Process II- Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty:
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
– Thomas Jefferson
“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.”
– George Eliot
“Be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”
– H.W. Fowler
“The shorter and the plainer the better.”
– Beatrix Potter
“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.”
– Winston Churchill
“Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
– C.S. Lewis
“Men of few words are the best men.”
– William Shakespeare
“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
– William Zinsser
Do you get the point of the eight quotes above?
Quite honestly, if I were to listen to these great authors I would have only included one of their quotes as the rest are entirely redundant. But how many of us follow these rules? How many of us wax poetic or turn our prose a lovely shade of byzantium only for the sake of adding more words to a page?
Who polices us when we get out of hand?
Today's style series is a continuation of the last installment on process. While the first segment was about how you lay down the framework for your story, this one will be about how you physically go about creating your story. The writing and the editing process.
As writers, how do we go about physically producing and editing our work? Some might see this as the "boring" part of the style process. But others might see this as what sets some writers apart. The process of proofreeding, sending to others, rewriting. Whether what they do comes easy to them or if they really work hard to create.
This is the "how" of the process and it can give us insight and help us figure out how we could go about things as well and how it would benefit us.
“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
– Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
Back before the computer, the typewriter was seen as an amazing invention that would transform the way people write. Before the typewriter it was the ball-point pen. Before that the fountain pen. I am sure there was a time when the quill seemed positively modern. One might see the computer as the reason our medium exists in the first place. We are here because of the internet. Not just TLYDF but fanfiction in general.
As we sit at our computers we can edit as we go. We see our spelling errors and at least a small number of our grammar errors as they are done. We can cut and paste and copy and insert. It used to be that an editor would get a copy of a typed manuscript, typos and all. Their job would be to go through the manuscript and copy-edit with a red pen before corrections would be made. Paragraphs and even pages might have been thrown out.
Now, the process is much different. During the school year, I type all of my chapters on Google docs because it is saved online. There is no reason to carry anything with me, it is entirely secure and I can work on it in my office as well as at any of the computers in my home. Google docs doesn't care that I have apples and pcs. It doesn't care if I save it to disc. It is convenient and very fast. Many people think that the majority of our work will be saved online in the very near future. We used to judge a computer by the amount of space that was on it, but no longer. Now we want whatever is most convenient. In many cases going back to a portability similar to the notebook and pen.
Where do you write and what equipment do you use? A laptop? Desktop? quill and ink? What word processing program do you use? Is there some reason you prefer it over others?
I write anywhere. I use a netbook (mini laptop) that easily fits in my purse and goes everywhere with me. I usually use Works because it pretty much leaves me alone. Writing in Word is distracting because it tries to help me all the time. I always have Notepad open as well for notes to myself- things that come to mind as I am working. I usually back up my work by emailing it to myself, but I have recently begun testing out my compatibility with google docs. We'll see how that works.
I outline using my laptop, mostly Google Docs or Open Office. The bulk of the writing occurs in a notebook, the key scenes are hand written and once completed I type them up into the Google/Open office document. I then flesh it out more and do the first edits. I keep a copy in Google docs so I can access from any computer and then once it is finalized I store a copy in my laptop.
I have a beloved laptop named Tosh. I use Microsoft Word, so my beta and I can play with those lovely track changes. And I write in a lot of different places, but my favorite spots are in my comfy chair next to my bookcase or at Caribou Coffee wearing my writer’s scarf, looking all smug and artsy-pretentious and crazy. It’s fun, you should try it.
Sometimes I'm on my desktop, sometimes on the laptop. I use Word, just because that's what on my computer. I'm a caveman with technology.
I write wherever my laptop or netbook takes me. I live a very portable life and whether it be TLYDF articles whipped up at my local coffee shop with free wi-fi or my batcave, cigs a burnin' next to me, I utilize my laptop or netbook (SOOOO CUTE!). But when I am not able to sit down and write a wholechapter or article, I jot notes in an app for my iPhone called Notebook. It's dead useful and most of the outlines for my Twilight Exchange and LJBT fics were in there. No matter where I go - I am plugged in baby. Love the digital life.
I write in my living room recliner with my laptop. I bought MS word 2007 so that I can use all the flash when editing. I like word because I like all of the editing options. I like editing hella more than I like writing.
