he’s suffering from all the sand that got down his throat after an undisclosed number of days in the desert), so I’d probably leave this, even though the grammar police are probably beating a path to my door as I type.

Dialogue can be an excellent way to efficiently drive a story forward, but often when a book has been through a few drafts I’ve found some authors have lost track, and included details in both the dialogue and the narrative, which results in unnecessary repetition. We now find Dirk being interviewed by the police after his kidnap ordeal. He’s been asked to provide a description of the kidnapper whose afternoon nap allowed him to escape:

“Tall guy, six-two or six-three maybe, well-built, massive shoulders, like a rugby player, black hair, longish, clean-shaven, broken nose.”

“What about accent? Anything unusual about his voice?” asked the policeman.

“English, probably London. Deep voice,” replied Dirk, remembering how the kidnapper tried to intimidate him with his height, his deep voice and rugby-playing physique, but that he whimpered like a baby in his sleep.

Here I would guess that the author initially put the detail in the speech, then in a later draft decided to do this via Dirk’s memory, but forgot to remove the detail from the description. It’s not a proofreading error, but I’d query whether the repetition was on purpose or not.

Which leads me on to another question I often ask: “Has the author done this on purpose or not?” The most exciting writing breaks the rules, and I need to be alert to the occasions when an author breaks the rules on purpose. A very simple example of this is when an author drops in short phrases rather than full sentences to inject pace and drama. It’s usually pretty clear that the author knows perfectly well how to write a conventional sentence, but has chosen a few choppy phrases to create an effect.

I don’t sit there wielding my red pen correcting novels as if I’m a teacher (although I was a teacher long, long ago), nor is it my job to criticise an author’s work or to show off. I’m fully aware that the author of Dirk’s adventure knows how to spell “sun”, “desert” and “here”. They are typos, not a reflection of the author’s intelligence or ability to write. I don’t approach my job in a judgemental way.

I do need to tune in and judge how formal or informal the author’s style is and in turn respect the author’s voice. So if an author regularly uses the comma splice or doesn’t punctuate “that” and “which” in the way that I was taught at school, as long as the meaning is clear I won’t change the text. And as long as the use of commas works for a sentence I won’t get bogged down in gradable, qualitative, classifying or coordinate adjectives. Essentially, if the author is getting the message across I try my hardest not to interfere.

A little aside, in case you are interested in the comma splice and the punctuation of “that” and “which”. Here’s a basic outline:

  • The comma splice, also known as the run-on sentence, occurs when you use a comma to join two unrelated main clauses. For example, “I enjoy proofreading novels, I spend all day playing with words.” Strictly speaking the comma should be replaced by a semicolon or colon, or the two clauses linked by a conjunction. I have to admit to a guilty fondness for the rhythm of comma splices.
  • “That” is used without a preceding comma to introduce text that is integral to the sentence, whereas “which” is preceded by a comma when the text is not integral to the sentence, which makes sense really.

If you’re interested in reading more about those gradable, qualitative, classifying and coordinate adjectives I suggest you set aside an hour, pour yourself a strong cup of tea or a stiff drink and read section 4.3.4 of The Oxford Style Manual (UK) and 6.33 of The Chicago Manual of Style (US).

There are rules, and many of them are there to help the author’s words convey his or her intended meaning, but equally many of those rules are made to be broken if the author knows what he or she is doing. A huge part of my job is to judge when to impose those rules and when to keep shtum.

Having raised my head above the parapet with this post, I’m now going to wrap myself in my invisibility cloak and return to working on other people’s words.

wendy_janes_author.jpgWendy Janes is a successful freelance proofreader for a range of large and small publishers and has been for over a decade. She has a Bachelor of Education degree from Goldsmiths College (London University) and a Chapterhouse qualification in proofreading and copy editing. Her own work can be found in two anthologies; A Kind of Mad Courage and Romantic Heroes , the non-fiction memoir of her grandfather The One and Sixpenny Englishman, and her full length literary fiction novel What Jennifer Knows. For her services, go to her site http://wendyproof.co.uk/testimonials/ and make certain to connect with her on Twitter, . (She in no way proofread this bio.)

I want to thank Ms. Janes for giving us an inside look into the world of a proofreader. I must say I like her method, and the length of times she takes. Give me a person that says they will turn around a book in a couple or three days, and I will give you someone I worry about.~Ronovan

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What Does a Proofreader Actually Do With Your Book? by Guest Author @wendyproof

You’re considering sending the manuscript of your novel to a proofreader.

Her website is error free – that’s a good start.

She has a number of testimonials – so that’s reassuring.

You agree rates and dates, and she confirms it will take her ten to fourteen working days to return your book. You picture that happy day when, hey presto, typos will have been eliminated, inconsistencies expunged. Although you have confidence in her skills, what you’d really like to ask is: “What do you actually do with my book during those fourteen days?” You don’t want to sound like you don’t trust her, but…

So, this is a post for anyone who has ever wanted to know what a proofreader actually does with a manuscript but was afraid to ask. Of course this is only how I work, but from chatting with colleagues we all do pretty much the same, with a few slightly different incantations and flicks of the wand.

Welcome to my dining room where the magic takes place.

Day 1: As soon as an author sends me the Word document, I open the attachment on my PC to ensure that it is the author’s novel and not the email intended for Great Aunt Pam. I download and save that copy, and confirm receipt with the author.

