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.