Why Does Editing Cost so Much?

Read time: 2 mins

Writers who have asked for a quote for an editing service sometimes, on reading the fee, responded with either endless silence or disappointment that the cost will be more than they had imagined it would be.

I get that professional editing does cost and is likely to be one of the more expensive elements of publishing a manuscript. But as with evaluating any service it is helpful to understand what is involved and what you are asking for.

What is professional editing doing for a writer?

Getting a manuscript professionally edited helps save the embarrassment of presenting later readers with a story which contains a distracting number of gaffes, inconsistencies or mistakes. By this editing works to improve the impression readers will have of the quality of the writing, which is a direct reflection of what they will think about the author. Professional editing can help a writer improve their writing craft, not just for one manuscript but across subsequent writing too. This can lead to your book reaching more readers and better reach its potential. If you send your book out to agents and publishers without a professional edit this can come across as less than professional and may reduce the offers made for the manuscript.

These things have a value and that is what you are paying for with editing services.

Qualities in Editing

Consider what the editor needs to have set up to offer the service. They run a business which has set-up costs and running costs and they have trained to be able to offer professional standards of work. They are likely to be in a process of continually updating their training and skills with additional courses, being member of professional bodies, conference attendance and experience. Then of course editing is a service which takes time; quite considerable time. Along with thoroughly reading your manuscript the editor will be making thoughtful assessments and suggestions to provide advice and pointers to improvements through the whole process. This takes time and cannot be rushed as it is not possible to focus on this level of concentrated work for much more than five or six hours a day. The longer the manuscript the longer it will take to edit so wordcount will have a bearing on how long the edit will take.

Options in Editing

Decide when your manuscript is going to be helped by being edited professionally; some authors will make many more passes through their writing before requesting professional editing; others will see their time better spent by getting started on their next book idea. There is huge variability within the process but to give your writing the best chance of succeeding smoothly professional editing is something many writers see as an essential and worthwhile investment in their writing process. Feeling that it helps them to produce better books.

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

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Words and a Phrase Editing Is Very Likely to Cut

Read time: 2 mins

Beyond the very first draft of a manuscript (where a writer is getting down the ideas in as flowing a manner as possible) there are certain words which are almost always be better substituted out. When these are swapped for a more precise, descriptive and interesting terms the writing quality improves. Here I point out half a dozen of the ripest for replacement.

Suddenly

This must go because it is standing in for words which will give the reader a context for what is about to be described, whether that be events or feelings. It is not necessary because if something happens suddenly telling us this will be slowing the pace down at just the time the action is happening and the pace has sped up.

Nice

This term is okay in a first draft with the excuse that the writer is in their flow and will replace it later. By the second draft this term should usually be replaced by a more descriptive term, as it is vague to the point of almost meaningless.  Substitute with a more precise term which will make the writing more interesting, more rhythmical and more enjoyable to read.

Obviously

Anything which is really obvious does not need mentioning and even if it is mentioned it does not need signposting. If the term is left in it can come across as unnecessary telling no reader is likely to appreciate. Any sentence which is obvious can be removed and improve the writing, making it more relevant and more punchy.

Actually

There are so many word to choose from to convey what the writer wants the reader to know and including actually is often irrelevant and belittles the rest of the sentence it is put with. In editing a term is one I often cull.

Thought to herself

Thought alone says it there is no need to add the to himself/their self etc. How do you think to anyone else? No is is just thought.

Inevitably

Well sometimes this has something to add but more often than not it would be best left out. It often points out the obvious or the actual so it is, for the same reasons those words get smoothed out in a second draft, best removed.

Trim this lot and editors will prefer yto see these switched for any more interesting and fresher word choice. The second draft will be livelier and tighter. Readers will find your writing more engaging – what’s not to like?

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

How to Write a Great Character

Read time: 4 mins

Writers place characters in stories to have an impression on their readers.

“As I don’t write characters that leave no impression on me.”

– Lauren DeStefano

Creating characters

When creating main characters in your writing they need to be make an impact on the reader and should be believable and engaging. Main characters are more believable and arguably more interesting if they are multifaceted and show identifiable personality with motivation to pull them through the events of the story.

Memorable main characters

Unlike side characters the main characters in most novels will have memorable names which clearly distinguish them from other people. The main characters will also be developed through the story and undergo some degree of change, this process is often described as the character arc. This arc is most pronounced with the main character, especially the protagonist.

