The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2020

November saw England back in lockdown. Fortunately, this time, it hasn’t had any effect on my schedule or workload. When this lockdown ends, my local area will be subject to tier 2 restrictions (‘high alert’). I don’t expect this to make much difference to me – I can’t remember the last time I left the house to do something other than walk the dog that wasn’t food shopping or an essential appointment.

What I’ve been working on

Being trapped in the house seems to have been good for my productivity level. I had a couple of non-fiction proofreads this month – one a thoughtful exploration of how the Church of England can overcome its current divisions, and one an engaging account of a charity walk around the British coast. I enjoy walking (probably a necessity when one has a springer spaniel) but I don’t think I could do it for days on end, let alone months. My fiction work has been equally as diverse. I finished off the copy-edit of the novel I found difficult to place in a particular genre (I still can’t). Then I moved on to the proofread of a science-fiction novel – I worked on the first book in the series last year, so it was interesting to see how the story has progressed. The second half of November saw me immersed in a fantasy fiction copy-edit for one of my publisher clients, and I have started the copy-edit of another fantasy fiction epic from a returning indie client.

What I read for fun

Surprisingly, I did manage to get in a couple of for-fun reads in November. I usually try to fit in a ‘spooky’ read around Halloween. I was a couple of days late starting it, but this year I went for The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox. One of my indie clients mentioned Hester Fox’s work as a comparison for what he is trying to achieve in his next novel, and so I thought it would be worth having a look. It’s not a particularly scary book, but it is atmospheric, romantic, and heartbreakingly sad. There’s a lot of heartbreakingly sad going about, and my next read wasn’t an exception. I returned to Martha Wells’ Murderbot for another adventure, this time in Rogue Protocol. As usual, Murderbot is a joy, but there’s an emotional gut-punch at the end of this instalment.

The CIEP conference 2020

The in-person CIEP conference was, of course, cancelled this year. But that didn’t stop the institute from coming together to put on a virtual conference instead. I attended all of the sessions on the first day. The highlight of those was Sarah Grey’s session on inclusive language. I was at Sarah’s 2018 conference session, so I knew it would be good, and I was not disappointed. I also have to say that Hugh Jackson, the CIEP’s chair, did a wonderful job during his welcome speech. Unfortunately, I had to get back to work on days two and three, so I am planning to watch the recordings of those sessions during my Christmas break.

Looking ahead

My local group would usually have a Christmas social in early December. This year we will be having our meeting via Zoom – I hope to see plenty of mince pies being scoffed.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2020

As I write this, England is coming to terms with the idea of another lockdown – this one due to begin on Thursday 5 November. I am yet to hear if this will affect my schedule for the rest of the year, but I am hopeful that it won’t.

What I’ve been working on

October was packed with work. My first paper proofread for many months was a memoir, and I moved on to the proofread of a business book aimed at women leaders. This was followed by the proofread of the final instalment of a thriller series that has been on and off my desk over the best part of a year. I’ve also had the critique of a science-fiction/fantasy novel to occupy my time. I’m in the middle, roughly, of a copy-edit of a novel I would find hard to place in one particular genre, but it’s a tour de force in how to manage distinctive points of view and break the fourth wall.

On the blog

I published the latest blog post in my ‘Fiction essentials’ series. This one deals with the use of dialogue tags. I can also report that the CIEP has published my review of Jacqueline D. Lipton’s book Law and Authors: A legal handbook for writers.

What I’ve been reading

The Devil and the Dark Water is Stuart Turton’s second novel. It’s an enjoyable read – I got through it in a few days, and it is a chunk of a book – but while the ending makes sense, it feels hollow and unsatisfactory. In a bit of a departure from my usual genres, my next read was The Secret Political Adviser. It delves deeper into the mythology behind Michael Spicer’s ‘The Room Next Door’ skits (if you haven’t seen them, it’s worth looking them up on YouTube). It is an amusing, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, journey through some of the significant political events of the last four years.

