Novel Editing Issues

Ke
Kekerusey
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Wed Sep 13, 2017 12:09 pm Post

OK,

So, I am liaising with the owner and editor of the company to which I have sent my first book manuscript (science fiction) and I am having a few problems with some of the things they want to do to it so I want to try and gauge people's thoughts on this. The editor has 27 years of editing experience but is clearly not science fiction oriented and I can't gauge the owner.

The editor criticised my confusing use of names and callsigns which is fair and I have agreed to check with the aim of simplifying (de-confusing) my book. She also criticised my use of commas and full stops in speech ... she was on the [punctuation] mark there :)

However, her view on titles and line-spacing bother me... not actual line-spacing I stress, blank lines between blocks of text.

My earlier version of the novel had a line between most paragraphs but the submitted version has had many of these removed so now I only have an additional line where there is a change of perspective in the narrative. For example, I might spend several paragraphs focussing on one character then switching to another... at that point I would have an additional line, a short breath so to speak. For example:

What I submitted (hypothetically):

"Blah, blah, blah," Alpha spoke caustically to Beta, "Blah, Blah, blah."
He turned to his console and picked up the phase manifold converter, staring blankly at it for several seconds before turning back to his TV screen to watch the latest episode of X-Craptor.
There was a ringing in his ear and he turned to his phone.

Beta smiled happily to herself, ignoring Alphas rantings as she continued to disassemble the positronic hyper-wrangler.
She couldn't help but smile as this was the sort of rubbish Alpha was always getting up to when they worked together. Sometimes she just thought they didn't.
'If only I could resign." She thought as she hefted the omni-prescient neutron mouth gargler and wondered if she'd get away with throwing it, hard, at Alpha.

Alpha slammed the phone down and turned to Beta.
"Do you know what that idiot wanted?"
....


What she wants:

"Blah, blah, blah," Alpha spoke caustically to Beta, "Blah, Blah, blah."
He turned to his console and picked up the phase manifold converter, staring blankly at it for several seconds before turning back to his TV screen to watch the latest episode of X-Craptor.
There was a ringing in his ear and he turned to his phone.
Beta smiled happily to herself, ignoring Alphas rantings as she continued to disassemble the positronic hyper-wrangler.
She couldn't help but smile as this was the sort of rubbish Alpha was always getting up to when they worked together. Sometimes she just thought they didn't.
'If only I could resign." She thought as she hefted the omni-prescient neutron mouth gargler and wondered if she'd get away with throwing it, hard, at Alpha.
Alpha slammed the phone down and turned to Beta.
"Do you know what that idiot wanted?"
....


The owner said that he usually edits to a standard where a scene break is denoted by three asterisks centre aligned without any paragraph indentation and that there was no need to leave multiple blank lines ... he has to remove them before he has a hope of getting a book into Smashwords (auto-vetter will not accept more than 2-line breaks together). I think the addition of asterisks for such perspective shifts would be ugly (too many small shifts in each chapter) and, to be fair, I am only talking about single-line addition which is two-line breaks isn't it?

Personally, I feel this is an artistic decision, I think the additional blank lines improve readability ... Cass (our aspiring editor) agrees. I think removing such lines in a long chapter looks worse and makes the text more difficult and confusing to read.

So, any thoughts on the above would be appreciated.

Keke

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kewms
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Wed Sep 13, 2017 4:21 pm Post

Well, the use of asterisks for scene breaks *is* standard, and viewpoint shifts within the same scene should be signaled adequately by the text itself.

It's an artistic decision, but remember that writing is a different skillset from layout and design. Not very many people are good at both.

Katherine
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devinganger
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Wed Sep 13, 2017 7:30 pm Post

Also consider your reader's experience. The average reader understands that three asterisks signifies a scene change, because that's following convention. The average reader understands that view can shift within a scene -- usually by starting new paragraphs -- because that's following convention. The average reader may not understand what your use of additional line breaks is supposed to signify, because it's not following convention.

Convention can feel like a restriction on your artistic freedom, but remember -- it's a shared and agreed-upon set of shorthand that lets writers, editors, and readers all agree on "this is how we signal X" so that the reader can get on with enjoying the story and not having to stop to figure out what new and interesting thing the writer/publisher is doing with typography, spacing, etc. It can be hard enough to communicate the ideas we WANT to communicate even when following all of the conventions! :)

I remember my first time reading the David Brin Uplift series. There, Brin uses a two-column format for poetry/speech in native dolphin language. It was confusing as hell the first couple times I ran across it, because I didn't know if I was supposed to read left to right across columns (and the gap was just for beat/emphasis) or if I was supposed to read down column one then go back up to column two. There wasn't a lot of it, but it made the initial reading experience a bit confusing and less enjoyable because I wasn't sure I was understanding the text. To this day, it's something that trips me up a little every time I begin a re-read of the series. Was it insurmountable? No. Once I figured out what was going on, it was a VERY effective way of communicating the very different mindset the dolphin characters had. So there, it was worth the reader confusion to violate conventions to adapt for a situation the conventions *didn't cover*.

So back to your query. How important is it to you those line breaks are there? Are they signaling something other than shifts in viewpoint, or is there some reason the current convention doesn't work? Remember, your publisher isn't there to make your life difficult -- they are your translator. Good ones understand the technical limitations and help you get around them without doing serious damage to your manuscript. I would hesitate before advising you to dismiss them out of hand -- technical limitations often can't be worked around, and not being able to sell via SmashWords could be a huge disadvantage to your career. Also remember that many of the formatting decisions you make for ebooks get overridden by each reader's preferences, so writing in such a way that nuance of formatting makes a difference can be a less than optimal experience for your readers anyway.

As a single data point, I would say that having a blank line within a scene to signify a viewpoint change would probably irritate me, just because it's white space I am not used to seeing. I would wonder what the significance was. I would worry that something had been corrupted and I was missing data in the ebook. It would be a low-level irritation, but that would be enough to potential detract from my overall experience of the book.

Hope this helps give you food for thought. Good luck in your editing, and congratulations!
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Devin L. Ganger, WA7DLG
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Maelduin
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Sun Oct 08, 2017 7:40 pm Post

I'd be with the editor here. This is the normal convention: you write so that your reader understands the context, without needing gaps in text to show that a scene has changed. For instance, look at the transition on the third page of the story A Good Man is Hard to Find, from "…naturally curly" to "The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car" - http://www.boyd.k12.ky.us/userfiles/447 ... 20Find.pdf - the change of scene is obvious to us, and so we don't need to be guided by the layout.

It's not really a change of scene that is indicated by a series of asterisks, it's a total change to a new movement of the story - the kind of change that is normally made by starting a new chapter.

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Floss
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Tue Jan 09, 2018 5:21 pm Post

as a general rule... defend creative suggestions that you feel strongly about with your editor, but -- assuming they're a pro and not just someone random you met in starbucks -- simply defer to them on anything to do with formatting, layout, etc.

although, i,d definitely listen to them with an open mind on creative suggestions as well, they may well have a point and they only want your book to be as good as it can be.
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