Write Wow!

Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Publisher/Editor's Pet Peeves

As an editor and publisher, I have pet peeves just like anyone else, and most of those involve formatting. I can generally adjust to an author's style quirks, and misspellings and grammatical errors are the copy editor's problem, not mine. However, I am the one who formats Swimming Kangaroo's books for print, and in the process of doing so I have found that there are some things that just drive me nuts.

One thing I have found is that people have no idea when to start a new paragraph. Lots of people seem to think that you should start a new one before every bit of dialogue. For example, they will write a passage like this:

Sarah opened the letter and read it, her brow furrowing with concern. She walked
over to the window, opened it and stuck her head outside.

"John!" she yelled. "You'd better come in here."

John continued his run down the basketball court, dribbling until he was almost beneath the hoop, then jumping and sinking the ball in for the goal. He paused and scowled up at her, his face softening when he saw the lines on her face.

"Okay babe," he said. "I'll be right there."
There is absolutely no reason in the world why Sarah's dialogue could not have been moved up into the first paragraph. Likewise there is no reason in the world why John's dialogue couldn't have been moved up into the 3rd paragraph. I halfway suspect that some writers put the maximum amount of paragraphs in to increase the length of the novel. Doesn't work, folks!

Okay, so here's some general guidelines. Change paragraphs when you change speakers or ideas. The passage above could be done very effectively as two paragraphs, one for each speaker. Also change paragraphs if you find that your paragraph is getting too long and unwieldy and you need to break it up. But otherwise let it go.

Another little formatting quirk is the people who indent the first line of a paragraph with spaces instead of a tab or an indent setting. If the writer uses spaces, then when I am formatting I have to remove all the spaces. Folks, it's a pain in the butt! You have a tab key on your computer for a reason-- use it! If you are a little more tech minded, go into your paragraph settings box and set your first line indent for .5 or .3 or for whatever floats your boat.

Finally, for those of you have wondered when to use "who" and when to use "whom", or if you've gotten confused between "that" and "which", check out the Swimming Kangaroo Forum. We've set up a special section where you can go and ask your questions about grammar, punctuation and style. So come on and ask away!


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