Your main character is so important that they are likely to be introduced within the opening section of the novel where they will be introduced in an active scene making them relatable for the reader who will witness the character making a decision or reacting to something rather than reflecting on events in their backstory.

What makes a character different from everyone else, is characterization. Describing direct characterisation Janet Burroway highlights a character’s qualities as speech, action, appearance and thought and to these Matthew Salesses adds that we should think about our character’s attitude. In this we develop understanding of their actions and decisions. He suggests an exercise a writer can carry out to focus on the character’s attitude by considering as broad as possible ‘They [the character] were the kind of person who … ’  by answering this question repeatedly about the character, the writer focuses on what attitudes the character holds. The significant features will be the basis of what makes that individual different from others and it is that which will make them interesting and engaging.

For the protagonist this attitude is likely to include some of several positive and appealing features.

Orson Scott Card reminds us that some characters are drawn as relatively flat characters which was pointed out by E.M. Forster, who suggests that, in fiction flat characters can be just as important as rounded characters. An example of a flat character would be Mrs Micawber who never deviates from supporting her husband.

Craft complex protagonists

The delight in a complex character can be their unpredictability. It is this ability to surprise which intrigues and engages as Mary Kole points out the best characters are those readers either love dearly or that intensely. For igniting of this passion within the reader comes from the same passion for the character in the writer. The level of care the writer has about their character can be increased by them getting to know that character in detail perhaps by listing answers to questions about the individual to build up a clear picture of what the character looks like, what food they like, what the main events were in their life, who they mix with and where they live and are they in love. From this bank of information some detail will be used in the writing but rather like the tip of an iceberg most will just inform the writer so they can build up a more rounded personality to set in action within their story to carry out the events of the plot and interact with other characters through the story.   

Another technique for developing character is to decide on a character and in a scene then, as an exercise, write what that character would be thinking – their internal monologue. By doing this for several different characters you begin to hone in on the differences between those characters which will help to find those you are most passionate about and most interested in writing about. Awareness of the internal monologue could also be the basis for incorporating some of that thought within the novel. This can increase how the reader relates to that character allowing them to witness internal conflict and personality closely.

Often characters are made to stand out by having a memorable quality or quirk and this can be used to differentiate individuals, to surprise and bring both interest and uniqueness.

Make marvellous antagonists

To bring conflict to a story the protagonist is likely to be up against antagonistic forces and most often this will be in the form of an antagonist. This character will be interesting if they are much more than one dimensional. The stronger or more objectionable your antagonist the more powerfully they can work against your protagonist. This will lead to more extreme measures being required by to overcome the conflict the protagonist will find themselves in.

Antagonists are more satisfying if they possess their own morality which the reader can see playing out this may be part of their backstory or a feature of their personality but it needs to make them seem rounded and believable with their own consistent objectives and motivation.

The same questions could be used to build up a bank of information on this character or you could develop a specific set for these. Such a set could include, what their weakness is, what they secretly enjoy and what are they like most about themselves.

Whatever the conflict and struggle between the two main characters readers do not want the protagonist to succeed easily so the villain must have skills and allies to work to mount a convincing and enduring challenge to sustain the story. The stakes of your story can increase where the two main characters are pitching against each other strong opposing forces lead to higher stakes and greater reader engagement.

Authors seek to make their main characters lifelike but as David Morrell points out there is a paradox here as we have never known any living person in the way we can feel we know a written character. In fiction we can access someone’s innermost thoughts and emotions, an experience which he describes as ‘…totally unrealistic, however magical.’ He also cites Forster saying one of the central appeals of fiction is that novels suggest a more comprehensible and thus more manageable human race.

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

Bibliography

Morrell, D. 2008 The Successful Novelist, Sourcebooks Inc. Naperville, Illinois

Boulter, A. 2007, Writing fiction, Palgrave, Hampshire

Forster, E.M. 1956 Aspects of the Novel, Mariner Books,New York

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CIEP Conference 2021

Read time: 4 mins

The CIEP 2021 online conference is not long over, after a year of planning by the conference team, led by Beth Hamer they pulled off a fantastic event. I attended the SfEP conference in 2017 in person when the event was held in Bedfordshire, at Wyboston Lakes and remember that as an excellent conference.

