Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Revise, revise, revise: nitpicking


Working with my own personal copyeditor, I’ve just finished the third draft of the book I’m putting together on early frontier fiction. I would have said “the book I’m writing,” but it’s at the stage now where “putting together” is more like the task that revising feels like. Some assembly required.

I’m now looking at a list of terms I need to make sure are used consistently:

couple of – My copyeditor points out that it’s not just couple, as in a couple people.

barb wire – Other forms of this term are OK (barbed wire, barbwire); I just need to stick with one.

Cavalry / cavalry – Use one when I mean the U.S. Cavalry and the other when I’m just referring to a company of mounted soldiers.

nonwhite – It’s not non-white.

backstory – It’s not back story or back-story.

kind of – Delete when it’s a hedge phrase (e.g., kind of angry).

Populist / populist – Capitalize when it refers to the actual political party.

en dashes – Use these instead of hyphens in date ranges (e.g.,  1910 – 1915)

s’ / s’s – Either is right for possessive case of plurals; I prefer s’ and just need to check for consistency. What I’m still not sure about is whether the same rule applies to a singular word ending in s (e.g. the name Adams).

dance hall – Always two words, not dancehall.

half-dozen – Takes a hyphen.

East / West. A big headache so far has been deciding when to capitalize these two words. The manuals say to use capitals when you are referring to a region with its specific culture and customs. So the East and the West are easy, and a little less so is back East and back West. But things get murky when combined with other words. Is it came West or came west? And when is it Western or western? Westerner or westerner? I still don’t have a rule for these nailed down.

Page numbers. Where I have quoted from the authors I’m writing about, I’ve included page numbers, which is an old academic habit. But this is not an academic study and not meant to be a contribution to academic discourse. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Then he is called upon to risk life and limb as he brings the injured Alton down from the mountains. The entire days-long journey that ends with a perilous canoe ride is told from Seaforth’s point of view. His terror only scarcely contained, suffering from the freezing wet and cold, he is single-mindedly committed to Alton’s rescue. His love and concern for the man is unbounded. “You are my partner, Harry,” he says to him later, “and the only friend I have” (p. 247).
The intended audience is readers and writers of westerns and frontier fiction, not literary scholars. But you can’t be sure how a book is going to be used, and I honestly don’t know whether readers might find page numbers useful or just visual clutter on the page.

Draft #4. After a day or two to catch my breath, I am diving back in for what I hope is the last round of heavy-duty polishing. My hardworking copyeditor has given the MS another read-through, and I’m hoping she didn’t find much to clean up and clarify this time around.

Fact checking. It would take a small army of fact checkers to go through 164,000 words of text for factual errors. I have tried to be very careful in the writing as I consult sources, but I’m sure a few mistakes will slip through. If I labored to have an utterly perfect text, I’d still be sitting here with it a year from now. I need to make a short list of what I need to check for sure, like authors’ dates and dates of publication.

I also have to write an introduction and a page of acknowledgements. But I already feel like I’m getting ahead of myself.

To be continued . . .


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


Coming up: Loren D. Estleman, The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion


12 comments:

  1. All these little details are what trip me up. When it comes to grammar and usage, you don't really know what you don't know until it's pointed out, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad I have someone right here who likes to do that. Ha.

      Delete
  2. Yeah, when you get to that point, putting together is a good term for it. all those nagging details. I kind of enjoy it for a while, but then I start to get pretty sick of it all and am so glad when it's over.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John McPhee in a recent New Yorker article about writing says that he had around a half-dozen fact checkers and copyeditors going over his writing with a fine tooth comb. What a luxury.

      Delete
  3. Revising is my least favorite part of the writing process, but a necessary evil. Best of luck to you, Ron. I look forward to reading it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Matt. Let me say that revising fiction is a whole lot less of a chore than nonfiction. There are all those pesky facts that you can't finesse your way around.

      Delete
  4. Good for you. Your work will be more authoritative. I have used the Chicago Manual of Style for years, especially for nonfiction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have Chicago and 3-4 other handbooks, which sometimes just add to the confusion.

      Delete
  5. Very interesting, Ron. East and West confuse me too. I don't know whether to capitalise them while referring to the two regions of the US in my reviews of western books. In fact, Western or western is another conundrum. Do modern writers use lowercase?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tend to overcapitalize, probably from reading these century-old books, where it's more common. But West/west remains a puzzle in many instances. Generally, the word western is not capitalized, but I wouldn't bet that is always the case.

      Delete
  6. A good editor should catch these errors, if they can be called that. I have Chicago available, but seldom refer to it. The casual reader won't pay attention to these details.

    ReplyDelete