Just the facts, ma’am

Or sir, as the case may be. Good editors often channel Sergeant Joe Friday, the quizzical cop on Dragnet, the old radio and television show. Writers need alerts whenever they cite factoids in place of facts.

fac•toid (fãk-toid) noun: Inaccurate information presented in an article or story as factual due to frequent repetition. Example: Residents of Scotland are always thrifty.

The first chapters of my own book described an impossible condition: One of my characters in his seventies was supposed to be a United States Marshal. Nope. Marshals must retire before they’re sixty. Thanks to a knowledgeable fellow editor, I was able to rewrite and retire my character but allow him to keep the title as an honorarium.

My first client’s book began immediately prior to the U.S. Civil War. The hero, a sympathizer to the confederate cause, buried several crates of Winchester rifles in March of 1861, a month before the war began. Whoa. Not possible. The first Winchester rifle was produced in 1866 following the end of the war. After initial frustration at having an anachronism pointed out, my client was open to the suggestion of an alternative: Her hero could hide an earlier lever-action repeating rifle from which the famous Winchester took its design. It was the lesser known Henry rifle produced by the New Haven Arms Company from 1860 through 1866. She was happy to dodge an anachronistic bullet.

In another lawman description, a client’s main character described a call to a “sheriff’s department” to report an incident happening in a city in Washington state. There, as in many western locals, a police department (PD) handles law enforcement within city limits, and a sheriff’s office (SO) responds to county matters.

One client’s heroine activated an overhead sprinkler outlet with a single hot flame. So far, quite possible. Then every sprinkler in the room went off, followed by every sprinkler in the entire building. Totally implausible. Such a scenario would only be possible with a “deluge sprinkler system” used in commercial settings such as chemical tanks or large stores of lumber–never in an office above a nightclub dance floor as described. My client was the victim of a Hollywood movie and TV myth. Sprinkler systems activate only after the soft solder connection of each individual sprinkler head spigot is melted by heat of 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above. A plausible revision of events was required. Forewarned, the writer patched the misunderstanding.

Sometimes the mistake is as simple as a geographic typo. One writer had his protagonist cross the Canadian-U.S. border into Yellowstone Park in northern Montana. In fact, most of Yellowstone Park is in northwestern Wyoming. Only a narrow strip is in southern Montana. The writer most likely meant Glacier Park, which is close to the border Montana shares with Alberta, Canada.

Although soft sci-fi deals more with the relationships characters, some hard science facts can’t be dodged. A recent story I edited had twelve-hours of daylight and twelve hours of dark on the surface of the moon. Fact checks showed the lunar light-and-dark cycle takes about twenty-eight days. The client appreciated a few other earth versus moon facts.

A popular writer I admire had a character–a former U.S. Marine–mention his Model 1911 .45 was “full auto.” I’m also a veteran user of the same semi-automatic pistol. If it ever went “full auto,” it would be broken, patently useless as the defensive weapon the marine needed.

A number of pages later, another character used a .22 Glock. Sorry, but Glock doesn’t manufacture a 22-caliber handgun. Glock’s 22 is a model designation. The Glock 22 fires a .40S&W cartridge. In my estimation, the editor of the published novel let my favorite writer down.

These anecdotes point up a need for editors to be aware of more than spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Beyond characterization, setting, plot, theme, and style, writers need to know facts from factoids.

December 7, 2015

Chase Editing Contracts

My contract for editing your manuscript is simple and one-sided–all in your favor: After you look over a 3,000-word free sample of your edited writing, you decide whether to proceed or not. Whether you do or don’t, you’re never charged for the sample. For those who do hire me, I edit to a certain benchmark for your evaluation.

1. If you’re satisfied with edits to date, then you pay for only those words edited so far, and we continue to the next benchmark.

2. If you’re not satisfied, there is no charge, and we don’t continue. It’s that simple.


I do not do single-pass copyedits to slap a fix on obvious errors. With multiple reads involved, I do edit for U.S. spelling and punctuation. Grammar in dialog and narrative is matched to characterization under your guidelines and feedback. I comment on setting, style, theme and plot, helping to fill holes in the latter when we fall into them. Facts are verified and reported to you with references. Through all of this, you choose what advice to use. Because of the above full-service editing ongoing simultaneously for a number of clients, I cannot possibly predict how much time it will take to edit an unseen manuscript by word-count alone. Some manuscripts having all mechanics in place with authors providing helpful feedback skim along like a catamaran before a brisk wind; others without such benefits can slog as though we’re hacking through dense green jungles.

I want your business and firmly believe you’re the boss, but writers having tight schedules to publish with short deadlines need to consider a larger editing service, perhaps one employing a staff of junior copyeditors.