Many months ago, I’d decided to attend the Glasgow CIEP conference of 2021, but that was moved online so it became my first online conference. It ran from Saturday 11 September to Monday 13 September and it was a triumph.

I attended much of it live and since then have watched Crystal Shelley’s interesting talk on representation and authenticity reading. I look forward to watching other recordings over the next few weeks. Being able to watch sessions later is a great bonus of an online event.

What we got up to

Hugh Jackson, a most capable, self-effacing and amusing chair made entertaining introductions, talks and commentary through the whole event. The business element, with the AGM, was conducted efficiently.

There were some fascinating speakers, including the poet and very amusing presenter of The Verb on BBC Radio 3, Ian McMillan, who’s from Yorkshire. Arguably the most famous copyeditor, Benjamin Dreyer, from New York in conversation with Denise Cowle, from Scotland. This gave us an intriguing insight into how publishing has changed, the ways Random House nurtures their editing talent (including their freelance staff) and we heard what it is like to edit for Elizabeth Strout.

As some of the sessions I have yet to catch up on my listing is not comprehensive but I watched Malini Devadas present a session on the marketing mindset. In this she talked about how to consider marketing and your mindset about it as an important facet of business. She had tips on how to overcome the mentality which may hold freelancers back from actively marketing their business.

Conscious and inclusive

Crystal Shelley gave a second session which was on conscious and inclusive editing – understanding conscious language and the editorial role. With it she shared copious resources to help support us deliver well-informed and enlightened services to our clients.   

Two sessions, fiction line-editing essentials: narrative distance, delivered by the force of nature that is Louise Harnby and guiding principles of developmental editing presented by Sophie Playle, were rightly very popular and with both it will be marvellous to receive the slides to pour over again to absorb more of the excellent learning.

There were lightening talks which brought snippets limited to five minutes from editing superstars of great variety. We were assured that English editors are the most powerful and urged to work compassionately, editing photos was examined, as was the learning of Korean and how football commentary is connected to proofreading.

The session on blogging (making it work for your business) with Liz Jones, Claire Bacon and Kia Thomas was like having a place at the table while these experienced bloggers discussed their approach to blog writing and hearing what they felt worked for them.

Who better than John Espirian to give the presentation on being a LinkedIn leader? Packed with advice and tips the time flew by so it is good that there are chances to revisit his session.

Easy English and what editorial professionals can learn from people with low literacy was spoken about by Cathy Basterfield and career development for freelancers was presented by Suzanne Collier.

A big thank you to Janet MacMillan from Canada who graciously introduced the session I ran from Hampshire, on Styles in Word. Thank you also to the lovely folk who attended the session live and asked follow-up questions, both at the time and later over LinkedIn.

The networking

There were themed networking sessions on different forms of editing, educational publishing, marketing and time management which involved small-group discussions in breakout sessions. These were good places to meet new faces and share experiences.  

Many of us had our first visit to the Wonderoom networking space where, having prized ourselves out of zoom, floating avatars could be dragged into circles, or just bumped into each other in a sort of virtual corridor. Once in the same space we could talk and, although some found there were some bandwidth issues and glitches, it largely worked smoothly enough to feel there was connection and further opportunity for conversation. It was there I met, among others a proofreader originally from the UK and newly setting up their business in Melbourne, and friend of old from Devon and a fiction editor living in Spain.

In Wonder

Small footprint

Delegates and speakers got together from seemingly all over the globe without the unimaginable carbon footprint that the same conference, conducted offline would have left. I’d usually expect a conference post to be accompanied by a photograph of a conference centre filled with delegates but as there wasn’t one, and I did not ask anyone whether I could take their images, I can only show myself at conference – the one at the top of this post is me puzzling over the quiz questions, perhaps we weren’t taking it seriously enough to win but it was fun taking part.

Great feat

The organiser’s choice and use of the technology platforms was certainly effective for putting out learning materials and delivering sessions to a very large group. There was the added bonus of staggering some of the delivery beyond the conference with materials including not just digital handouts but hours of recordings to watch back.

As a mainly introverted soul, used to working alone, I did wonder whether the networking side of an online conference could work at all, but it did. I even found that, as I was sitting in my normal work place (true for most delegates I suspect) this was conducive to relaxed interactions where I really felt at home, wait – I really was at home.

