Darn you, King James!

Attention Citizens of Earth!

The passage from the King James Bible that says “Suffer the little children to come unto me” — often unfortunately abbreviated to “Suffer the little children” — does NOT mean that little children do, will, should, or must suffer!

Way back in the day, “suffer” meant “allow” — in current parlance, one might equate it to “put up with.”

So the gospel writer reports Jesus saying, presumably to their parents, “Allow the little children to come over here.” That’s all!

The truly sad part? I most recently saw this in not one but TWO different volumes of a mystery series I otherwise enjoyed very much so I won’t tell you the author’s name. But it’s set in 1560, and the character who says it is an educated man who would certainly have known what “suffer” meant in that context. Fie, for shame, churl!

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How to Cut Without Cutting Your Heart Out

Are you reading K. M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors blog? Of course you are. Silly question.

There’s an especially nummy treat in a recent edition — The Elephant in the Room: Are You Ignoring Your Story Revision Instincts?  by Alythia Brown of Publishing Tips for the Restless Writer, which you are also reading, right? Of course you are.

The whole article is incredibly useful — I would sub-sub title it “How To Get Yourself To Just Shut Up Already!” But that’s me — Ms. Brown is far more gracious than I.

The gist is that you already know what to cut. You do. You just don’t want to listen to that nagging little voice that says things like “This belongs in a different book.” Or “Dude, I thought you gave up writing while under the influence of Jane Austen.” Or: “This does not sound like any character in this story, not even the dog.” (Hey, don’t snark — I’m editing something now that tells the most affecting parts of the story from a horse’s perspective. I’ll post the usual news flash when I’m done because you WILL want to read it. But I digress.)

In short, you are too in love to cut. So don’t! says Ms. Brown.

Instead, create a Misfits folder and nestle your lovelies in there. Not necessarily because they really are the shining rays of genius you believe them to be — promise, upon further reflection you will realize that many of them are not! But the Misfits folder gives you permission to cut with a machete by reframing your mission: you’re not cutting. You’re rescuing, re-homing, paying the proper respect to your pet paras by removing them from the riff raff that obviously don’t see their worth. Hmmph!

I try to do this with my own writing. I do. It’s hard. Scrivener is an excellent tool for this sort of thing as it allows you to structure your text into movable chapters. (The Outline view in Word does essentially the same thing, but keeps all the text in one place so you can still use Find and other editing tools. But no one likes using Word except me, I know. Lonely, lonely…)

I find the Misfits approach especially useful when I’m working with writers as an editor, and most useful of all when I’m working with writers as a coach. It can be incredibly nerve wracking to hand your work over for someone else to do heaven knows what to it. It’s also nerve wracking to hear someone blithely say, “let’s see what happens if you cut…” NO! MY BABIES!! With the Misfits approach, I can pat your hand and hum “Everything’s All Right” from Jesus Christ Superstar because your babies aren’t being cast into the cold, cold digital ether, they’ll be safe and sound right over… here.


(And here’s where I earn that “Handy Tips! You Love Those!” tag.)

BUT! While your manuscript is still in edit, be very very very careful to treat your Misfits as the special snowflakes they are. When you realize that you want a Misfit back, particularly if you want only part of a Misfit back, MOVE the desirable text out of your Misfits folder and back into your live manuscript. Do NOT COPY and PASTE.

You will hate this. You will feel, in the moment, that having two — or three or four or eleventy-squillion — copies of your Misfits couldn’t possibly hurt. Backups are good, right?

Not in this case, bubbeleh. Here’s why:

When you cut a chunk of text during the writing process, chances are excellent that you will edit the surrounding text at some point, right? Yes. And if you copy a piece of that cut text and paste it back into your original, you’re probably going to edit that too, right? Yes. And so on.

Words don’t work alone. The ideas, sensations, colors, indefinable overtones you’re trying to get across depend heavily on all the little decisions you make about word choice, sequencing, perspective, balance, all things that can change drastically depending on context. The more you edit and change and copy and paste and edit and pull threads and modify tone and copy and paste and whatnot, the harder it will be to recognize the bits and pieces of your Misfits you have put back into play.

So, let’s say you like a character’s physical description, but it just doesn’t work where it is, so you put it in the Misfits folder. And let’s say that description included “piercing blue eyes that see into your very soul” (which it shouldn’t because that’s crap, but let’s roll with it). And let’s further say that when you need to describe another character, you completely ignore my advice (silly you) and you COPY that description and PASTE it back into your live manuscript, leaving the original in the folder. Still with me?

OK, so now you have two copies of the “piercing eyes” description, one in Misfits and one in play. You need to edit the one in play because this character actually has piercing green eyes that see into your very soul. And brown hair instead of blonde. And an overbite. And smells of prunes. So you mess with things until they fit. And you go about your business.

