Monday, March 12, 2012

Misplaced modifiers...and commas...and apostrophes...

I've been reading a lot of self-published e-books lately. They have taught me a lesson for my own writing:

If I ever self-publish, I'm hiring an editor!

It's tough to edit your own writing. No matter how diligent you are, it's almost impossible to catch all your mistakes. That's why it's nice to have a second, third, or thirty-third pair of eyes to look everything over.

I've abandoned some of the self-published e-books I picked up, not because plot was thin or slow, not because the characters were flat, but because they were almost impossible to read due to poor editing. I'd get a few pages in and find myself yelling, "Didn't you bother to edit this at all?"

Of course, some of them probably didn't.

I remember a few years ago when a girl posted this message to a Yahoo writer's group I belonged to:

"Dec 3rd:  Hey! This was my first time trying NaNoWriMo and I won! Yay! Now I need to find out who I send this to so it can get published."

I kid you not. She "wrote a novel" in November and was looking for a publisher the first week in December. All those people that take ten years to write a novel? Pshh! They're just slackers. I can't even imagine what they're wasting all that time doing [tongue firmly in cheek].

However, whether one hires a professional editor or not, the first line of defense is always the author his/herself. It's important for a writer to have at least a basic knowledge of grammar and usage.

I started giving myself a grammar/usage refresher course a few months ago, mostly because of commas (blast you, vile punctuation mark)! I noticed I was starting to sprinkle commas on my pages like a rabbit with a digestive disorder.

I also did it for the ellipses. I literally spent three days trying to find out the ellipses rule for dialogue: if a character's thoughts trail off in a piece of dialogue, is it ellipses only? Ellipses with a period? Ellipses with a space and then a period? Etc., etc., ETC.!!! I tried looking it up in my reference guides, I Googled it, and I went to grammar sites until I wore out my mouse. I found lots of info about ellipses and omitted words, but I couldn't find much on ellipses and dialogue . . . and what little tidbits of info I did find contradicted each other. I even started paging through some books by published authors to find out how they handled ellipses, and, as usual, I couldn't find any examples (I know they are there; I KNOW I've seen Stephen King do the dialogue-trailing-off thing, but I couldn't find it when I needed it).

So, I decided I would pick up a style guide (Chicago Manual, used by the book publishing industry) and some grammar/usage guides and do a little self-study.

It's already helping. I'm already stingier about handing out commas. Of course, reading all these dry textbooks has put me into a comma . . . I mean: coma. Oops.

But even with my refresher course, I plan on having anything I self-publish thoroughly edited by a nice grammar-Nazi. If someone abandons a novel I've written, I don't want it to be because the comma-fairy left muddy footprints all over my prose; I want it to be because the zombies scared them so badly they couldn't keep reading.

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