I am left feeling that the CIEP community is great to be involved with and their team create excellent conferences.

Stepping forward

What will the event be like next year I wonder. Certainly the in-person format is an experience we should strive to hold on to but there are some amazing benefits of the online model too. I’d vote for some form of hybrid if that’s doable and with the track record I believe they can do it. One thing is certain there is a kind of magic when we come together and in the words of the chair ‘… something unites us in our delight of the written word.’

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

Honesty About Perfect Writing

Read time: 2 mins

I think honesty from the outset about the quality of writing is important. Clients sometimes ask for their manuscript to be edited to be perfect, but quality in writing has a subjective component. There will be improvement but perfection is an elusive aim.

Every writer decides at some point that a piece of writing is finished and ready. However, they know that if they leave their document for a while, then go back to it and read it again, they are likely to tweak and improve what they have written – to improve the clarity or the pace of the story or the words which are used.  Redrafting and editing are all iterative processes; many writers produce multiple versions before they feel that their work is complete. What writers aim for, and what readers seek, is good writing but it is difficult to pin down exactly what that is.

Perfection v. improvement

Editorial professionals, be they developmental editors, copy-editors or proofreaders, work to improve the content they are presented with. Ask a dozen copyeditors to work on the same manuscript and give them all the same reference books (such as Butcher’s Copy-editing, The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, New Hart’s Rules or Merriam-Webster and The Chicago Manual of Style), then read the twelve edited versions. You will find that no two versions will be exactly the same. Why is this?

They will have spotted a great many of the same changes needed in spelling, grammar, capitalization, consistency and the use of language. But their individual suggestions will differ, if only slightly, and across the manuscript there will be a number of variations. Each edited version will be an improvement but no two versions will be exactly the same improvement.

As an editorial professional I aim at perfection, but writing is subjective and each revision of a text will find further improvements to make. There are constraints on everything and deadlines need to be met so, at a point, the work must stop and the improvement be deemed sufficient.

I work to lift your text and voice to the next level. Realistically, perfection is the aim and improvement is the reality.

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

Click to find out how to present your manuscript

When to Find an Editorial Professional?

Read time: 3 mins

There isn’t an easy answer to when an author should find an editorial professional, be that for developmental editing, copyediting, line-editing or proofreading. However, it is best to give a collaboration of this sort some time for consideration. It is good to be clear what the different services provide and to approach suitable candidates with enough time to find a good match to achieve the best outcomes for yourself and your manuscript.

It would be an understatement to say that how writers write varies. The amount of planning which different writers undertake ranges from the highly detailed plotters like John Grisham who feels that the longer he spends preparing a detailed outline the easier the book is to write. Through to writers like Steven King who plans very little, preferring to work things out as he writes. To him very outlined books have a somewhat stale quality.

Some writers use a Pomodoro approach, with disciplined daily word count goals and others will take a cabin in the woods with the aim of not resurfacing without a completing manuscript. Bashing out a first draft and not looking back is the advice of many how to write books and some writers edit as they go along.

As a writer you will know how writing a book is a major accomplishment and the culmination of a great deal of time, discipline, perseverance and not a little emotion. Many will be unable to say the number of hours it took to reach that stage and will frequently answer with the number of years since the first idea came to them.

Redrafting and editing choices

However, it is arrived at the completed manuscript it is a good idea for the writer to distance themselves from the manuscript, at least for a while before embarking on the next stage. Self-publishing writers will not have the same set up as a publishing house with the team focused to ensure all the necessary stages of the production process are carried out in a coordinated way so that deadlines are met and all the preparations are carried out smoothly.

If you are thinking of using the services of an editorial professional you may want to involve them at any stage. Once the manuscript is written you may request a developmental edit or ask for a manuscript critique. This would be to help you identify where there may be difficulties of plot or with the structure of the writing. Perhaps you do not want to change any of the big picture features of your manuscript and you have time to rework the manuscript through some rounds of redrafting. After this you may decide to collaborate with a professional copyeditor. It could be that you feel you have reached the point where your latest draft would benefit from being looked at with fresh pair of eyes. Even if you set aside time and decide that you are going to rely on your self-editing skills you may seek the reassurance of a proofreader for a last check before it goes in front of a reader, be that publisher, agent or beta readers. 

