By Joshua Essoe
Now that November (National Novel Writing Month) is over, a writer’s “first draft done” mind often turns to editing. The is the 2nd in a series of 4 articles focusing on editing by a full-time freelance editor, continuing advice, insight and that editorial perspective. Read the first one.
Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.
Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction.
That’s just some cold-blooded stuff I like to say before dispensing some editing advice. I’ve spoken about industry standard formatting (or SMF, standard manuscript formatting), the important difference between a and the, and given you crib notes on how to write a good action scene. Now let’s take out a few other things on my hit list.
- Should I use double spaces or a single space between sentences?
This is hot-button issue. If you don’t believe me, just bring it up the next time you’re around a bunch of writers. I’ll prepare for the hate mail now because inevitably this answer is going to make someone turn into a giant, green, rage monster.
The reason double spaces were used between sentences is because when people used typewriters, editors needed a strong, definitive break between sentences. The monospaced font typewriters used didn’t create that, so two spaces were inserted.
That, of course, isn’t necessary with word processors.
Whether you use one or two spaces these days comes down to a style issue. Some editors prefer one, some prefer two, however most style guides advise you use only one. As I understand it, page designers beg the use of just one to avoid the unsightly blocks of space that using two will litter a document with. If your MS is at that step, they’ll just have to remove all the double spaces anyway.
So forget the double spacing. I always recommend using just one.
Excuse me while I go lock my doors.
- When do I use “which” and when do I use “that”?
Use “that” before a restrictive clause, and “which” before everything else. A restrictive clause is part of a sentence that you can’t get rid of because it specifically restricts some other part of the sentence. If you take out a restrictive clause, the sentence won’t make sense anymore.
For example: “Jewels that glow are worth more money.”
“That glow” restricts what kind of jewels we’re talking about, so you can’t get rid of it without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Nonrestrictive clauses include a part that can be left off without a change in meaning.
For example: “Jewels, which may glow, are worth a lot of money.”
Note that when you use a nonrestrictive clause it is set apart by commas.
- What the heck is passive voice?
Non-English: a passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. That is, whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence.
English: passive voice is telling, not showing.
For example: “The next few months were consumed by wandering through the caverns.”
What is doing the action in this sentence? Wandering; however, wandering is not in the spot where you would expect the grammatical subject–the months are.
So, to make this sentence active, rearrange it: “Wandering through the caverns consumed the next few months.”
See the difference? In the first example I told you what was going on. In the second example that stuff was going on. Look for forms of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle. The past participle is a form of the verb that typically, but not always, ends in “-ed.” Some exceptions to the “-ed” rule are words like “paid” and “driven.”
So here’s the formula for spotting passive voice: form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice.
When editing, I will sometimes call things out as passive storytelling that aren’t technically passive verbs or passive voice. At times, I’ll mark both progressive and pluperfect tenses passive–note, I don’t mark them as passive verbs. When I do this, it means that I see a more dynamic way to write the passage I’ve highlighted. It could be made stronger and more vibrant with a different, more active verb and/or sentence structure. Progressive and pluperfect sometimes present as good an opportunity as a passive verb to make your text more interesting.
Unless it is the most effective way to phrase something, try not to start a story off with something passive sounding. These kinds of things will often amount to personal preference. When I spot something like this, I’ll call it out so the author can decide what’s best for their story. Personally, I like active storytelling–I find it both more engaging and better able to draw pictures in my head. Most readers do.
I hope this has answered more questions, knocked some targets off the hit list . . . and that no rage monsters are now beating out responses to me with two spaces before each sentence. Next week we’ll take a look at paragraphs, single quotation marks, how to properly punctuate dialogue, and backward descriptions.
Joshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s done work for best-seller David Farland, including the multi-award winning novel, Nightingale, Dean Lorey, lead writer of Arrested Development, best-seller, James Artimus Owen, and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. He is currently the finishing editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine.
Together with tie-in writer Jordan Ellinger, indie success-story, Michael J. Sullivan, and traditionally published author and NY Times best-seller, Debbie Viguie, he records the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create. You can find his interview episode here.
When not editing . . . ha ha, a joke. He was a 2014 finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and lives with his wife, and three horrible cats near UCLA.