Looking ahead

The CIEP’s online conference runs from Monday 2 November to Wednesday 4 November 2020 and I am looking forward to taking part. The West Surrey and North Hampshire local group is due a Zoom meet-up, so I will be aiming to organise that for the latter part of November.

Fiction essentials: how to use dialogue tags

Dialogue tags can cause headaches for many authors, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Dialogue tags are (usually) essential when writing fiction, and good use can really elevate the prose. Perhaps the most important thing to consider here is that the core function of a dialogue tag is to indicate which character is speaking. It will be helpful to keep this in mind as we explore my advice on how to use dialogue tags – and how to use them effectively.


Placement

Dialogue tags can be used before, after, or in the middle of direct speech. Here’s an example of each style:

  • Melissa said, ‘That’s my chocolate cake.’
  • ‘That’s my chocolate cake,’ said Melissa.
  • ‘That,’ Melissa said, ‘is my chocolate cake.’

Note the placement of the commas and full stops in relation to the quote marks. I’m sure you will also have detected the pacing change brought about by the third example (helped along by the removal of the contraction) – this is a good tool to have in your pocket, especially when you want to create emphasis.


Embrace ‘said’

I know there is writing advice out there that will tell you to avoid ‘said’. I think that’s a mistake. ‘Said’ is so common, so conventional, that it is almost invisible to most readers. That’s what you want – most of the time. We don’t want the reader to be thinking about the dialogue tags – we want them to be thinking about the content of the dialogue and what it means for the story and the characters.

[…] too many variants on ‘said’ can become noticeable; the reader ends up focusing on the author’s language, rather than on what’s being said. ‘Said’, on the other hand, is so commonly used in both speech and writing that it’s virtually invisible.
On Editing: How to edit your novel the professional way (2018), Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price, p. 125


Avoid overuse

‘Said’ might be essentially invisible when used sparingly but that doesn’t mean that it should be attached to every single bit of speech. Take this as an example:

‘I’ve put the pie in the oven,’ he said.
‘Thank you,’ she said.
‘I think the blueberries will be nice,’ he said.
‘Yes. I’ll make some custard to go with it,’ she said.

I know that’s not the most riveting dialogue, but it gives you an idea of how dreary and frustrating that sort of use can be. It wouldn’t be much better if we used a variety of tags. In fact, it might be worse. Imagine:

‘I’ve put the pie in the oven,’ he stated.
‘Thank you,’ she responded.
‘I think the blueberries will be nice,’ he declared.
‘Yes. I’ll make some custard to go with it,’ she trilled.

A good way to spot if your use of dialogue tags has become distracting is to read the text aloud or use a text-to-speech program (the latest version of Word has one built in – it’s called Read Aloud and you can find it on the Review tab).

As I said earlier, the core function of a dialogue tag is to indicate which character is speaking. If there are no more than two characters in the scene, you can usually trust the reader to keep track of who is saying what, with only the occasional tag or action beat to act as a reminder. Limit your use of tags to where they are actually needed.


Beware of double-tell

If the dialogue tag is repeating what the reader already knows, that is double-tell. You can get away with this, usually, with ‘asked’ and ‘replied’ – like ‘said’, they are so common that they are generally invisible.

‘What an incredible sight!’ Joey exclaimed.

‘I will make sure that we find the culprit. You have my word,’ Emma promised.

In both of these examples, the dialogue has done the work already and the tag is redundant. Trust in the dialogue you have constructed and reduce the signposting for the reader – it will make for a much more immersive experience.


Avoid tags that steal focus

Many double-tell tags also fall into this category: dialogue tags that are obtrusive and overwhelm the dialogue they are supposed to be supporting.

‘You see! I told you he was a villain!’ Gregory trumpeted.

‘I am extremely displeased! Who do you think you are? I will have your job, Perkins,’ he vociferated.

The reader is now thinking about ‘vociferated’ and not about how poor old Perkins is going to get out of the pickle he finds himself in.