I can write anywhere on anything. But I tend to use my laptop, and tend to use Word Perfect because I like it MUCH better than bloated Word. I convert my stories into HTML for my website (The Medicine Wheel) so they look better [format wise] and I can include images. Word, as some of you know, inserts the most AMAZING range of sheer GARBAGE into their html pages! Drives me INSANE.
mostly, i write at my desktop, but i just got my first laptop. i write a lot in class, too. i have tons of notebooks that i carry around with me in case i think of something or i'm bored while waiting for the gynecologist. i use MS word '07 because my husband is PC while i remain MAC, but unless one of you lovely people wants to start a "wtvoc needs a MAC!" fund, here i fail using MS word.
Typically I write with my laptop while sitting on the couch in my living room. I use MS Word 2003. It's what I'm used to and I prefer the editing/commenting features over Word Perfect.
However, I outline with a nice pen and a notepad. (By 'nice pen,' I mean that I usually go out a buy a new one whenever I plan to start work on a new project. I love buying pens and notebooks.) And sometimes when I have writer's block I'll take the pen and notepad and write while I'm in the bathtub.
Oh... and I write on my laptop while I'm in the kitchen doing the dishes if I'm writing smut. It's because I can write a sentence and think about it while I'm focusing on cleaning, before I have to go back and add another sentence.
“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
– Truman Capote (1924-1984)
Maybe it is my background, but I can't imagine in a million years not having someone read and correct what I write before it is published. It is hard for us to see our own mistakes. It is hard for us to catch redundancies and continuity. Even if we are okay with grammar, we can still make many mistakes. Most people write as the thought comes to them. Grammar is secondary to that insight. We check and recheck to find errors.
With me, I have a tendency to over-edit my work. I debate myself in usage v style. I cut and add, then subtract and rework. It becomes exhausting. What has worked for me is to just give my completely unedited work to my beta. This takes the critical eye away from me and I am able to see what I did right while I can focus on what I need to work on.
“I am the King of Rome, and above grammar.”
– Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor (1368-1437)
“Caesar is not above the grammarians.”
– Tiberius, Roman Emperor (42 BC – 37 AD)
Do you check your own work or send it off to Beta?
I use a beta. My grammar is frightening.
I've only used a beta for one story. As a rule, I am too impatient to work with others. Also, I am fairly confident in my grammar skillz.
Both. I go over a new chappy a couple times, take a breather for a fresh perspective, revisit, then send to beta.
BETA BETA BETA! siDEADde is my savior, but emibella, GinnyW, shug, avalonia and tnuccio have all come to my aid. I used to not have a beta. Thought I couldn't "suffer" the inconvenience - that I wouldn't "mesh". Bullshit. All that is just another way to say BIG ASS AND UNCALLED FOR EGO. But I have been schooled and now am humble and cringe each time I send copy for edit.
Praise jeebus...i send it off to two betas, and anyone else who offers to check it for me. -SiDEADde
I have editors, often more than one. Notice I said "editor" not "beta." They aren't the same thing, even though they're often conflated in fanfic. :-) A beta reader is someone who reads for overall impression, continuity, or specific knowledge of a subject used in the story. An editor is someone who reads for everything from typos, punctuation and internal consistency (a copy-editor) to a structural or architectural matters such as pacing, overall flow, cohesion, foreshadowing, characterization, cutting, etc. I typically have at least a copy-editor, and often a second reader for whatever purpose that story requires. (In HP fiction, I also have a Brit picker because I'm not British and Jo's novels are VERY British.)
Writers are very hard on other writers. Choose a beta who likes you.
“Plato was a bore.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
“Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.”
– Leo Tolstoy
“I'm not going to get into the ring with Tolstoy.”
– Ernest Hemingway
“Hemingway was a jerk.”
– Harold Robbins
“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
– William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”
– Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner
“That's not writing, it's typing.”
– Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac
“Why don't you write books people can read?”
– Nora Joyce to her husband James
Writers in our genre, in general, choose someone that they respect or know as a peer. In the "real world", writers and editors are not one in the same. Most writers would never think of being editors and vice versa. Here we have the reason why our beta is so much more to us than just a proofreader.