Some authors feel their time is best spent creating the next title and may already be preoccupied with that. From an editor’s standpoint schedules get filled up and earlier approaches are easier to accommodate.

If a publisher is already interested in the manuscript planning for editorial services will help get the manuscript to be as good it can be for the publisher. Experienced authors appreciate the value of booking their editorial collaborations to meet their deadlines and aspirations.

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

Click here to find what is likely to be cut out in an edit

Why Editors Need to Know about Genre

Read time: 3 mins

3 min read

The written and unwritten rules of fiction, which readers and authors acknowledge, group stories into recognisable genres which usefully serve as a form of jargon or shorthand to guide readers to find the type of novels they enjoy by knowing which genre they are choosing. On the other hand, genre also helps the authors to deliver fulfilling writing to their readers and to meet reasonable expectations based on the chosen genre.

Publishers also use genre to inform their purchasing decisions and to direct their marketing. Genre is of great importance in fiction writing and there are many tropes and standards which apply within particular genre and do not apply in others, for example a story from the romance genre and a story from the horror genre will attract different readers. For an author to include extremes of the horror genre within a romance is very likely put off a swathe of readers, who will then avoid selecting titles by an author who does not write in a manner which conforms to their expectations. 

The term genre comes from the French word for kind and is helpful for everyone in choosing the right content or type of story. Knowing the genre of a book helps to recognise what can be expected from it without having to read it first.

Text in context

Whatever story an author writes a genre will be fitted to it by the world at large and that labelling will, to some extent, select who chooses to engage with the story. Readers come to a title with certain assumptions depending on its genre. Knowing this, authors wisely craft their stories to fulfil those expectations in the reader. If it is a humorous work the reader will have different expectations to those they would have for a thriller where they are looking for suspense and intrigue.  Umberto Eco states that no text is ever read independently. Authors and editors do well to steep themselves in their preferred genres to help create the emotional effect of stories on the readers while at the same time avoiding the presentation of cliché.

The reader should be offered an entertaining experience where they can be drawn into a story and feel that the author has crafted a believable world, without the distraction of unpleasant surprises. These pull the reader out of the story, leading to dissatisfaction and disengagement. This is especially a problem with long form due to the greater investment of time for both the reader and the writer. Whatever an editor can do to steer a work to better fit a genre will serve both the author and the reader.

Dynamic nature of genre

McCaw notes that genre is not static. So, whereas there is a temptation to view what works of a genre have in common, as though there were a fixed set of criteria to be met, genres change over time.  The differences within a genre can be studied and change is ongoing which points to the importance for both authors and editors to be aware of recent works written in the genre they are writing for, or editing within.

At the online Edinburgh International Book Festival 2020, The Midnight Library author Matt Haig, points out how he has witnessed massive change over the past ten years. He says ‘genre snobberies have evaporated remarkably’ and the barriers which used to exist between literary and commercial works have moved, making it much more possible for authors to take creative influence from everywhere. Which he sees as a more natural way of doing things.

Experience shows that editors may come across a manuscript which pushes the boundaries of genre and they must be ready to embrace this in their work otherwise the dynamic nature of genre could be restricted and the new could be stifled. As with much about fiction editing sensitivity and tuning into the author’s voice is paramount. I would argue that this craft element will always present a problem to techniques of artificial intelligence and will ensure human editing retains its elusive, unique quality and value.

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

Click here to read about how to punctuate dialogue in fiction

References:

Eco, U. (1981). The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader. The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 14(1), 35-45. doi:10.2307/1314865

Edinburgh International Book Festival http://www.edbookfest.co.uk/media-gallery/item/matt-haig-the-library-of-second-chances.

Iglesias. K, (2005) Writing for emotional impact, WingSpan Press.

McCaw, N.  How to Read texts, continuum.

Which Service Do I Need?

Read time: 3 mins

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

Developmental editing

Developmental editing is carried out at an early stage of preparing a manuscript. You may have written a full manuscript but be unsure what aspects need improvement and whether there are issues with the plot which, if improved, would increase your book’s success once it is in the hands of readers. A developmental edit will consider the big-picture aspects such as: plot holes, unconvincing characters, character development and themes. From a developmental edit you will have a report on the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript as well as comments and suggestions within the manuscript to consider. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work. Do get in touch with the form at the bottom of the page if you would like a developemental edit.

