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Tuesday 18 June 2013

Writing Reflections - especially regarding Editing

Tuesday Talk

A short while ago a friend of mine read my novel Harold the King (titled I am the Chosen King in the US) and asked if I minded a few observational comments.

Of course I didn't; a reader's feedback is worth having - as long as such comments are constructive. (We all know the damage the destructive ones can do - more of that below)

My friend picked up on a couple of things that had gone unnoticed all these years.

Harold was first published in 2000, so it has been around for 13 years. It was also originally edited by professionals from Random House (William Heinemann to be exact) and one of the best editors in the UK, Richenda Todd, with only a few minor updates from me when I moved to SilverWood Books UK and Sourcebooks Inc (US)

The thing is, how did one howler in particular get missed? And should authors worry about their writing style as it was 13  (or more) years ago?

The howler is the word 'critters'. Apart from it being American and 19th century... how on earth did it get missed?

My friend mentioned that some of the characters were a little one-dimensional - the goodies were goodies, the baddies were baddies. I agree with this criticism, but weren't most novels like this back then? We expected our heroes to be heroes, the bad men to be snakes in the grass. (Or am I kidding myself here?)

Has this changed now? Do we expect characters to be more 'real' now, as in showing the good guys with warts an' all? Portraying the villain with his (or her) softer side?

One thing my friend did point out, which neither I nor my present editor has noticed (nor, obviously, any past editors!) is that I I tend to have a distinctive way as a narrator of dropping pronouns when I separate sentences or run them together.
e.g. ‘They tried and tried again to break through that damned impenetrable shield wall.  Could not do it.’
My friend says:  "That’s fine, distinctive, and I positively like it.  But when you get your characters to talk like that, I hear not them speaking, but the author/narrator.  Example: ‘He intends to draw us into the arena, do you think?’ Leofwine spoke his thoughts out loud. ‘Is waiting for us to go in after him....’ "

I do write like this, it is my style - but I think my friend has a good point when I do it in dialogue.
I'll watch out for this in future, and try not to do it.

Just to balance things, my friend also liked a lot of the book and said how much he enjoyed the read and found the end chapters very moving.

 I still head-hop a little when writing (Point of View changes) This one I do find difficult to remedy as I just don't see head hopping when I'm reading (my own or other authors' work). I guess this might be because I have a very active "monkey mind" - I hop from one thought, one line of conversation to another without noticing.
Fortunately my editor picks the worst offending hopping up!

I am soon to bring out a printed version of Discovering the Diamond  on UK Kindle  :and US Kindle my hints and tips for potential (Indie) writers.  There will be a few updates, including a possible mention of the agony of dealing with those wretched typos once the book is in print.

Tuesday Talk

They always appear. No matter how many times the file is checked, checked, and re-checked.

There are some dreadful typos in my US mainstream Pendragon's Banner Trilogy - yet oddly enough all the destructive criticism of these books of mine on Amazon has not related to the obvious (and embarrassing) errors. One comment has slammed me for the use of the words 'corn fed'. What some American readers fail to grasp is that there is American English and English English. 'Corn Fed' is a British term for oats and barley. A 'corn fed' horse is fed on cereal crop instead of hay or grass or bran i.e. it is well fed.
The term does not relate to corn on the cob or maize!
So I am a bit disgruntled about that petty comment and the accompanying low star rating.

I also get annoyed at petty comments (for my own books and for other historical fiction authors!)  Comments like "This book was too much about battles."
Well yes, when you are writing a book about the Battle of Hastings or the Crusades, or the English Civil War or the enmity between Matilda and Stephen there would be a few battles included.... sigh.

There are a few comments about commas being in the wrong place for my books, but  I notice this applies to many authors, and to be honest I've given up with worrying about these sort of criticisms. After using several different  editors now, I have  come to the conclusion that they all have their preferred placing of commas, and no two editors agree. In future I might just leave all commas out and have done with it *laugh*.

Which brings me to Ripples In The Sand and another lesson learnt (the hard way).
I rushed its publication.
I shouldn't have done.
My readers were looking forward to it, I was getting bombarded with e-mails asking when it would be published (that, I am not complaining about! ) so I rushed the book out. Even though it wasn't ready. It should have had another proof read.

The errors are fairly minor things, which to be honest, probably only I or a professional will pick up on (a pistol has suddenly become a musket, for instance). But they are annoying. Annoying because I should have re-checked. My only defence - I was in the middle of moving house at the time and stress levels were reaching the top of the temperature gauge.

But then, that should have been another reason for saying "whoa, let's not rush this."
On the other hand, I did have several readers and editors - and still the bl**dy thing wasn't right!