Is your Beta someone who you chose BECAUSE she is a beta or was she a friend first and a beta second? Tell us your beta story. ;)
I've had a lot of different betas over the years. Some were betas first before they became my friend later; others were friends first and they offered to beta; and some were betas and nothing more. My current betas were friends first, and they were supportive when I said that I wanted to write Twilight fanfic. They listened to me brainstorm and were supportive when I began to write. And then I asked them to beta read for me. However, they have both been betas for quite sometime and for multiple people.
I really don't recommend simply asking any friend to beta read. Sometimes friends will simply "fangirl" the author, never giving true feedback, only praise. Or they aren't familiar with common grammar rules. When I am looking for a beta reader, I want someone who will be honest with me and tell me what they really think. I want someone who will look at things with a critical eye and tell me when something isn't working. -Ginny W
My beta and I mutually admire each others writing. Sadly, my beta doesn't write much, so I don't get to enjoy her work as much as I would like. But we began talking because of the mutual admiration. One day I asked her if my idea would go over at all with readers, and she went nuts for it. She supported me valiantly as I struggled with putting a touchy subject out there.
My betas were friends first, betas second. I met them via the fandom and they offered to beta for me.
Aw, this is like telling a proposal story! I actually hunted EclipsedbyJacob down after reading her stuff, because I wanted to be her beta very badly. I sent her my beta profile, and squealed a bit when she accepted me. When I started writing HL5, it was only natural that I asked her to beta for me, because we already had that candid trust and healthy respect for each other’s work.
Um, I wrote an article with siDEADde on this here on TLYDF. Have a looksie "A Yin Yang Tale You've heard Before" by smellyia & siDEADde (second half of article).
When I first started writing fanfiction, I sought out a beta from the my list of favorite writers at Ramblings and Thoughts. Eowyn77 wrote a series about the Denali coven that I loved and she was a beta, so I asked her. She helped me with my first chapter and introduced me to TwilightMoms. Then she got hella sick and was in the hospital, so I figured she had better things to worry about than fixing my mess. I wrote 7 chapters without a beta and they are pretty wretched. I was whining on TwilightMoms on my fic thread and Tnuccio offered to read for me. She is wonderous. She showed me the glorious ways of MS Word and all its editing fun. After a few chapters she had a bad week, and I needed to post. I didn't want to pester her, so I grabbed my favorite reviewer and begged her to check it for me. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Now both Avalonia and tnuccio read for me. It's the best situation ever because they both read in different ways and for different things. I would NEVER post a thing without both of their approval. Both of my betas were vested readers first, and I got lucky enough to get women who know grammar -and- canon -and- my story. I'm so lucky.
I tend to work with a limited range of copy-editors because I expect certain things and I trust these people to deliver. All but one are professional editors in RL, and the other was an English teacher, so we're speaking the same language. It's important that writers and editors be on the same page.
The person I work with most often and have for 9 years is Naomi Kraus. There is a (slightly) funny story to how I got her. I'd written an X-Men novel (called "Heyoka") and she sent me feedback that began, "I've never liked an X-Men story more whose premise I liked less ..." *grin* She then made a few cautious grammar/typo corrections, asked if I wanted more, we exchanged a little mail, I realized she was a pro editor for a major Travel publisher and SNATCHED her up. We work well together; Naomi knows my quirks and doesn't have to constantly query me if I really meant XXX, or walk on eggshells when editing. If she says "Jump," I ask how high, especially when it comes to grammar.
Incidentally, I think it's important for a writer to communicate with her editor or beta reader, respond to comments, explain why if one doesn't take a suggestion, etc. Real editing takes a lot of time, so I try to "give back" to the editor who's doing it for free. Even if I get an edit I think is utter garbage (and it's happened, although not from the editors I choose like Naomi), I thank the person and then explain why I disagree.
Entries the First on editing:
"Drafts, Revisions and Editors"
"Editing (or Beta-Reading)"
No two beta's work exactly the same. Some prefer to read along with you, some like to send you back edited copy. It is important to get a feel for a beta's style. You need to know wether you need a proofreader, a copy editor, a style editor or if you really just want to know if it's okay to throw out there. You might not find the perfect fit at first. Style is more subjective than one often thinks. Even grammar rules can be trumped by personal style. Stick to your laurels and you will find the right beta/writer friendship that works for all.
