Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guest Post: Copy Edit, Dammit! by Natascha Jaffa

Every author needs an amazing editor. 
I'm honored to have my editor, Natascha Jaffa, with a guest post today. 
She's an amazing editor, having tackled Heart Ache
Out of Left Field, and most recently, Lucky 13. 

Copy Edit, Dammit!
With self-publishing making huge headway in the publishing industry, it’s now more important than ever to make sure your manuscript is as polished as it can be. It’s competitive out there, but if your book isn’t what it should be, readers will be stuck on errors and probably not read anything else you put out there.

Not everyone in their right mind goes takes grammar classes. Sadly, I enjoyed it, which is why I became an editor. I LOVE doing copy edits. I’m not sure why, but they make me happy. However, the further in my career I get, the more I notice manuscripts, even books submitted to publishers, are riddled with errors. Perhaps this is because we haven’t learned the correct way to punctuate that dialogue or sentence or it’s because we’ve been taught incorrectly.

Well, hopefully, this post helps you.

I’ve designed this post to point out the five most common errors I see in manuscripts and examples on how to avoid them.

  1. Dialogue tags. This includes, “he said”, “she asked”, “they demanded” just as examples. Dialogue tags follow a line of dialogue.
            Shown here: “Oh, baby. Oh, baby,” she said.
Now, let’s look closer.
If you have a dialogue tag (remember our examples from above), your dialogue will end with a COMMA.
            Shown here: “Oh, baby. Oh, baby,” she said.
Also note that the dialogue tag itself is LOWERCASE.
            Shown here: “Oh, baby. Oh, baby,” she said.
Now, in some cases (I hate when this happens), dialogue tags introduce dialogue.
            Shown here: She said, “Oh, baby. Oh, baby.”
Notice, however, the comma has moved. Instead of being inside the quotations, it’s now out, positioned after “said” and introducing the dialogue.
Now, in another case (this is really common), we see continuous dialogue. Let’s say you your character is addressing another character.
            Shown here: “Princess Leah,” he said, “we really should be moving.”
What’s different here? I will tell you. Since he is addressing Leah and you’ve inserted a dialogue tag, the sentence isn’t complete at the end of the tag. Therefore, a COMMA will be inserted after the tag and the rest of the dialogue will be lowercased.

  1. Action between dialogue lines. Yay! One of my favorite things to do. What happens when you don’t have a dialogue tag between two continuous lines of dialogue? Let’s see. Very easy.
            Shown here: “Princess Leah,”—he turned in the direction of the approaching storm troopers—“we really should be moving.”
If you don’t have a dialogue tag, use the em-dash to signify action between your dialogues. You’ll notice there is a comma after “Leah”, still making it a direct address and that your second line of dialogue is all lowercase.

  1. When to use em-dash. This thing here: —. Aside from signifying action between two lines of dialogue, where else can we use em-dash?
To interrupt dialogue of course!
If you have a character cutting someone off, don’t write, “he cut him off.” Show it with an em-dash.
            Shown here: “Harry, what are you—”
                                 “Shut up, Ron!”
BTW, if you don’t know how to make an em-dash on your computer, try this:
a.       Complete the dialogue before it gets cut off.
b.      Type two dashes (- -), one after the other.
c.       Type any letter you want after the dash, connecting of course. It will transform into a longer dash.
d.      Type space.
e.       Delete random letter.
f.       Type quotation, but please make sure it’s facing the right way! For some reason Word likes to turn this quote the opposite of where it should be. I add a period then turn the quotation around.

  1. When to use ellipses. This thing here: … Blasted ellipses. Bane of my existence. This is one of the most wrongly used punctuations I come across. So, here’s a run down of when it’s appropriate to use them and one example of when to not use them.
            Use: to trail off a character’s internal thoughts. Example: I wish Natascha would edit my book… (I can!) This signifies on a dreamlike sigh at the end of the sentence.
            Use: to trail off a character’s dialogue, lost in thought for a moment. Example: “I don’t know. I just think…” She shook her head. “I just think we need to talk about this.”
            Use: to show a slight hiccup in dialogue. Example: “Are you…real?”
            DO NOT USE TO INTERRUPT DIALOGUE. Use an em-dash for abrupt interruptions like we’ve discussed.

  1. Direct addressing characters. When two characters are talking to each other through dialogue, there is punctuation involved within the dialogue. One of those is the comma after a direct address.
            Shown here: “Edgar, there’s skin hanging off your bones.” (Name that movie!)

These are just a few of the copy editing errors I see. If you have them down pat, there will be less heartache in the end (and frustration), but remember: it’s nearly impossible for a single person to catch them all.

If you’re interested in learning more, contact me through the links below and I’d be more than happy to help you out and give you a quote. Have a happy edit!


Natascha Jaffa dedicates her experience to helping writers grow through her editing firm, SPJ Editing, which she considers the best job in the world. When she isn’t editing, you can catch her snowboarding, rock climbing, or training for her first Ragnar Relay.
She’s an active member of International Thriller Writers, National Association of Writers and Editors, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America.
She is also published in suspense and romance as Nichole Severn.
Writers can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.