You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – always stick with the reliably unobtrusive ‘said’, but I would recommend thinking very carefully about whether you need to use those more ostentatious tags. Why use ‘vociferated’ when ‘shouted’ will do?


Make sure they are about speaking

Dialogue tags should be about the mechanics of speaking – they should reflect something about the speech, not what the speaker’s body is doing.

‘I absolutely love it,’ she smiled.

‘I see what you mean,’ Gareth nodded.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t convey this sort of thing around the dialogue – in fact, you definitely should. It will help ground the dialogue and bring life to your characters.

‘I absolutely love it.’ She smiled.

‘I see what you mean,’ Gareth replied, nodding.

Here are some other words it’s best to avoid using as dialogue tags: laughed, snorted, sneered, giggled, frowned, grinned, gesticulated, wept, glowered, smirked, gulped, shrugged, swaggered.

There are some that I consider occasionally acceptable in very limited circumstances (although other editors would disagree), such as laugh and sigh. You certainly can’t laugh or sigh a whole sentence, but you might be able to do it for a single word.

‘Yes,’ Penelope sighed. ‘We got the news.’


Why does it matter?

Dialogue tags are mechanical – they exist to serve the story by indicating who is speaking. They are essential for good writing, but if they overwhelm or distract from the dialogue, they can damage the storytelling. The aim to keep in mind is that the dialogue tags should support the dialogue and allow the reader to remain immersed in the experience you have created for them.

Hannah McCall is a line-editor, copy-editor and proofreader who specialises in working with independent authors and publishers of commercial fiction, particularly speculative fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2020

Big news for September: paper proofreads are back. It will be lovely to be take a break from working on-screen, and it will be good to get back to the simplicity of BSI marks. Now I just need to find a local post office that has reliable opening hours and fairly short queues…

What I’ve been working on

I had two projects to finish off from August: the copy-edit of the YA fantasy epic and the critique report for the historical fiction. My next project was the copy-edit of a memoir (I seem to be in the middle of a run of these from a publisher client). Then I moved on to the copy-edit of a novel that is the sequel to a book I worked on earlier in the year. It’s always a pleasure to work with returning clients, and to see how their stories are developing. September concluded with the copy-edit of the latest instalment in a sprawling historical saga.

Goodbye to academic editing

I haven’t taken on academic work in some time. I have been focusing my business on fiction editing, and that move seems to be paying off. I am – at the time of writing – booked up until January 2021. In light of that, I decided it was time to give up my approved proofreader status with Royal Holloway, University of London. It wasn’t fair to the students for me to keep my name on the list when I am highly unlikely to be available at short notice – and when, to be honest, I don’t particularly enjoy that sort of work. I will continue to take on memoirs and other ‘light’ non-fiction books from my publisher clients, but otherwise I will exclusively work on fiction.

What I’ve been reading

The Thursday Murder Club was one of the big releases in September, and I loved it. I read the whole thing in two days. I lent my copy to my mum, and she read the whole thing in two days. That’s a big compliment – she’s had my copy of The Adventures of Maud West for about six months now. Richard Osman has written a witty and engaging murder mystery, with some stand-out characters and moments of great pathos. I’ve started reading Antonia Hodgson’s The Silver Collar, and I am enjoying being back in Thomas Hawkins’ world. Hodgson is already delivering a powerhouse example of absorbing first-person narrative style.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2020

I took a week or so off in August, and it was nice to have a break – I needed a few days to relax. I had my friend’s dog, Mini, for a while, and she went on some adventures with Ella, my spaniel. Ella seemed pleased to have a friend to hang out with, but the house is now back to being very quiet. In other news, I had to invest in an air conditioning unit to get me through the latest heatwave. I find it impossible to concentrate in the intense heat. Now I have to find storage space for it until I need it again next year…

What I’ve been working on

August saw the return of some of my regular publishing work, but not paper proofreads. I miss them, actually. Working on a screen all day is hard on the eyes, and I like the simplicity of BSI marks. But things change. My break means that I had only one competed project this month: the copy-edit of a memoir. I’m still working on the copy-edit of a YA fantasy epic that I had previously critiqued – it is really rewarding to see my advice turned into so much improvement. I’m also working on a critique of a novel set in Europe during the 11th century.