What is your beta process, do you prefer your work beta'd for content, flow, style or a technical beta'ing?
While I'm writing, I am often asking for feedback for the content, flow, and style. Shug and I talk almost daily whether it's via phone, email, or IM and we frequently discuss my story's content, flow, and pacing. I tell her the portion that I'm working on, my plans for it, and how I think it'll progress. Then we carry on a discussion about how the execution would work best and if there are any details that need to be present for the idea to work.
As the chapter gets written, I send off scenes and snippets to my betas. One because they will tell me if I'm heading in the right direction for the story and they can help me spot holes. And two, because when I feel bogged down or stalled, they encourage me that what I'm writing it good and to keep going.
Once I finish a chapter, I'm mostly looking for the technical stuff since most of the kinks are typically ironed out prior to that.
I write. I send the chapter to Beta. She reads while I am on G-chat with her. She pastes sentences or paragraphs or questions for me into the chat box. We discuss. It's a mix of all of the above, really.
I check my own work and then it is sent off to beta #1 who works with me on content and flow. Once that is done I send it of for final editing with beta #2 who checks my punctuation and grammar. Lately the chapters are becoming more critical and I am using an extra beta that does a cold reading once its completed the first time around.. In the end at least 2 or 3 people have read the chapters before they are posted.
EbJ and I do all of the above (sounds kinky, I know). I tend to catch most of the technical stuff, so I depend a lot on EbJ for letting me know if a scene is working or if it’s murky. I also brainstorm a lot with her—I’ll get an idea for a story twist, then I’ll run it by her to get her take. She comes up with suggestions that I never would have thought of. -gondolier
Both. If my copy is not thoroughly reddened and comments galored - I am insulted. It's actually funny to me - many people do the whole "I'm not a nice beta, I tell it like it is, I don't hold back - blah, blah, blah". OOOOH - can I tell you all the ways I'm not quaking in my pants? Why? Because. Most folk aren't that harsh and if they are unnecessarily harsh - it's to get personal kicks. A good beta will be kind about it, respectful of you and then return you a copy so filled with marks that your eyes will roll in the back of your head. But it's OKAY - your work will be so much the better - technically, flow, content and style!
I want it beta'd for ALL of those things, and as stated above, I've found betas who can do all of it.
Do you talk to your beta as she is editing? Do you talk after? Discuss? Defend? Or do you believe that Beta Knows Best?
Well, since much of the beta'ing process is discussion either before I start writing the chapter or while I'm in the process of writing it, the answer to the first question is a definite "yes," we talk while she's editing.
If there is something to discuss afterwards, we discuss it. But since I typically talk about what I'm writing as I go along, there usually isn't much to defend. The biggest key is that if I do need to defend something, that's usually an indicator that I'm missing something in the story. If my betas are questioning something that seems obvious to me, it's most often because I have information that I've neglected to give to the readers.
Beta Knows Best? Yes and no. Ultimately, it's my story and my decision. Sometimes I just need to go with my instincts and write the story the way that I see fit. However, if my betas are constantly questioning something, then that could mean that my thought process is wrong. As I said when it comes to defending my story, sometimes I haven't spelled things out clearly enough or I've given conflicting information in my chapter. Or sometimes it's because I overlooked a plot hole or neglected to see an issue from all sides. A beta is a second set of eyes and when they agree to invest the time and energy into my story, I at least owe it to them to listen to their viewpoints and give them due consideration. After all, I asked them to work with me on my story for a reason.
When the issue comes to grammar, I rarely question anything. ;)
During. We do discuss. I do defend. Once, we spent about 2 hours on a single sentence because she HATED the way I had worded something. In the end, se won the fight, but I keep anything I cut in a txt doc. I might just go back in and change the sentence back to the original wording one day.
She doesn't always know best. But neither do I. The whole point of having the beta is to have someone I trust question me and push me. She does both, but if I can defend my point or my words or my phraseology, then she concedes. If I see that she is right (usually she picks on sentences that I already was unhappy with), then I concede. Aside from having conflicting schedules, I think we work well together.
