When I read an article or book, if I can’t find my way past the first few sentences, then it becomes a real struggle to keep forging ahead. Out of respect for the author of the piece, I usually continue through to the end, but the editor in me is subconsciously picking up any little discrepancies of spelling, grammar, tense and flow. These are the elements of writing – and I mean any writing – that MUST be right.
There are other elements that you NEED to do, SHOULD do, and would be NICE to do, but these are secondary to the absolutes that MUST be in your writing and will be discussed in Part 2.
These MUST DOS of editing don’t necessarily come in the order as shown below, but this is how my brain sorts them when my Editor’s Hat is on. Suffice to say, they are ALL crucial in any writing you do.
This can be a bit tricky when there are conflicts between UK and US spelling, such as Colour (UK) or Color (US), and Organise (UK) or Organize (US). US spelling likes to shrink down the traditional spelling of a word, hence the removal of “U”. US spelling also likes to spell things more phonetically, so the way a word sounds when spoken. Thus, “-ize” instead of “-ise”. That’s why they pronounce “Aussie” like “Os-See”, instead of “Oz-Zee” as authentic Australians do. Which ever spelling you decide, make sure you stick with it, so it’s consistent. Otherwise, if your work has bits of both, then that will drive any editor crazy, and also your readers.
I don’t expect you to be a wizard at the English language and its oh-so many exceptions to the rule, but if you are a native-born Aussie, or from a country where English is the national spoken language, then you should be able to READ ALOUD your piece and pick up quite a few errors along the way. Read it slowly so you don’t automatically assume words are there, like “a”, “and”, “an”, etc. Our brains are adept at glossing over inoperative words that don’t change the intent of what you are trying to read. (That’s why speed reading works so well for some.) But losing the grammatical flow can confuse the meaning and therefore impact the understanding of your readers.
Most people know that a sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full-stop (period (.)), question mark (?) or exclamation (!). These are very basic, but critical, elements of writing construction. But, did you know that putting a comma in exactly the right place can make a huge difference on the impact of your work?
Oscar Wilde famously stated that he spent one entire morning taking out a comma.
He then spent the afternoon putting it back again.
Commas have been used to indicate a pause, like a breath, in writing. They can be used singly or in pairs, like a set of brackets. When used like the latter, you must be able to read the sentence as if the middle bit between the commas is taken out and it still makes sense.
Once upon a time there was a little girl called Goldilocks who wandered into a quaint little house with red shutters and door with potted plants on window sills to see if she could find a bed.
This needs some serious comma work!
Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Goldilocks, who wandered into a quaint little house with red shutters and door, with potted plants on window sills, to see if she could find a bed.
Then there is the Oxford (Serial) comma, which comes before an “and” or “or” in a list of three or more elements. Sometimes they are overused and unnecessary, such as in a list of ingredients to bake a cake, so it’s obvious that all the elements are connected. However, they are correctly used if someone is explaining a smaller group of connected elements within a larger group.
Janice is inspired by cooking her family and her fluffy dog.
This needs a comma and a serial comma to make better sense and not sound like something out of a psycho crime thriller:
Janice is inspired by cooking, her family, and her fluffy dog.
Traditional novels were written in past tense, where the narrator described things that happened already. Many modern novels are written in present tense, with the narrator describing what is happening right now. The first time I read a novel written in present tense, it took me some time to get used to it, but eventually it clicked. What has disturbed me since then is reading some that are not consistent, so there is a mixture of past and present tenses throughout the work. This has really driven me nuts because I don’t know where I am, or where the protagonist is in the book’s timeline. If you choose to write in present tense, make sure you stay there!
Read and re-read your story, slowly and out loud, so that you can see, feel and hear where the storyline is going, and whether the main chunks have lined up in the correct sequence. If you miss this crucial step, then your readers will lose their place in the story and drift away.
The secondary elements – NEED to do, SHOULD do and NICE to do – will be addressed in Part 2.
Kerri Yarsley – Contributor
Kerri’s love of books really took off from her Year 12 readers: Pride and Prejudice, The Go-Between, The Once and Future King, and The Lord of the Rings (which she read in full six times that year, taught herself Elvish and translated the Elvish script on the book’s cover). This opened up a vast world of fantasy and imagination which has stayed with Kerri ever since.
A decade or two later, Kerri forged a career in the training and instructional design space, creating materials and courses for computer systems and applications. This world had videos, audios and magic! Creativity could burst forth.
So, Kerri decided to write a book – The Instruction Manual for Kids – Parent’s Edition. She had the experience of a couple of decades in both areas – kids and instruction manuals – so what could go wrong?
You can find out more about Kerri here…
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Great information Kerri!