Professional development

I do a formal training course every year as part of my continuing professional development. I find myself picking up more and more potential copyright issues lately, and I thought it would be useful to take the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s course Copyright for Editorial Professionals. I don’t plan on clearing permissions myself, but it is good to have some knowledge of how to assess and deal with copyright issues.

What I’ve been reading

I finished Queenie and The Black Hawks, both of which I’d started reading in July. They are very, very different novels, but both worth reading. I pre-ordered Matt Haig’s latest novel, The Midnight Library, and I’m very glad I did. I loved it. It’s a beautiful book and a beacon of hope in the quite often dark period we find ourselves living through.

Looking ahead

I hope to organise a Zoom meeting for my CIEP local group; we are due a catch-up. And I’ll be taking a few more days off – my birthday approaches and I’ll have cake to eat.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2020

Sally gangThis year has delivered another blow. It had been clear for a while that Sally was feeling her age – and the combined effects of multiple health issues. She was no longer enjoying life, and with kidney failure on the horizon, we had to say goodbye. She was seventeen years old (at least – she was a rescue and she was no younger than three when we adopted her). Here she is (the collie cross on the left) with the rest of my silly gang. The house is so quiet without her and her happy tip-taps.

What I’ve been working on

July was a busy month for work. I finished my copy-edit of an adult post-apocalyptic epic and the proofread of a young adult fantasy romance. The proofread was for a publishing client, and I was touched that the author took the time to request they send me her thanks for my work.

I moved on to the copy-edit of a beautiful collection of short stories. Speculative fiction is my favourite genre when I read for fun, and these stories were excellently constructed and told. I was lucky to follow that work with the copy-edit of a fantasy novel that had some of the best point-of-view work I have read from an indie author. I wrapped up the month with the complicated proofread of a semi-autobiographical novel set predominantly in Wales.

The monthly round-up_ JulyOn the blog

I published a long article on how to punctuate dialogue in fiction. The idea behind this post is to support my editorial reports (and it will probably help my critiques, too). It is an easily accessible resource for my clients to consult, and it goes into much more detail than I would be able to provide in each report I write. I find that the punctuation in and around dialogue is one of the things I regularly have to address when I copy-edit, and proofread; hopefully the article will be of help to writers who find punctuating speech difficult or a bit confusing. My aim is to produce a series of ‘fiction essentials’ posts.

What I’ve been reading

I wanted to spend some time hanging out with Martha Wells’ Murderbot, so I read Artificial Condition and thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially appreciated the introduction of ART – it takes great skill to construct a compelling character who happens to be a transport ship.

I’m in the middle (roughly) of reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. It’s a complex novel – in turns funny and heartbreaking, and at times frustrating. On a technical level, though, I love how the author has integrated social media into the storytelling. It works brilliantly. I’m also reading The Black Hawks by David Wragg. I nearly didn’t get past the first few pages – in which the main character poddles about with a hangover and has breakfast – but I’m glad I did. It has an interesting ensemble cast, a likeable central character, and plenty of action.

Looking ahead

I am expecting August to be a fairly quiet month. I have a book to review for the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, and I am looking forward to taking some time off.

Fiction essentials: how to punctuate dialogue

Punctuating dialogue can feel a lot more difficult than it is. It is probably one of the things I spend the most time on when I’m editing. But once you understand the basic principles, you should be able to wield punctuation confidently and effectively in your dialogue. Here’s my advice on the following:

  1. Indicating speech
  2. Styling pauses or trailing off
  3. Styling interrupted speech
  4. Punctuating tagged speech
  5. Punctuating broken-up speech
  6. Punctuating vocatives
  7. Indicating faltering speech

Indicating speech

Quote marks

Authors usually indicate speech by using quote marks (also called quotation marks or speech marks) and that is the method that will be most familiar to the reader. It’s usual in UK fiction to use single quote marks, while US fiction tends to use double quote marks. (UK children’s fiction does often use double quote marks, though.) Of course, this is a style choice and not a matter of right and wrong. However, it is worth considering what the reader will expect to see. Whichever you choose, the key is to be consistent.