Onscreen I look for formatting issues. I turn on “backward P” for this. Better known as the paragraph mark icon in the home menu, it allows you to view the invisible parts of a document. I look for things such as:

  • chapters set at the start of a page using carriage returns
  • unusual fonts/mix of fonts
  • mix of straight and curly (smart) quotes
  • double spaces after punctuation and between words
  • extra space before new paragraphs
  • incorrect/inconsistent use of hyphens, en and em dashes.

Over a cup of tea (and maybe a few biscuits), I email the author to clarify what I’m going to do (if anything) with these issues. I also encourage the author to allow me to make these particular changes with Word’s track changes facility turned off, otherwise the manuscript will be littered with red-lining and it will be very difficult for the author to see the detailed proofreading corrections.

So the first amendments I usually make are to simply delete multiple carriage returns and insert page breaks at the start of chapters, and alter the document to a single font (unless the story requires multiple fonts). The other agreed changes will be carried out later. I save this version of the original document with the novel’s title followed by the words “print version”.

Printing can take ages, so I usually do a bit of knitting or a crossword to keep me occupied or catch up with the Twittersphere or Facebook-land while my trusty printer does its stuff.

Day 2 to Day 4: Now the real fun starts. I proofread the printed manuscript while seated at the dining-room table, marking up any obvious errors using proofreading symbols in red pen, circling in pencil any words that may be wrong or inconsistent, and noting in pencil any factual errors or queries. I also write a list of characters as I come across them. We don’t want Edwin starting off as Elmira’s brother-in-law and ending up as her uncle – unless there have been some family shenanigans, of course. I try not to stop and research or double-check anything during this proofread because I’m aiming to pick up obvious errors and to get a good feel for the book. This results in a manuscript that is littered with my pencil scribbles.

Day 5 to Day 10: I like to let a novel rest for a day or two, and then I proofread the same hard copy again. I usually pick up a few more errors (yes, I will have missed some on the first reading) and work through my extensive pencil scribbles. I check spelling and hyphenation of words, grammar and style issues against one or more of the following reference books: the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, The Oxford Manual of Style (UK) (which, I confess, I need to update to the New Oxford Style Manual) and The Chicago Manual of Style (US). While I rely on my eyes – and a good pair of prescription lenses – to find inconsistencies, I also carry out double-checks and various searches using Word’s “find and replace” facility as back-up as well.

I write up a document with additional notes for the author. This consists of spelling, grammar and style points, including items such as:

  • a list of words I’ve amended for consistency
  • setting of numbers (eg, all numbers up to ten in words, numerals 11 onwards)
  • setting of correspondence (eg, indented) and emails (eg, in quote marks).

During this proofread I spend a lot of time dithering, trying to decide whether to intervene or not (a subject for another blog post, I think). At this point I also do my research and fact-checking (ah, another blog post beckons). This involves a lot of traipsing back and forth between dining-room table and PC – my exercise for the day.

Day 10 to Day 12: My next step is to transfer all the amendments from the hard copy to the document on my PC with track changes (TC) turned on. Then, I’ll turn track changes off and input the other amendments I agreed earlier with the author, such as:

  • amending straight to curly (smart) quotes
  • replacing double spaces with single spaces after punctuation and between words
  • deleting that pesky extra space before new paragraphs
  • replacing spaced hyphens with spaced en dashes (UK) or unspaced em dashes (US).

I’ve repeated this list because I think these types of things scream amateur if left in even the most beautiful prose. Again, Word’s “find and replace” facility is useful for some of these operations.

I name this document with the book’s title followed by “TC showing”. I put any specific questions for the author in a series of comment boxes on the document, and other general comments are added to my additional notes.

I generate a copy of the TC showing document, accept the changes, and call this document by the book’s title followed by “TC accepted”.

Day 13 to Day 14: I then compare the TC showing and the TC accepted documents side by side. This ensures that I haven’t introduced any errors with my corrections. I will admit – just between you and me – that I sometimes find a couple of last-minute boo-boos at this point, which I correct with thumping heart and dread fear that I’m not perfect. Any changes I make to the TC showing document means that I must generate another TC accepted document, which I save over the existing TC accepted document.

I send both documents, along with the additional notes, to the author. I like to send a TC accepted document so the author can see the book without all the red-lining. Both documents will display the comment boxes, which the author can deal with and delete one by one.

I encourage my authors to get back in touch with me if anything is unclear or if they have questions about the proofread. I hope this post has answered some of your questions and if it’s raised some more please get in touch via this blog or via the email address on my website.

wendy_janes_author.jpgWendy Janes is a successful freelance proofreader for a range of large and small publishers and has been for over a decade. She has a Bachelor of Education degree from Goldsmiths College (London University) and a Chapterhouse qualification in proofreading and copy editing. Her own work can be found in two anthologies; A Kind of Mad Courage and Romantic Heroes , the non-fiction memoir of her grandfather The One and Sixpenny Englishman, and her full length literary fiction novel What Jennifer Knows. For her services, go to her site http://wendyproof.co.uk/testimonials/ and make certain to connect with her on Twitter, . (She in no way proofread this bio.)

I want to thank Ms. Janes for giving us an inside look into the world of a proofreader. I must say I like her method, and the length of times she takes. Give me a person that says they will turn around a book in a couple or three days, and I will give you someone I worry about.~Ronovan

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© Copyright-All rights reserved by litworldinterviews.wordpress.com 2015