This is one area where us Indie authors have a downside and an upside.

The down is - all errors are our responsibility. To spot in the first place and to put right. At our expense. No big (or little) publishing house to pay the costs.

The up -  (for those of us using Print on Demand) we can put the errors right fairly quickly and without too many incorrect copies going out. Unlike authors who are in the hands of a publisher. The errors in my US books will stay there. Even the incorrect chapter heading dates. Unless the publisher agrees to do a re-print (unlikely) those annoying bits that are wrong stay there as wrong.

We, as author, not the publisher, take the blame in the comments on Amazon though.


  1. Helen,

    You and I have discussed this many times, and as one of your readers for "Ripples", I have to say that I was so engrossed in the story itself that I didn't even notice the small errors. I guess spotting those types of things comes with experience.

    Your style is just that, YOUR style. I honestly don't think that it takes anything away from the story in and of itself when you, as you call it, head-hop. At least that way you get a complete 360 degree view of the scene as it plays out. Personally, I like it that way.

    Keep writing the way you write - and we'll keep reading!


    1. It's OK you're off the hook! LOL You read an early draft version not one of the later ones - so the missed errors wer not "on your watch" as it were. (You're going to be used well and truly next time though m'dear!)

  2. I am so glad that when I pick up a book to read, that I get lost in the story and don't notice these little things. I feel sorry for the people who can't do this. As long as there aren't huge errors, like major battles happening in years other than the year they happened in, I go right on past.

    Like Kelly mentioned above, keep writing the way you write. If every author wrote the same, things would be a bit boring. Each authors writing voice is what draws me to their work.

    1. Thank you Leah, that is so nice of you to say - and so encouraging. I do want to ensure not quite so many typos get missed next time though :-(

  3. Helen how refreshingly honest and interesting your post was to read. Just as Leah stated, once I start reading a "good" book, one where the story is solid and entertaining and the characters come to life, I am so immersed in the story that I hardly ever notice these things either.
    As a book reviewer, I should! But then, I am enjoying the book too much to worry abut these things.

    1. I don't notice errors when I'm engrossed either (which is why as authors we miss them when proof reading) It is often the 2nd or 3rd reading where they start popping out at you though.

  4. Helen, I just love this post! As a soon to be published author (on Amazon US) I have struggled with the issues of Commas, Tightening up my grasp on verb tenses, Semicolons, etc. and, in general, the Voice in which I write, speak, and in which my characters speak. (You will notice I have intentionally capitalized some words here!) Grammar has so many different variations and seems to be subject to many interpretations. My book has been through countless revisions, I have had a wonderful copy editor and a team of Beta readers and still find a few typos and factual errors. We all hope our readers are involved in reading our story and, hopefully, not intent in tallying up errors on a calculator which may, in the end, be simply a matter of personal opinion. One last thing, you touched on the matter of Style and I could not agree more--all of us are different, our characters speak in different rhythms, our own personal speech is very idiosyncratic. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  5. Judith there are some things that are right - a full stop (period) at the end of a sentence, speech marks ? and ! in the right place etc. so your reader can hear the tone of voice as well as read the words - but commas, I've come to the conclusion, are almost personal preferences. You, can't, have, commas, in, obviously wrong places, but someone gave me a good tip: if you need to take a breath, maybe you need a comma. If you could put something in brackets (like this example) maybe a comma should go where the bracket should be.
    I am poor with grammar - I admit it. I'm a story-teller, not a teacher. I hold no University or College degrees (I left school at 16 with only a couple of basic qualifications) and that's why I pay an editor (or two) to go through my work, because there are people out there cleverer than me who can assist me with the areas of writing that I have difficulty with.
    If a story is gripping enough to be a good read, I don't really care if there are a couple of mis-placed commas.
    Having said that lots of typos and obviously wrong-placed commas can ruin a good story.
    Good luck with your book - let me know when it's published, you'll be welcome to put a plug for it on my Facebook Author's page

    1. Thank you, Helen. Again I totally agree. But sometimes the way we talk is not the way we should write. I am terrible about verb tenses and would frequently write the way I talk. Not good! And that's why I loved my copy editor because she showed me the value of correct grammatical marks, etc. I could'nt have done it without her. A good copy editor makes a world of difference in an independently published book. And the books out there that don't make that a priority are the ones that give self-published books a very bad name.
      Best regards

    2. 100% agree! I know my limitations - and one of them is that I need an editor to sort out the bits I'm not so sure of.

      As you say, the non-edited books are the ones that give S.P. a bad name (yet you'd be surprised at how many Indie writers say they don't need an editor!)
      What hey fail to realise is that even top best-selling writers use and rely on their editors!


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