Here are the two styles in action in published novels:

Single quote marksDouble quote marks
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (2016) by Natasha Pulley, p. 111Children of Blood and Bone (2018) by Tomi Adeyemi, p. 369
‘I … my God, you were serious?’
‘Quite.’
‘Thank you.’
“What would Baba say?”
“Leave Baba out of this—”
“Or Mama?”
“Shut up!”

It’s worth pointing out the placement of the closing punctuation here – it sits within the quote marks.

Nested quote marks

If you need to place speech within speech, use the opposite style for the internal (nested) quote marks. It should look like this:

Single quote marks with nested doublesDouble quote marks with nested singles
Good Omens (2014 edition) by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, p. 320The Starless Sea (2019) by Erin Morgenstern, p. 333
‘One of those blue ones,’ said Brian, eventually, ‘saying “Adam Young Lived Here”, or somethin’?’“‘It’s dangerous to go alone,’” Zachary quotes in response […]

Smart quotes

It is typical in publishing to use smart (curly) quote marks, not unidirectional (straight) ones. The same thing applies to apostrophes.

Image showing straight and curly quote marks.

You can make sure that Word always produces curly quotes when you are typing. This is how you do it in the latest version of Word:

  • Go to File and scroll down to Options
  • Click on Proofing and find the AutoCorrect Options… button (it should be at the top)
  • Make sure there’s a tick in the box next to “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes”
  • Hit OK

If it’s too late and you already have a manuscript full of straight quotes, you can change them quickly by doing a global Find and Replace. There are two ways to access this. On the Home tab, select Find and then Advanced Find… or simply hit Ctrl and H on your keyboard.

  • Type a quote mark into the Find what box
  • Type the same quote mark into the Replace with box
  • Hit the Replace All button

New paragraphs within speech

If a character’s speech moves on to a new paragraph, use an opening quote mark at the start of the new line but don’t use a closing quote mark at the end of the previous paragraph.

The Bone Season (2017 edition) by Samantha Shannon, p. 414
[…] One of our clairvoyants has displayed such disobedience that she cannot be allowed to live. Like the Bloody King, she must be banished beyond the reach of the amaurotic population, where she can do no more harm.
XX-59-40 has a history of treachery. She hails from the dairy county of Tipperary, deep in the south of Ireland – a region long since associated with sedition.’

The em dash

There is another way to display speech. It’s rarely done and it can be difficult to use effectively, especially if there are more than two speakers. But it is an option. Roddy Doyle is well known for using this style. Here’s an example from page 1 of The Guts, 2013:

—How’s it goin’?
—Da?
—Yeah, me.
—How are yeh?
—Not too bad. I’m after gettin’ one o’ the mobiles.


Styling pauses or trailing off

An ellipsis is the best way to indicate a pause or that speech is trailing off.

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020) by Natasha Pulley, p. 134:
‘I think I’m normally mannered, but Mr Vaulker seems like a …’ You couldn’t really say ‘unreserved cock’ in Japanese. ‘Difficult person. May I sit down?’

When you use an ellipsis in this way, you don’t need to tell the reader that the character’s speech trailed off. The ellipsis is telling the reader that, and the reader can be trusted to interpret it.

Spacing

You can use the fixed ellipsis symbol or three full stops (or periods) separated by non-breaking spaces. It’s a matter of style. But I prefer the fixed symbol – it’s simple to insert.

You can insert the fixed-symbol ellipsis by typing 0133 while pressing the Alt tab on your keyboard. You can also find it by going to Word’s Insert tab and selecting Symbol and then More Symbols…

If you opt to use three separate full stops, put non-breaking spaces between them. Non-breaking spaces keep together the elements they are placed between – you won’t end up with one full stop on the line below the other two. You can create a non-breaking space by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Space.

