The Five C’s of Copy Editing—clear, correct, concise, comprehensive, and consistent—is what most editors strive for when editing a manuscript. Authors rely on editors to look for these things and help them see where they can improve. So I asked myself: Why use the Five C’s of Copy Editing when writing? Because these are elements authors can use to improve.
Clichéd, idiomatic, vague and poetic verbiage in books can make a story stale or cumbersome to read. If readers need to stop and re-read passage to understand the meaning, or they need a dictionary to look up unusual words, they could very well abandon the book. I’m not suggesting writers dispense with all description or beautifully worded sentences. But rather write in a way that makes the intentions and meanings clear to the reader. Leave the poetry to the poets.
Writers should also be clear about what they are writing about and know the who, what, why, when and how of their story, and who their audience is. Books that are unclear about these elements feel unfocused and may have difficulties finding the right audience.
Authors are often times encouraged to “write what you know.” But most people think their lives are uneventful and on the boring side. So they are faced with picking a genre most people don’t have first-hand knowledge of such as historical, dystopian, fantasy, paranormal, horror, and so forth, or they give their character an occupation or a setting that isn’t something the author has experience in such as a doctor, gazillionaire, or archaeologist. This gives the author a lot of creative freedom, and when done right, readers respond. When an author doesn’t do his or her research, those readers who do know more about these elements, settings, or occupations will recognize the author’s failure to present a credible story.
With all the information that is available to authors, there’s no excuse for not doing a little research. A great place to start is the Internet. Although writers should keep in mind that the Internet should not be considered an expert source, just a launching pad. Authors may check out their local and university libraries. For more in-depth research, authors may contact people who can offer insights into certain areas and guide the author.
I know there are certain genres that still embrace purple prose, but even those usually prefer this on a limited scale. What is purple prose? It’s that flowery wordy language that is over-descriptive and makes the reader wonder if an orchestra is going to swell with music in the background to complete the scene.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. –Elmore Leonard
This tends to happen when an author is trying to sound like a writer. The result often feels as if the narrative is trying too hard or is doesn’t fit with the voice of the characters. Instead, authors should let their words flow naturally. The narrative should fit the style, setting. and tone of the story. It should say or show what the author intends without the unnecessary embellishments.
In addition to this, authors should avoid mundane content—those elements that don’t move the story forward. Yes, the author may find the backstory of their characters fascinating, but if it isn’t relevant to the story being told, it should be left out. Cut the adverbs and excessive adjective use and overuse of favorite phrases and words. Over time, authors learn how to pare down their writing and to avoid their writing hang ups. An author can find those problem areas by asking an editor for a manuscript assessment, using a critique group for feedback, and finding pre-readers who will give honest opinions. If an author wants specific feedback, he or she shouldn’t be afraid to ask upfront what the concerns are and how to improve.
Many first time authors struggle with word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and pulling the story together in a way that is satisfying in the end. This will come with practice and guidance from a good editor and other writers.
Authors should make good use of their words with the right word choice. Practice and then show the reader the story as it unfolds instead of telling. Dialogue should sound genuine and relate to the reader that what is not being said is just as important as what is.
Writers learn the correct language to use for their genre by reading, reading, and reading books in the genre they want to write.
I love a book that wraps up the loose ends and doesn’t leave subplots unresolved, especially when the book is not part of a series. Those “but what about…” questions at the end of a story are frustrating. If an author introduces a subplot into a story, it should be resolved; otherwise don’t introduce it.
A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end… but not necessarily in that order.
–Jean Luc Godard
If a story does not have a beginning, middle, and end, it’s not much of a story. But what about books in a series? Each book in a series should still have a story arc with a beginning, middle, and end for its part of the series while moving the series arc along and bringing it closer to an overall resolution. Write books that tie up the loose ends for the story or that part of the series that book is about.
Try to keep a consistent voice and tone throughout the story. Remember, voice is that thing that makes a book or writing style unique to that author. The author’s personality comes through in the voice. Authors who know their voice or don’t try to so sound like someone else maintain a consistent voice. Tone is the mood of the story, whether it is sad, funny, angry, formal, dark, warm, etc. Starting with a comedic tone and ending with a bitter diatribe is a good way to confuse readers.
But consistency goes beyond just voice and tone and basic plot elements. It includes many other areas of the book from characterizations, personality traits, descriptions, and backstory to world building, technical details of setting, logistics, and genre elements. This can take the form of eye and hair color inconsistencies, character placement that impedes the logistics of a scene, when a character can’t possibly see or hear something, illogical sequence of action, and environmental elements that don’t make sense. Authors can learn to pay attention and keep track of these elements so that the inconsistencies with the little details don’t become a distraction for the reader.
Authors who use the Five C’s of Copy Editing when writing can learn to overcome many common writing and story issues to improve their craft. When an editor has the privilege of working on a well-written manuscript, he or she won’t be bogged down with the small stuff and can truly concentrate on polishing a story that will stand out as something better than the rest.
Have you used some or all the Five C’s of Copy Editing to improve your writing? If so, what did you do and how did your writing improve? Share your comments below and feel free to give those insights I may have missed in this article.
Now… go write something!