Manuscript critique

Manuscript critiques are similar to development edits and you’ll get a similar report on your manuscript considering the big-picture aspects but without the additional comments and suggestions within the text.

Following both a developmental edit and a manuscript critique it is likely that you will want to apply some or all of the suggestions and prepare a redraft. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work. I would like to work with you to improve that redraft. Let me know about your book with the contact form at the bottom of the page.

Copyediting or line editing

Copyediting and line editing is carried out on a manuscript which may already have been reworked and could have had some developmental editing. You will be happy with the structure and the big-picture aspects. Having been redrafted the writing is ready to be thoroughly checked through and consistency improved where appropriate.

This will help the next reader to have a smooth and immersive reading experience without the distraction of inconsistencies and errors. When copyediting I edit the work line by line and word by word. I will be aiming to increase the clarity and flow of the sentences and words. I will be checking for:

  • Clear, effective and well-paced narrative
  • Spelling, punctuation, grammar, hyphenation and capitalisation
  • Suitable use of tenses
  • Clarity of dialogue, expression and presentation
  • Consistency within the word choices with character and author voice
  • Believability of characters through consistent traits
  • The avoidance of overwriting, repetition, cliché or unintended confusion
  • Suitability of balance between showing and telling within sentences
  • Spacing of chapters, paragraphs, sentences, lines and words.

Following a line and copyedit you will receive the marked-up manuscript (in MS Word and with Track Changes) and a bespoke style sheet showing the style decisions which have been made including those relating to capitalisation, numbering, spelling and punctuation styles. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work. Do get in touch with the form at the bottom of the page.

Proofreading

Proofreading is carried out on the manuscript when it has been written, redrafted and edited so is almost ready for the final reader. Proofreading aims to catch issues of spelling and grammar which remain and other mistakes that may have still have slipped through. You will probably have read the manuscript so often by this stage that it will be harder for you to spot mistakes.

Traditionally proofreading is carried out after the manuscript has been typeset and the layout of the paragraphs, lines and words on the page can be viewed as they would be when the book is published. A trained and experienced second pair of eyes will help to ensure that the manuscript is as good as it can be before the next reader, be that publisher, agent or the public gets to read it. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work.

It’s OK if you don’t know exactly which service you want, that’s what I’m here for! Drop me a line with the form below and I’ll get right back to you.

Or to find out what other authors are saying click here.

Should Dad Be Lowercase?

Read time: 2 mins

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

Speech can bring difficulties when it is written and one area of difficulty is that of whether to capitalise some naming words. This is because words Mum, Dad and Grandad have different forms. These words can be used in their proper noun form, and this is when they should be uppercase.

Proper noun form

Sentences where these words are used as proper nouns:

Did you like the flowers, Mum?
Can I borrow your glasses, Dad?
I asked Grandad to pass the map.

To check that a word is being used in this form you can keep the sentence the same but swap out the proper noun form and swap in their proper name, if the sentence still makes sense then the word was being used in its proper noun form.

The same sentences with the names swapped in:

Did you like the flowers, Mary Gilesbie?
Can I borrow you glasses, Ian Telling?
I asked Alfred Potter to pass the map.

Generic noun form

However, these words can also be used generically – as generic nouns or regular nouns and when they are, they are lowercase.

Sentences where these words are used as generic nouns:

If theses sentences are given the same swap test they don’t work because the word was being used as a generic noun.

My mum does not like red flowers.
All dads have children.
My granddad called on us.

Sentences where generic nouns have been swapped for proper names:

My Mary Gilesbie does not like red flowers.
All Ian Tellings have children.
My Alfred Potter called on us.

                   

Rules of thumb

  • Whenever these words are preceded by a possessive adjective like (my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their) the noun will be lowercase.
  • Whenever you use these directly as a name, they will be uppercase.
I brought this for your mum.
The coat was from my dad.
These are from Grandad.
  • When there is determiner preceding the word (such as – a, an, the, this, that, these, my, his, their, much, many, some, two, seven, all, every) use lowercase.
Some mums drove the car.
Seven dads ate the pizzas.
His grandad was in the play.

This works for other similar words in the same way, these include: uncle, aunt, father, mother, daughter, cousin etc.

Is it a name?

Changing between upper and lowercase depending on usage happens with other words. This applies to when the word is a title or political entity.