Spacing around ellipses is a matter of style. As with most things, it is just important to be consistent and clear. However, this is how it is typically done:

  • Mid-sentence ellipsis: space both sides [1]
  • Ellipsis at the beginning of the sentence: space after [2]
  • Ellipsis at the end of the sentence: space before [3]
  1. ‘No … I don’t think that was your gateau.’
  2. ‘… I thought I put it there.’
  3. ‘They might have another one at the bakery …’

Styling interrupted speech

If you want to show that a character has been interrupted while speaking, the way to do that is to use an em dash.

Six of Crows (2018 edition) by Leigh Bardugo, p. 481
I didn’t tell Pekka Rollins anything. I never—”
You told one of the Dime Lions you were leaving Kerch, but that you’d be coming into big money, didn’t you?”
Jesper swallowed. “I had to. They were leaning on me hard. My father’s farm—”
I told you not to tell anyone you were leaving the country. I warned you to keep your mouth shut.”

The use of the em dash means you don’t have to tell the reader that the character was interrupted. The punctuation does the job for you. You can also use the em dash to signify a sort of self-interruption, where the speaker breaks off suddenly for some reason.


Punctuating tagged speech

The comma is your friend here. Unless you use an exclamation mark or a question mark, a comma will do the job before a dialogue tag. Here are a few examples:

Dialogue tag after a complete sentence‘I put the milk in the fridge,’ she said.
Dialogue tag after a question‘Did you put the milk in the fridge?’ she asked.
Dialogue tag after an exclamation‘There’s no milk in the fridge!’ she yelled.
Dialogue tag before a complete sentenceShe whispered, ‘I don’t even like milk.’

Dialogue tags always take lower case (not an initial capital letter) – it doesn’t matter if the closing punctuation is a comma or a question mark or an exclamation mark. Also note the positioning of the comma before a dialogue tag – it is placed within the quote marks.


Punctuating broken-up speech

If a character hasn’t finished speaking, but you’ve broken up their speech with a dialogue tag, action beat, or stage direction, you should indicate this using commas or dashes.

Spellslinger (2017) by Sebastien de Castell, p. 387
‘Perhaps,’ An’atria said, her dark eyes peering out from a thick halo of grey hair as she stared at me, ‘but do we still pretend this one comes to pass his mage’s trial?’

It’s typical to add a comma before the first closing quote mark and after the speech tag or additional material.

If you want to break up the speech with description of some kind, rather than a dialogue tag, it is often effective to use dashes. Dashes are a useful way to indicate that an action is taking place at the same time as the speech. US publishing tends to use closed up em dashes; UK publishing tends to use spaced en dashes.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2015) by Becky Chambers, p. 31
‘ […] On a long haul, this’ – she tapped the top of Rosemary’s head – ‘needs to be the most important thing you take care of.’


Punctuating vocatives

Vocative expressions identify who is being addressed. It’s not always a character’s proper name – it could be a title or a term of endearment, or something less pleasant. Commas are used to make it clear that it is a vocative expression in action, and this is how to do it:

  • If the vocative expression is at the beginning of the sentence, it needs a comma after it [1]
  • If the vocative expression is at the end of the sentence, it needs a comma before it [2]
  • If the vocative expression interrupts the sentence, it needs a comma before and after it [3]
  1. ‘Barry, is the pizza here yet?’
  2. ‘That’s my slice of pizza, Barry.’
  3. ‘If you wanted pepperoni, Barry, you should have ordered it.’

Vocative expressions need to be punctuated correctly to prevent ambiguity. Missing commas lead to sentences like the classic ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ mistake.


Indicating faltering speech

Sometimes you’ll need to indicate faltering speech – your character is out of breath, scared, surprised… Well, there are lots of ways to style this, and what you choose will depend on the effect you wish to achieve. Options include ellipses, hyphens, repeated letters, en dashes and em dashes.