For those word-processing with Microsoft Word

When I switched to all-electronic grading of college essays in the 1980s, Microsoft Word was primarily for business writing, along with its spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. In my college classes, most students wrote papers with WordPerfect. I graded both writing programs with [blue brackets] inserted directly into the text, the same method employed by most academic and newspaper editors for whom I submitted material. When Microsoft Word later developed its sidebar edit feature, it was also primarily for business writing, but story and novel writers liked the sidebars, so the good news is I developed grading and editing tools to accommodate. Now, edits with sidebar balloons go as smoothly as [brackets]. You’re the boss. Approximately a third of my clients like MS Word’s “Review/Balloons,” and I’m happy to work with the method is your choice.

Apostrophes Demystified (part 1)

Apostrophes have two basic uses, the oldest of which is to indicate missing letters and numbers.

For example, cannot may be contracted to can’t by showing where no has been removed, and 2005 may be shortened to ’05 by showing where 20 has been removed.

The simple rule is place an apostrophe where a letter or letters or a set of numbers are omitted.

Thus, rock and roll becomes rock ’n’ roll because the a and d are removed from and. Note the rule requires apostrophes on both sides of the lone n  (never rock n’ roll or rock ’n roll—although rock an’ roll follows the rule).

She was a child of the 1960s becomes She was a child of the ’60s (never a child of the 60’s).

It was may be contracted to ’twas, as in the night before Christmas (never t’was).

It is may be contracted to it’s (never its’ ).  Remember its without an apostrophe is a possessive pronoun—they never use apostrophes: his, yours, hers, its, theirs (never hi’s, your’s, her’s, it’s, their’s).

Nautical forecastle becomes fo’c’s’le.

Another “never” is apostrophes aren’t used to make plurals, such as hat’s for sale or banana’s are cheaper by the bunch.

We’ll review an editor’s (possessive) take on other uses of the apostrophe another time.


An ellipses (the plural form) is three spaced ellipsis (singular) points. In print, they are . . . space-dot-space-dot-space-dot-space.

For ellipses in your manuscript, you should follow the guideline for submissions of whomever you submit to, but don’t assume a processor’s auto select for the three dots will be universally accepted. Having sternly warned you, I’ll have to admit no agent or publisher will reject a manuscript if ellipses are presented in a consistent manner.

What are ellipses for?

In academic and journalistic prose, ellipses are to signal a missing word or words.

In novels, smart writers realize commas cannot be used to force pauses and hesitations, so more and more we see ellipses used to represent lapses in speech.

Ellipses in dialog are great. However, too many ellipses in the wrong places for the wrong reasons can most certainly add to grounds for rejection of manuscripts. I’ve seen too many third-person manuscripts where paragraph after paragraph of narrative trails off in ellipsis points, as if the narrator wants to say more but can’t . . . or won’t.  Even in first person narration, ellipses should be used sparingly or not at all. As Aristotle advised . . . Moderation in all things.

Underline or italics?

Underline or italics? In our manuscripts, we use one or the other, never both. They mean the exact same thing.

In the days of older typewriters, writers had no way to italicize certain titles, foreign and special words, to show emphasis, or the names of ships, aircraft, and bridges in manuscripts. We backspaced and tapped the underline key to show where we wanted italics.

When I began college, I purchased an innovative IBM Selectronic typewriter which allowed the exchange to a ball with all-italics font. It was time consuming, but no more underlines in papers or manuscripts.

In grad school, I upgraded to a TRS 80 computer with a daisy wheel printer. State of the art. Yep, but I still had to stop and exchange to a daisy with different petals to print italics on the page.

With our modern word-processor, italics are just a couple of clicks away.

Each publisher has a guideline for manuscript fonts. It’s best to check, but many prefer Times New Roman 12 or Courier New 12.

T-Roman seems to handle italics font without confusion where it starts and stops.

With Courier font, many manuscript readers prefer we underline where we want italics.

All right versus alright

I’m straddling the fence again.

Alright—with gonna, wanna, and a handful of other joined words—is a shortcut darling of closed captions, so it’s all I see these days on the TV screen.

The scholars at Oxford Dictionary assert: “Similar ‘merged’ words such as altogether and already have been accepted in standard English for a very long time, so there is no logical reason to object to the one-word form alright. Nevertheless, many people regard it as nonstandard. . . .”

Me, too—my personal choice is all right, because alright just looks alwrong. Other reasoning on the side of the two-word version is all right is accepted and understood by all readers, whereas alright is not.

Most good English instructors agree and grade its spelling accordingly.

However, a good editor has a different task. The writer is the boss, and since the debated spelling is more a matter of style than correct or incorrect, the boss rules.

My only job after the decision is to nag about consistency. For instance, there’s no such thing as all right for narrative and alright for dialog. There are no differences in pronunciation. Except for one tiny case where all right means “all correct,”  there are no nuances of meaning.