The problem comes three weeks later, after a lot of writing and rewriting and Misfit hacking, when you need to describe yet another character. You look in your misfits folder and see your “piercing eyes” description. You still like it, and you know you’ve used some part of it, but you seem to remember changing it so much it’s probably unrecognizable. You decide you’ll COPY and PASTE it again, and change it until it’s unrecognizable again, and go about your business again…

And that, my friends, is how you end up with five characters who have piercing eyes that see into your very soul. I am not making this up — this is an example from an actual manuscript that I actually edited. (To be fair, not all of the piercing eyes saw into your very soul, but there were definitely five piercings.)

“BUT,” you cry, “if I move my Misfit back into my live manuscript, and then edit it, my original Misfit is gone from me never to return! How can you live with yourself, you heartless brute?!”

There are any number of solutions to this psychological hit. Maybe you create an “Original Misfits DO NOT USE” folder. That way you can go and bask in their glory whenever you want. Or maybe you strike through anything from your Misfits folder that you’ve put back into play. That way you’ll know that you can use the “shining tresses” part, but the “piercing eyes/very soul” bit is done and done.

Whatever solution you choose, my point is this: If your goal is a sharp manuscript with as few reader snags as possible, MOVE your Misfits.


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How to Avoid that “Refreshing Cola-flavored Carbonated Beverage!”

I’m proofing a novel (GOOD one, too!) in which the author wants to use a brand name. I had a feeling no one would mind, but i did a little search and came across a nice collection of articles on the legalities of writing: Rights of Writers, written by Attorney Jeff Fowler. The article I needed today has the admirable title “Can I mention brand name products in my fiction?” (certainly more useful than my own title, above!). And the good news is that yes, Max can indeed share a companionable meal of Top Ramen with her kitten, Keds.

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Spellcheck Sucks! Let’s Going!

I’ve got two lovely proofs of the suckiness of spellcheck today. One is this lovely bit of “If It Ain’t Broke, Hit It Harder”:

Original: “The meeting is about to begin; let’s go,” urged Judy.

Spellcheck Suggestion: “going”

Really, spellcheck? “Let’s going”?

So, let’s say I’m one of Deb’s international students. English is pissing me off anyway, with its subjunctives and gerunds and whatnot. I run spellcheck on my assignment and come up against this little gem. The sentence I wrote is absolutely correct, but I’m not 100% sure of that. So I figure, hey, this thing certainly knows better than I do. You want “going,” spellcheck? OK, then, let’s going.

Of course the beauty part is that the phrase “let’s going” IS NEVER, EVER CORRECT in English EVER. So there aren’t even little fail-safes built in to keep spellcheck from saying  stuff that doesn’t even follow its own rules. Fantastic.

Here’s my second example of how helpful spellcheck is (which is to say, “not”) and there are a LOT of examples of this sort of non-advice, so I may do a separate post on it. But for now:

I have a sentence here that is correct. It’s complex, I’ll grant you, but the audience reading level for this particular project is pretty high, and the way the sentence is structured makes it easy enough to follow. I’m running spellcheck to look for glitches, and here’s the critique I get: “Too many phrases.”

One of the most frequently asked questions about hiring an editor is “Can’t I just do this myself?” Dude, if you know precisely what to do when spellcheck says something as ridiculous as “Too many phrases,” I tip my hat to you.*


*But you should still hire an editor!


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What’s Deb Editing Today?

Blog post for a workers’ compensation attorney:

“Recently, a Texas man suffered a tragic industrial machinery accident. During his work shift at a manufacturing plant, the man got caught in a conveyer. He was airlifted to a local hospital, but later died from his injuries.

Every year, more than one million U.S. workers suffer an injury that causes them to miss work….” 

Uh… yeah, death is generally considered a valid reason for missing work.

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How to Get the Grammar Police Off Your Back, Part II: “Due To” vs “Because Of”

Surefire way to find yourself sitting on the curb with a ziptie on your wrists? Use “due to” around the grammar police.

“Yes, but what if I use it correctly? Hmmm?”

Oh, come on. “Due to” has been used correctly exactly five times in the history of the world and all of those were by my grandmother. That’s because it’s one of those irritating little grammar things that only seem wrong to those who know the rule. Dollars to donuts, the eleventy-squillion times in the history of the world that “due to” has been used INcorrectly, absolutely no one noticed or cared. Except my grandmother.

Here’s Grammar Girl’s take on “due to”:

The traditional view is that you should use “due to” only as an adjective, usually following the verb “to be” (1). For example, if you say, “The cancellation was due to rain,” the words “due to” modify “cancellation.” That sentence is a bit formal, but it fits the traditionalist rule.

If you want to be more casual, you’ll say, “It was cancelled because of rain.” According to purists, you’re not allowed to say, “It was cancelled due to rain” because “due to” doesn’t have anything to modify. Purists argue that “due to” is an adjective; it shouldn’t be a compound preposition.