Ellipses – an effective way to show distress and uncertainty

Crooked Kingdom (2019 edition) by Leigh Bardugo, p. 268
I come for job, yes?” Nina said. “To make sugar.”
We don’t make it here, just store it. You’ll want to go to one of the processing plants.”
But I need job. I … I …”
Oh, hey now, don’t cry. There, there.”

Repeated letters – good for conveying fear

Rotherweird (2017) by Andrew Caldecott, p. 230
Salt took Oblong by both shoulders and shook him twice, firmly. ‘There’s what?’
L – l – legs by the lantern …’ stuttered Oblong.
Show me.’

Em dashes – great for extreme shock/awe/terror

The Priory of the Orange Tree (2019) by Samantha Shannon, p.95:
Melaugo was clinging to the ratlines, one eye to a spyglass. ‘Mother of—’ She lowered it, then lifted it again. ‘Plume, it’s— I can’t believe what I’m seeing—’
What is it?’ the quartermaster called. ‘Estina?’
It’s a— a High Western.’ Her shout was hoarse. ‘A High Western!’


Why does it matter?

Getting the punctuation right allows the reader to concentrate on the content of the dialogue, on what it means for the characters, on how it feels. Fiction can accommodate flexibility with punctuation use, but sticking to the general conventions is often the best way to serve the story and the reader. Our aim is for the reader to stay caught up in the story, not for them to become distracted by the punctuation.

Resources:

Quoted works:

  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (2016), Natasha Pulley, Bloomsbury
  • Children of Blood and Bone (2018), Tomi Adeyemi, Pan Macmillan
  • Good Omens (2014 edition), Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Corgi
  • The Starless Sea (2019), Erin Morgenstern, Harvill Secker (Vintage)
  • The Bone Season (2017 edition), Samantha Shannon, Bloomsbury
  • The Guts (2013), Roddy Doyle, Jonathan Cape (Random House)
  • The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020), Natasha Pulley, Bloomsbury
  • Six of Crows (2018 edition), Leigh Bardugo, Orion
  • Spellslinger (2017), Sebastien de Castell, Hot Key Books
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2015), Becky Chambers, Hodder & Stoughton
  • Crooked Kingdom (2019 edition), Leigh Bardugo, Orion
  • Rotherweird (2017), Andrew Caldecott, Jo Fletcher Books (Quercus)
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree (2019), Samantha Shannon, Bloomsbury

Hannah McCall is a line-editor, copy-editor and proofreader who specialises in working with independent authors and publishers of commercial fiction, particularly speculative fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2020

Welcome to the June round-up! We’ve done half of 2020. To be honest, June felt like a very long month. But things are, at the moment, looking up. My mum has finished her radiotherapy treatment, I’ve got a whole heap of bookings for the next few months, and the weather can be described as moderately warm rather than absolutely baking. Lockdown restrictions may be easing but I won’t be rushing to the pub or the hairdresser any time soon (I don’t think my hair has ever been this long before).

What I’ve been working on

Black Cat Editorial Services June round-upIt is a relief to be able to say that my workload is continuing to build back up. June was a busy month but I was fortunate to work with some lovely authors. I finished the edit of the sci-fi thriller I started in May. It was a heavy edit encompassing a lot of point of view tweaks, and I’m really quite pleased with the final result. It was a total change of mindset when I moved on to the proofread of an accomplished mystery thriller. The copy-edit of an adult dystopian epic will take me into July, as will the copy-edit of a fantasy short-story collection. In more good news, publisher work seems to be starting to trickle back in – I’ve got the proofread of a YA fantasy romance to keep me very busy.

Professional development

I surprised myself by managing to fit in some training in June. I took Louise Harnby’s course How to Write the Perfect Fiction Editorial Report. It provides a lot of valuable information and advice, and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice for my future copy-editing commissions.

What I’ve been reading

M. B. Vincent’s A Death in the Woods was my companion for the last of my waits in a hospital car park. It’s the sequel to Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death (a much more intriguing title, that). I don’t think it’s going to win any awards for originality, but there are times in life when you don’t necessarily need that. It’s a comfort blanket of a book (despite the serial killer). It’s funny and the characters are likeable, and the series deserves more attention than it seems to be getting.