For content/flow betas I talk to them as they read. I take the suggestions that I feel work best with the story and incorporate them. For my technical beta I get a final markup and I do use the same approach. I review her notes and incorporate as I go. -gustariana
We email before a chapter, then after. I’ll ask her to look for certain things, like if a scene is too emo or confusing. Once she’s read, she’ll write responses both in track changes and in the email. I’ve never felt like I need to defend my writing with EbJ. If she’s confused or thinks something doesn’t mesh, then it’s usually a sign I need to look at a scene twice, and maybe do a bit of rewriting.
I do not discuss with my beta as she is going through the copy. For the system we have, I do my job and she does hers. We do not interfere with each other's processes by showing mutual respect and letting the other do what they do without interference. When I recieve my copy back, I go through make all grammatical changes and then go through the comments. I only speak with her on these if it requires clarification or I am adamant about keeping the story as is - that has only happened maybe twice. I try to never be defensive - that's makes the whole process a waste of both our times. In my case, MY beta knows best. I can't say that for everyone else, because I've seen some pretty fucked up ones in my fandom time.
We talk during the process, we discuss and occasionally there is defend, but rarely. We have a fantastic working relationship. If I want to keep something, they don't bat an eye. If I whine about being stuck, they throw ideas out left and right. They know best 99% of the time. I'll give myself 1% veto.
How does your Beta send your work back to you? Is it more comments than changes? Suggestions? What percentage of suggestions do you think you take into account?
I take all suggestions into consideration. That doesn't mean that I follow all of them, but I do think about them. Sometimes I follow the suggestion, sometimes I'll ignore it, and other times I'll modify it to suit my style better.
I edit it all myself in real time as she reads.
For content/flow we usually discuss over google chat or email. They send me their comments on what they thought and I then use those to rework what needs extra clarification. For technical we work of a word/open office document. She adds comments where she sees there is a need for an update and I review and incorporate those that are needed.
I would say that for technical beta I take 98% of the suggestions because they are mostly grammatical or punctuation in nature. For content / flow it varies. There are some chapters that their feedback is less and others more.
Emailed Word attachment with track changes, typically more comments and feedback than changes. EbJ always has a nice balance of “I like this because” and “This isn’t working because”. Getting both the good and the not-so-good keeps motivating me to improve. And she’s funny as hell, with her overwhelming desire to jump Jacob’s bones. Of course, she checks biases at the door and takes my story at face value, which is probably the most important thing a beta can do.
My docs are sent back in Word with tracking and comments. She rarely changes ANYTHING other than MINOR grammatical items and even then, she may track them so I can see and learn so as not to make that mistake again in the future. I get oodles of comments on the side. I love and hate them - but she is respectful enough of me to not change in my doc and let me see what and why she suggests something, the ultimate decision being my own.
Both of my betas read differently. Tnuccio is so technical, she fixes awkward sentences, corrects my ghetto spelling, and leaves a few comments as to direction or confusing passages. Ava is more holistic. I rarely get sentences changes from her...definitely more comments and suggestions. I take 99% of what they both say, and there has been a drastic improvement in my writing.
Depends on what I'm asking them to do. I'll always take typo corrections from anybody (even post-publication), but Naomi tends to handle grammar, as does Muridae in addition to Brit picking. They usually send it in Word with the Track Changes option and comments (if needed).
Beta readers tend to offer more comments than corrections ... Laurel gives me extensive comments and canon checks, as well as engages in Evil Plotting (tm) for "Aorist Subjunctive." Heatherly read over everything in "Special" due to her work in the foster care system and sex abuse counseling (I'm an ex-counselor, but I specialized in bereavement, and each field has its own quirks). I had special readers for the sections of "An Accidental Interception of Fate" set in Berkeley, and those of "Special" set at Yale. And for "Grail," I had the assistance of a virologist who read for and corrected all the information on the Legacy Virus (and boy, did she put in hours and hours explaining virology to me ... with diagrams! LOL!). So what the editor or beta reader gives me depends on why I engage their assistance.
Entry the Second on Editing:
"The Three Tiers of Editing" -minisino
Our next installment to the style series will be the final in Process. We will be discussing characterization further with our panel, how they form their characters and their relationships with them.
The key behind this series is that everyone is unique. Thank you to all the wonderful, unique writers who are participating in this series as well as to you for taking time to read.