WTF is Copy-edit?

WTF is Copy-edit?

A Story by Kasey Klein
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An essay on how I write

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Description: Macintosh HD:Users:karlklein:Desktop:Today on Gather:newsletter:pictures:HowIWrite.jpg

 

WTF is Copy-editing

 

I have a series of essays not on writing, but rather on how I personally write. If I had to put a label on my style, I’d call it objective/journalistic. As the writer, I try to report the story. To me, the story is about the story and the characters. The story is not about me. The voice, the point of view, then, become important to me. Writing has a goal: the story. Beyond the story, the goal is to have the story understood.

 

Writing is a whole lot like driving a car. The point is to navigate the reader down the page, to a destination. As with driving a car, I’d think as many styles exist as drivers. Yet, yet, yet! Each driver is expected and requiredto follow certain guidelines. I say guidelines because we can at anytime drive up on the sidewalk if we wish. If we do, drive up on the sidewalk, we should have a good reason, like swerving to not crush a child running out in front of us after a ball.

Syntax (the rules govrerning sentence structure/grammar) allows us to be understood. As the writer, you may do anything you wish. You’re the artist, after all. If you write so others cannot understand you, you’re then merely writing for your own amusement, which is fine. Personally, I call that masturbation, self-pleasuring, and if more people would learn the art, I feel the world would be a better place.

Nevertheless, if you wish to get your passengers to the destination, you should avoid driving up on the sidewalk, running people over. Sure, I can see how that could be amusing, but the public would not accept your actions warmly.

Simply: I suggest we know and observe the proper syntax. If we choose to go outside convention, we should have a reason, acting with purpose, not out of ignorance or laziness. For example, as I was proofreading a work, I pointed out the brake in the car was spelled brake, notbreak. The writer defended his misspelling with: “It’s a matter of style, so my writing stands out from other writers.” To call a misspelling a matter of style is to insult the reader and a waste my time as a proofreader.

We have a pantheon of styles within the framework of the canonized syntax. We don’t need to call our lack of experience style.

 

Copy-edit ~ The heavy lifting. Once we have our first draft, the real work begins. I’m gong to make a note here. The more I copy-edited my work and the work of others, the better my writing became. At first, I had major overhauling to do. Now, my writing rolls out needing only minor changes.

 

I’m going to run through, point by point, a copy-edit of a short piece, 216 words. When done, the rewrite is going to be 106 words. Copy-editing is like vivisection with a dull axe. When I copy-edit, this is what I do. I’ll present the original first draft, highlight what I don’t like, present the rewrite and then explain why I don’t like each element I marked.

 

Dialog: the Widow-maker

 

“Did you see,” she asked, “they’re calling for snow?”

He ruffled the newspaper, a bulwark against the mundane. “No, I didn’t,” he answered.

“I’d thought it’d be in the paper,” she retorted.

“Not in the sports section,” he shot back.

She was mad. “I think you love that paper more than me.”

It’s quieter, he thought, but said, “I don’t love the newspaper at all.” Folding the paper, he set it on the table and stood up from the chair, looking at this wife over his glasses. “I’ve got to get to work.”

“Okay,” she answered, watching over the coffee cup at her lips.

 He stopped, narrowed his eyes and said, “You got a hair cut.”

She blushed, batting her eyes, watching the table. She was pleased he noticed. “Yeah, I did.”

“Maybe I’ll come home early.” He thought they could have sex. “We can have an early dinner, go to bed early,” he raised an eyebrow.

Licking her lips, she eyed him up and down and answered, “With or without the newspaper?”

With a chuckle, he crossed the room to her location, bent down and kissed her on the lips. “See ya.”

“Not if I see you first,” she retorted playfully as he crossed back to the doorway and exited the room, leaving for work.

 

 

What I don’t like:

 

“Did you see,” she asked, “they’re calling for snow?”

He ruffled the newspaper, a bulwark against the mundane. “No, I didn’t,” he answered.

“I’d thought it’d be in the paper,” she retorted.

“Not in the sports section,” he shot back.

She was mad. “I think you love that paper more than me.”

It’s quieter, he thought, but said, “I don’t love the newspaper at all.”Folding the paper, he set it on the table and stood up from the chair, looking at this wife over his glasses. “I’ve got to get to work.”

Okay,” she answered, watching over the coffee cup at her lips.

 He stopped, narrowed his eyes and said, “You got a haircut.”

She blushed, batting her eyes, watching the table. She was pleased he noticed. She said, “Yeah, I did.”

“Maybe I’ll come home early.” He thought they could have sex. “We can have an early dinner, go to bed early,” he raised an eyebrow.

Licking her lips, she eyed him up and down and answered, “With or without the newspaper?”

With a chuckle, he crossed the room to her location, bent down and kissed her on the lips. He stood up. “See ya.”

“Not if I see you first,” she retorted playfully as he crossed back to the doorway and exited the room, leaving for work.

 

My rewrite:

“Did you see they’re calling for snow?”

“No, I didn’t.” He ruffled the newspaper, a bulwark against the mundane.

“I’d thought it’d be in the paper.”

“The sports section?”

“I think you love that paper more than me.”

It’s quieter. “I don’t love the newspaper at all.” He stood, looking over his glasses. “Got to get to work.”

“OK.” She watched over her coffee cup.

He narrowed his eyes. “Haircut?”

She blushed, batting her eyes, watching the table. “Yeah.”

“Maybe I’ll come home early.” He raised an eyebrow.

“With or without the newspaper?”

He chuckled, bent, kissing her. “See ya.”

“Not if I see you first!”

 

Oh, the details.

 

“Did you see,” she asked, “they’re calling for snow?”