Looking ahead

After the success of the last meeting, I’ll be hosting another Zoom catch-up for the West Surrey and North Hampshire Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading local group.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2020

Well, May has been (on a personal level) a distinct improvement on April. After more than a few tests, my sister has finally been declared negative for COVID-19. I probably don’t need to tell you that it is a huge relief.

I decided to jump on the Zoom bandwagon and set up a meeting for the West Surrey and North Hampshire Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading local group. We ‘met’ for a couple of hours, and it was lovely. It was great to see so many familiar faces, and I was pleased to hear that our members are generally coping as well as can be expected in the current circumstances.

Black Cat Editorial Services_ May round-up(1)What I’ve been working on

I spent a good chunk of May on a critique of a YA (young adult) epic fantasy novel. The author was a delight to work with, and I am very pleased that I was able to give her helpful advice on how to elevate what is already a good novel. The rest of the month was spent on the copy-edit of a sci-fi thriller, set on board a Royal Navy warship. It’s one of the most complex fiction edits I have taken on, but the story is compelling and I’m enjoying helping it to shine.

What I’ve been reading

I’ve been taking my mum to radiotherapy appointments every weekday for a couple of weeks now and my Kindle has been my companion while I wait. I’d picked Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth – a book that deftly combines necromancy, spaceships and lots of swearing – because I thought it would be a compelling, funny, wild ride. It is those things, but I didn’t realise it would be quite as devastating as it is.

Looking ahead

I will, hopefully, be getting back into the swing of having a full workload (despite the continuing lack of projects for publishing houses). I’ll organise a July Zoom meeting for the CIEP local group as it’s unlikely in-person gatherings will be allowed any time soon.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2020

Black Cat Editorial Services_ April round-upApril seems to have been, in many ways, a lost month. I don’t know where much of it went, and I have achieved very little. I think Easter happened at some point. I can only hope this does not turn out to be the new normal.

COVID-19 has hit rather too close: my sister, who is a key worker, tested positive after experiencing fairly minor symptoms. Fortunately, her health is steadily improving, but I am finding it particularly hard that I can’t see or help her, apart from providing grocery and medicine drops.

In a bit of good news, my review of Dennis Baron’s What’s Your Pronoun? has been published by the Chartered Institute of Proofreading and Editing (CIEP). It was featured in the first-ever edition of The Edit, the e-newsletter for CIEP members, which was a lovely surprise.

What I’ve been working on

The COVID-19 crisis has significantly reduced my workload, and I am not going to pretend it is not of deep concern. All of my publisher work ceased in late March and will not resume for the foreseeable future. But, fortunately, I haven’t been completely without projects: I proofread the third instalment of an indie thriller series, and I am currently working on a critique of a young adult epic fantasy novel.

What I’ve been reading

I have the privilege of access to a garden, and I was able to spend much of the sunny weather reading outside. I had been saving Natasha Pulley’s The Lost Future of Pepperharrow for some time off; The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is one of my favourite books and I wanted to savour the sequel. The storyline doesn’t quite have the same magic as in the first book, but I still enjoyed Natasha Pulley’s writing style and being reunited with Thaniel and Mori. For me, though, Six is the standout character of this book.

I haven’t quite finished it, but The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr has been a fascinating read so far. It is focused on psychology and neuroscience – how stories and our brains affect each other and how we can use this knowledge to craft more engaging tales. Some of the concepts will be familiar if you studied philosophy at any point in your life (I did three years as part of my degree) but they are explored in an engaging and straightforward way (unlike anything I read at university). I can see Will Storr’s insights having a beneficial impact on my editing practice.

Looking ahead

Well, your guess is as good as mine, probably. I am tentatively thinking about organising a Zoom meeting for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local CIEP group – we will miss our in-person May meeting and I’d like to make up for that in some way.