Bollocks, Bollox, or Bollix?

There’s an increasing tendency in the modern world to elide the details. Your/you’re and their/they’re/there foul-ups are now so common it’s bad form to even comment on them, even if it makes you do a little sick in your (see?) mouth. I spot these mistakes all the time, and often from people (journalists, authors, editors) who make their (see?) living that way. So perhaps it’s not important. (I totally think it’s important, but am willing to accept no one else does).

I’ve spent the week working on my copy edits. I quite enjoy this stage, provided it doesn’t involve any major rewrites. I hate the major structural edits, the bit where you still haven’t answered the question: ‘is this book good enough?’ Once you’ve got to copy edits you’re (see?) in the home stretch, and the answer is: ‘fuck it, it’s too late now anyway’. Or as we’d say in Ireland – ‘Ah, sure it’s grand.’

On receiving the 507 page manuscript and the 13-page document detailing all my errors, I did quail somewhat. But in fact it’s not been difficult. Fewer (it seems) stupid mistakes with timeline and location. My main problem this time is repetition. The building blocks of text that you don’t even notice you’re handling when whizzing through your story and getting to know your characters. I don’t use a lot of dialogue tags (he said/she expectorated/he cavilled…actually I’m going to use ‘he cavilled’, that’s ace), so I end up with lots of gestures instead.

Such as:

She nodded

He sighed

She shook her head

He shrugged

She looked away

He couldn’t meet her eyes

She looked at him and then away

She stared out the window

He winced

She bit her nails

..and so on. My characters are a bunch of shifty, nodding, shrugging, shuffling weirdos. Sometimes all of those on the same page. It’s a bit embarrassing, but what’s the alternative? I rarely use any dialogue tag other than ‘said’. Use nothing at all and you risk having to flip back pages to see who’s saying what – especially if there’s more than one person in the room.

If you’re writing a book at the moment, I believe there’s no point in worrying about such things until you get finished, but when you do, it’s worth thinking about the mechanics of your tale. It’s not a script or screenplay, so we do need to know who’s speaking, what they look like when they’re doing it, and how they cross a room. Working out how to get this information over without halting the flow of narrative is the essence of style  – and everyone’s style is different.

To explain the title of this post, the other bit of copy editing I end up doing is unifying my use of swear words, or varying the pattern of foul language. It’s already been pointed out I don’t swear as much in this one, which only goes to show how voice seeps into your work without being planned (or it should), and is equally important in third-person narration. In this book I stay in the head of a 30-year-old female forensic psychologist from Northern Ireland (not a massive stretch as that’s basically me without the job). She would definitely swear if the occasion demanded (fecking right she would), but in most of the scenes she’s working, and tries (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep a lid on it.

I can also now, I think, say what the title of this book will be – THE LOST. Hope you like it. Rest assured all your swear words will be spelled consistently throughout.

Advertisements

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I might be slightly more militant on the whole thing, Claire (who’d have thought using-English-correctly-by-people-who-tell-us-it’s-their-first-language would be one of my hot-buttons) but there’s nothing more annoying than writers (esp journalists) who don’t know their ‘there’s’ from their ‘theirs’ from their ‘they’re’s (confused yet? there there)

    I also agree with you on not necessarily using anything other than the tag ‘he said’ …I recent told a group of transition-year writers that they didn’t need to kill themselves finding a synonym for ‘said’ and I was nearly lynched by their teacher.

    Great blog, well done and I’m looking forward to your new perfectly spelled-and-grammatised (is that word?) novel. Now I’m off to unify my swearwords and find somewhere to put ‘he avided’ in mine.

    Paul

  2. Ann FitzSimons says:

    It is so cool to meet people who care that the language is written properly. One of whom I’ve met already, of course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s