 

We’ll start with the basics. In literature, quotation marks indicate direct dialog. Anytime you see anything in quotation marks, it should be something being said. Back in the day when all we had were typewriters, we only had quotation marks to set things off. We didn’t have italics. When preparing a manuscript, we’d underline the words meant to be in italics.

Here’s the good habit to get into: Only use quotation marks for direct quotations �" dialog.

Moving on with the basics: a question mark at the end of a sentence denotes a question. I bet that’s not a newsflash for many. I need to state the obvious.

“Did you see they’re calling for snow?”

The syntax tells us two things: one, this is direct dialog and two: it’s a question. Now, we need ask: does the context tell us who the speaker is?

Sure.

 

He ruffled the newspaper, a bulwark against the mundane. “No, I didn’t,” he answered.

 

This comes a new paragraph, which tells the reader we’re shifting point of view �" we’re shifting to someone else. We have quotation marks and obviously, it’s an answer. We don’t need to tell the reader: he answered. It’s redundant.

 

Now, she answers back:

 

“I’d thought it’d be in the paper,” she retorted.

Obviously, she’s retorting.

 

“Not in the sports section,” he shot back.

 

We writers have such a pathological need to tack phrases like this on the back of our dialog, as if the average reader has the attention span of a gnat, needing to be reminded what’s going go.

 

She was mad. “I think you love that paper more than me.”

 

Particularly in third person narrative, avoid the commentary. Allow the dialog and the characters to tell the story. Keep the narrator out of the way. Allow the reader to play along. Have faith, the reader will get it.

 

It’s quieter, he thought, but said, “I don’t love the newspaper at all.”Folding the paper, he set it on the table and stood up from the chair, looking at this wife over his glasses. “I’ve got to get to work.”

 

Here’s where we use italics �" direct thoughts.

 

It’s quieter. “I don’t love the newspaper at all.” He stood, looking over his glasses. “Got to get to work.”

 

I cut much of the needless stage direction. He stood says the same thing as stood up from the chair. We know he’s looking at this wife, so I cut that, keeping in looking over his glasses. It’s a good visual.

 

Okay,” she answered, watching over the coffee cup at her lips.

 

“OK.” She watched over her coffee cup.

 

OK is spelled OK, not okay. Though okay is an informal alternate spelling, it’s not correct. Personally, I like okay, but I gnash my teeth and type OK. Okay is acceptable when using a word such as okayed as in “okayed the job.” Also OK’d.

 

Again, we know this is an answer. We needn’t repeat she answered. We also know, if she’s watching over her coffee cup, the cup would be up to her face.

 

He stopped, narrowed his eyes and said, “You got a haircut.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Haircut?”

 

He stopped is needless stage direction. I opted for the short haircut? It’s sharper.

 

She blushed, batting her eyes, watching the table. She was pleased he noticed. She said, “Yeah, I did.”

 

She blushed, batting her eyes, watching the table. “Yeah.”

 

We don’t want the narrator to get involved. Obviously, the reader knows she’s pleased.

 

Now, a word: She blushed, batting her eyes, watching the table. Is not a correct sentence and would be shot down in English Comp 101. However, I like the pop, the punch of stacking clauses like this, using commas. I find it sharpens a story. A matter of taste.

 

“Maybe I’ll come home early.” He thought they could have sex. “We can have an early dinner, go to bed early,” he raised an eyebrow.

 

“Maybe I’ll come home early.” He raised an eyebrow.

 

He thought they could have sex is needless narrator commentary.

 

Tacking action on to dialog with a comma makes my teeth want to turn around in my head and eat my brain. This: “We can have an early dinner, go to bed early,” he raised an eyebrow �" doesn’t even mean anything.

 

Sharper: “Maybe I’ll come home early.” He raised an eyebrow.

 

Licking her lips, she eyed him up and down and answered, “With or without the newspaper?”

 

Sharper: “With or without the newspaper?”

 

With a chuckle, he crossed the room to her location, bent down and kissed her on the lips. He stood up. “See ya.”

 

Too much stage direction: He chuckled, bent, kissing her. “See ya.”

 

“Not if I see you first,” she retorted playfully as he crossed back to the doorway and exited the room, leaving for work.

 

Ditto: “Not if I see you first!”

 

 

 

Note on the colon use. If you’re writing a news piece, the word after the colon is always capitalized. If you’re writing literature, the word after the colon would only be capitalized if the sentence after the colon is a complete sentence. It’s a judgment call. Two different styles exist: the MLA style and the AP style. The rules are mostly the same, varying only slightly.

 

 

 

© 2011 Kasey Klein


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Reviews

goos stuff...insightful...

Posted 9 Years Ago


thank you very much its was more helpful then you know to have an example rather then an explanation. its so much easier to understand this way this kind of instruction invaluable.

Posted 9 Years Ago


I really appreciated reading all the rules you set forth in this piece. I have always had trouble with improper punctuation or unnecessary narrator involvement in my writing. And, to see the examples set forth about what you included or took out, really helped so much.
I wish more writers would give such information when explaining rules. Everyone's brain works different. And, I personally need a visual example when someone is trying to get a point across to me.
I've seen other writers use some of the don'ts you've mentioned in published books, mind you, and it's a major pet peeve of mine.

Posted 9 Years Ago


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Added on April 7, 2011
Last Updated on April 7, 2011

Author

Kasey Klein
Kasey Klein

palmyra, NJ



About
Greetings and salutations. I'm serious about my writing. I'm not much for writing or reading poetry. I like the classics: Poe, Frost, Whitman. I'd like to read good short stories. If you don't.. more..

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