Where a word is used as a name it will be uppercase:

They followed Captain Wilson over the bridge.
We walk up the steps to meet Queen Bess.
Come on let’s go Governor. (instead of name)

Where a word is not when it is not being used to replace a name and is being used as a description it will be lowercase.         

Our old captain turned to fight.
The girl was a princess.
The governor was going to the meeting.

Style guides often have requirements regarding capitalisation and these should be followed where applicable but as with general rules about writing it is important that the rule is applied consistently or the writing can be jarring and the reader can be distracted from the meaning of the content.

How to Use Dashes

Read time: 4 mins

I have checked back to my references for crystal clarity, referring to the New Oxford Style Manual (2012) and to the Chicago Manual of Style, although these do not state every instance and are only conventions adopted, or not adopted, by publishers. There are also instances of exceptions so these are far from being strict rules.

How to create dashes

The en dash can be found on the ribbon on the Insert tab and at the right hand side. Click on Symbol and the then on More symbols.

Select the Special Characters tab and the top two offerings are the Em dash and the En dash, select the one you want and click Insert.

The keyboard shortcuts are:

Alt+Ctrl+Num for Em dash and Alt+Ctrl+Num for the En dash.

Alternatively hold down the Alt key and using the Numbers Pad:

key 0151 for the Em dash or 0152 for the En dash.

When introducing a phrase at the end of a sentence

A phrase at the end of a sentence can be introduced with an em dash (closed up) and the example given in New Hart’s Rules which, in my copy of the New Oxford Style Manual is p81 (4.11.2)

            Everyone understands what is serious—and what is not

So, this is a single parenthetical usage and replaces a colon and is widely accepted in UK English.

When used as a pair of dashes

Where you use em dashes with a space before and after, these would be parenthetical. This is not currently a general UK English publisher’s preference.

New Oxford Style Manual (2012) 4.11 p72 states:

‘The en dash … Many British publishers use an en dash with space either side as a parenthetical dash, but Oxford and most US publishers use an em dash.’ And

(p80) ‘The em dash … Oxford and most US publishers use a closed-up em dash as a parenthetical dash; other British publishers use the en dash with space either side. …

A pair of dashes expresses a more pronounced break in sentence structure than commas, and draws more attention to the enclosed phrase than brackets:

           ‘The party lasted—we knew it would!—far longer than planned’

And

… Use an em dash spaced to indicate the omission of a word, and closed up to indicate the omission of part of a word:

            ‘We were approaching — when the Earl of C— disappeared.’

So, both the em and en dashes can be used to set off an augmenting or explanatory word or phrase in a sentence that could stand alone without the insertion. Examples include:

That small flower – the pink one – is as fresh as can be.
That small flower—the pink one—is as sweet as can be.

He knew the price of that rare vintage – everyone did.
She knew the price of that rare vintage—everyone did.

In the UK, it is conventional to use a SPACED EN DASH. This is not a law but is the conventional style used my many (although not all) UK publishers (an exception being Oxford).

In the US, it is conventional to use a CLOSED-UP EM DASH. Not a law just a convention, but one which many US publishers follow.

It is also true that there are some style guides which ask for spaced em dashes, however this is relatively rare.

So how are authors using the dash conventions?

Beyond the reference material it can be useful to look at how published authors’ work appears.

Publishing in the UK

In Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual (2002)

There is an example of the single parenthetical en dash:

(p299)  ‘… for what I’ve done – for what I did to Skipper, even.’

And in Val McDermid’s Killing the Shadows, (2001)

(p159) ‘That someone hated Kit – or his word – even enough to pour out such venom…’

Whereas publishing in the US

In Emma Donoghue’s Room, (2010) there is an example of a pair of parenthetical em dashes:

(p133) ‘Old Nick will carry you into the hospital, and the first doctor you see—or nurse, whatever—you shout …’

And in David Baldacci’s The Finisher (2014) there is an example of the single spaced em dash:

(p1) At first light, I was almost always up in my tree — a stonking, straight-to-the-sky poplar with a full towering canopy.

In conclusion: I recommend using spaced en dashes or closed-up em dashes because that is what readers are most familiar with. The choice of which depends on where much of the target audience are (US or UK) however where there is an international audience either style can be chosen, as long as it is applied consistently.

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

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