Very few of us are thinking about adjectives and compound prepositions when we speak, so it may be difficult to know when you’re using “due to” as an adjective. Strunk & White (2) suggest using “due to” when you can replace it with “attributable to,” whereas in her book Woe is I Patricia O’Connor (3) proposes substituting “caused by” or “resulting from.”

Here’s what I suggest regarding the use of “due to”: avoid the little bastard like the plague. When’s the last time “due to” did you any favors, anyway? Never, that’s when. All it’s ever done is complicate your life and get you in trouble with my grandmother.

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What I’m Editing Today: Uh, that’s really specific…

“Why,” I hear you ask, “should I hyphenate compound adjectives that precede a noun? Huh?”

(I know, you could not possibly care less. But just pretend, OK? For me?)

Well, I’m glad you asked!

Any number of people might need “an asbestos-exposure lawyer,” sad to say.

But “an asbestos exposure lawyer”?

Not unless you’ve been apprehended in flagrante on the sun.

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Further Proof that Spellcheckers Suck

Here’s my sentence: 

A thunderous roar could be heard throughout the valley as 300,000 armed Gauls rumbled toward the Roman encampments.

Here’s Word Spellcheck’s suggestion: 

A thunderous roar could be heard throughout the valley as 300,000-armed Gauls rumbled toward the Roman encampments.

No, you know what? I take it back. That’s MUCH better. 

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Grammar or Sex? Decisions, decisions…

I was visiting the “Ask an Editor” section of John Ward’s Writer’s Discussion Group on Google+ — because I’m like that — and found this interesting little glimpse into how we editors think: Then vs Than

Which proves one thing for sure: editors would rather talk about grammar THAN sex.

And THEN, I flashed back on a personal WordNerd moment, because “then” vs “than” gave me one of my earliest hints that I would be an editor (for good or ill). (Most would say ill.)

I was reading about some ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT science… thingy in 8th grade, and came across a “then” that ought to have been a “than”. In a textbook. For shame!

I brought it up to my science teacher: “This should be ‘than’, right?”

He — apparently in the “oh, you know what I mean!” camp — said, “Yes, I suppose it should.”

Well, I didn’t mean to ask him whether there was a mistake (there was) or whether my correction was… correct (it was). What I was really asking, as seemed entirely clear to me, was this:

“There is a glaringly obvious error in this book; may I write in the book to fix it? Please? Because otherwise it will bother me from now until the end of time?”

But, of course, this otherwise brilliant man did not fully appreciate the error as the ELE it clearly was. I plowed ahead: “May I write in the book to fix it?”

I think “bemused” would be the best word for his expression; he apparently found it charmingly odd that I would a) notice, b) care, c) go so far as to fix the error, and mostly d) find such obvious heart-and-soul satisfaction in doing so.

I knew I wasn’t… I won’t say “normal”, maybe “typical” is a better word. I wasn’t a typical kid when it came to language. My parents loved language, and I didn’t realize that people who found hyper-precise word choice a positive laugh riot were few and far between.

For example, here’s a family-culture joke from my childhood. Let’s say there was a cake in the fridge. (There wasn’t. Like, ever. But let’s just say.) Given that there wasn’t EVER a cake in the fridge, such a thing would hardly go unnoticed or, for that matter, uneaten. Because cake.

“This cake,” one of my parents would declaim, “is PURPLE.”

Which meant that it was not to be touched — or, most especially, eaten — because it was reserved for some special purpose. Why purple? Because why say something boring like “off limits” when it would be ridiculously precise — and therefore highly amusing — to say…? 10 points if you can guess…?


And thus, “purple”.*

Because, come on! That’s comedy gold right there!

At least I thought so in 8th grade, about the time I was so genuinely, physically pained by a word-choice error in a textbook that I felt the need to actually write in said textbook — a major infraction — to correct it.

And, looking back, I suppose I should have registered the importance of my science teacher’s bemusement. At the time, I could not hear the cosmic “Yoink!” of predestination. At the time, I was just too chuffed about crossing out “then” with a neat little rectangle and printing “than” above it in my best approximation of the font in the textbook.

And so, yeah. Editor. And as I heave a heavy sigh and DRAAAAAG myself to my computer every morning, I look back on that moment and think to myself…

“Somebody wants to PAY me for this? Woo-hoo!”

…and I happily swap “then”s for “than”s all the doo-dah-day!



*It occurs to me now that it would have been funnier to announce “this cake is NOT PURPLE!” Because INviolate. Get it?

(cricket… cricket…)

OK, nevermind.

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Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors

“What do we get out of this exchange, other than Elle’s stubborn resistance to having a catfish chew on her arm?”

OK, if the title didn’t, THAT little gem has to get you — how do you not click immediately to read the excerpt that inspired a glorious sentence like that? You don’t. I mean, you do. Click, that is…

Oh, just click already; it’s K. M. Weiland, how do you go wrong there?!

(You don’t!)

via Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors.

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Filed under Handy Tips! You love those!, Nerd Candy, Wordy Awesomeness of the Day, Writing and Writers