One of the joys I have found since beginning to write fiction in earnest, and making that writing available on the internet, is coming to know a whole new bunch of exciting and interesting people, some readers and some writers - take my fellow Wicked Writers, for example.
Then there has been the opportunity to give advice to those who are at the beginning of their writing careers, or those just thinking about starting out. But I think the most rewarding experience is to prompt someone to take action and for that action to produce something tangible - a piece of writing.
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My guest today is posting her first ever blog! But, despite this, Kate knows about writing – she is a proof reader and editor, and offers us an excellent insight into our craft!
Kate has always liked working for herself, and after being made redundant as a Personal Assistant for the second time in two years, she decided to take up proof reading as a profession. She'd read something somewhere about a lot of transcription work being outsourced abroad, and how it's then proof read in the UK. So, Kate tells me, being of a picky and meticulous nature (she has been known to argue with the radio, apparently) and always having been a reader for fun, she thought that it sounded like a job she could enjoy.
I hope you enjoy her proof reader’s insight…
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YELLOW BEEHIVES, LIPSTICK TEETH & FAVOURITE AUTHORS
by Kate Porelli
OK, I’ll come clean. I’m not a writer. (Well, not yet anyway!) But I was asked if I’d like to guest blog on my favourite authors, through the point of view of one of the peripheral aspects of writing as, by trade, I am a proof reader and copy editor. It puts a roof over my head and food on the table, but it doesn’t stop there, not for me. Nor does it mean that I am a full-time apostrophe fascist (although I am; I once refused to eat in a café that advertised “panini’s” just on principle).
Proof reading has, as a by-product, changed my whole view of the written word, either fact or fiction. In short, I have become a very demanding reader, as those of you who see us (not entirely wrongly) as pedantic nit-pickers, will already have assumed.
Sloppy writing and lack of continuity is something I’m trained to see, which isn’t always of benefit as it can ruin an otherwise perfectly adequate story. The other side of the coin is that I can now spot eloquence when I see it, and as a result I find that I am enjoying a far wider field of writing than before.
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I believe that writers are the modern equivalent of the travelling bards and story-tellers whose job, when only the elite could read, was to captivate their audience and to beguile, enthral and entertain. It is not a job that should be done lackadaisically.
Our world is in a state of constant change and innovation and it’s right that our language reflects this fact. However, I hasten to add that, in my belief, text speak should be a recognised crime, punishable by long periods in a forced training camp where people have to write things out in full for sixteen hours a day until they get the hang of it. But I digress…
We have more access than ever before to great literature and even things like computer spelling and grammar checkers that will tell you (more or less) if you are making mistakes and yet, perversely, I find that the standard of writing in general is falling.
I often read manuscripts that Mrs Palmer (my old English Language teacher) would have called us up to the front of the class and picked to pieces before sending us away to do them again. (I didn’t like her daffodil yellow beehive or the lipstick on her teeth, but thought it best not to say so!) And these are manuscripts from educated people to whom the English language just doesn’t seem to matter any more.
A good story needs a plot that holds the reader’s attention and characters they can become emotionally invested in, that goes without saying, but that isn’t enough by itself. A good story needs clear and elegant phrasing to lift it above the mundane.
If asked to pick a favourite author I wouldn’t be able to. There are too many to choose from. Writers are like favourite foods – chocolate is lovely but not if you’re in the mood for steak. Stephen King spins a good yarn and can hold my attention throughout a volume the size of a couple of house bricks, Neil Gaiman has both surrealism and wit on his side, Graham Greene wins in the elegance category, Bill Bryson has me laughing out loud, but Terry Pratchett fills me with awe at the inspired bizarreness of his world (despite the sneaking suspicion that some of his references go over my head).
Terry Pratchett is the closest I can get to defining the writer I would like to have been. I still haven’t read all of his books, I get through perhaps three or four a year, read them slowly and savour every moment. He puts a sentence together and plants a new concept like nobody else can, I am still trying to imagine what colour magic is and still as taken as I ever was with the idea of octarine (an eighth colour which is only normally visible to wizards and cats and described as a “greenish-yellow purple” in the books).
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All that aside though, Terry’s prose is so precise that he can throw a new word that he has just made up into the middle of a passage and you know exactly what it means and that to me has to be the sign of a great modern writer, the writing doesn’t have to be standard stuff, but the quality has to be able to carry it if you’re going to go out on a limb.
So, you may (or may not) want to know, what I think makes a bad piece of writing.
I’ll tell you anyway.
From the point of view of a reader (not a professional reader, mind you, just a general reader in the street), there are the obvious things like a poor plot, lack of research, continuity going to pot and characters I can’t either empathise with or loathe. None of these need any further comment from me, but other story wreckers are using five long words where three short ones will do, (which often appears to just be an author showing that they know long words), and repetition.
Repetition includes both the double statement sort (“he glanced quickly”) and the kind where somebody will use one particular word over and over again (“nice” syndrome). Then, of course, there’s a fine line between enough description or detail and too much. One enormous advantage the written word has is that the reader can add their own imagination to that of the writer, it somehow makes us feel part of things.
A good proof reader or copy editor is a necessary evil, it’s our job to know how a finished piece will read and it’s what we do best (well, that and getting irritated by signs that say “potatoe’s” and sighing a lot whilst reading newspapers).
Thank you for joining us today, Kate.