This article has been contributed by Anne-Marie Norman who is author of The Mental Hospital published by Chipmunka Publishing in paperback in spring.
I am one of those writers who thinks of editing as a chore. Perhaps it’s because, like most writers, my imagination comes pre-edited, so there is no work involved until you actually come to putting it down on paper. If you tell me there’s snow on the way, I’ll imagine sledding down a hill at top speed wearing a balaclava, effortlessly holding on to the rope with one hand and waving blithely with the other; the painstaking trek back up the hill carrying the sled in minus five degrees and the numerous crashes, gashes, cuts and nose bleeds will never once cross my mind.
But as we all know editing is a necessity, which, like Pandora’s Box, has the power to unleash a myriad of unexpected terrors. After the thirteenth proof-read, in the early hours of the morning, when you’re running out of migraine tablets, and the words on the page have all started to dance the samba, you know there are still mistakes lurking in the manuscript, waiting to be discovered if only you checked hard enough, thoroughly enough, and with more determination.
Apart from the obvious rules of grammar, tenses and spelling you may also find yourself having sleepless nights over dialogue. It was during the tenth proof read of my novel The Mental Hospital that I went on line to check my spelling of the word ‘yuck.’ I had a character who was fond of such expressions, and who would have become much less interesting had she not used them.
After endless scrolling, clicking and tutting I found that the word was actually spelt ‘yuck’ by the Collins English Dictionary, not ‘yeuch,’ as I had spelt it. However, on other parts of the Internet it was spelt ‘yuch’ and also ‘yeuch.’ I decided to go with the dictionary spelling. But I also discovered an interesting array of other emotions acoustically expressed: ‘Ugh,’ ‘aha,’ ‘ahh,’ ‘oh,’ ‘um,’ ‘mm’ and ‘er.’ ‘Er’ was defined as a word used to convey hesitation or uncertainty and was also, the dictionary informed me, the symbol for erbium. However, ‘eeer,’ which is one that I say, and to me denotes repulsion, being a sound I personally adapted in childhood from ‘ugh,’ was not in the dictionary. Should I dare to invent it? Or would people assume I was misspelling the organ of hearing? Then again what about ‘mm?’ Some authors write ‘mm’ with two m’s and some with three. Is it a matter of publishing style or writer’s choice? How long can ‘mmmm’ go on for and is there a record?
During my travels through the uncertain waters of the internet I also discovered something about formatting dialogue. I went on to one of those ‘writer’s helpful tips’ sites, you know, one of those sites that takes you to whole new levels of anxiety and insecurity, and discovered to my horror that you can’t laugh a sentence. “Why not?” I thought. I do it all the time in real life.
I rushed home immediately, biting my fingernails obsessively and checked my manuscript. I had laughed sentences all the way through it and had to change every single one, which took an entire evening and hardly made me laugh at all. Apparently, you can say a sentence and you can reply to a sentence, or mumble or whisper or use a number of other verbs but you can’t laugh one. So you can write: “There’s a monkey on the roof,” he said, laughing. But not: “No, it’s the Archdeacon dressed as a monkey,” he laughed. You can growl a sentence though, or even thunder one; I am sure Heathcliffe did in Wuthering Heights, and I am also sure that an awful lot of murmuring goes on in the novels of D H Lawrence.
So what about other sounds? Can you sneeze a sentence? Perhaps you can, as long as it’s a mild sneeze. Hence: “I’m allergic to chrysanthemums,” he sneezed gently. Perhaps not. Even with a light cold it still might be too difficult to sneeze and speak at the same time. A malevolent character in my book suddenly springs to mind. What about spitting? Can you spit a sentence? Surely spitting and speaking can be done simultaneously if you put enough effort into it? Perhaps one needs to try spitting a sentence to see if it is physically possible prior to writing it into a novel? But just before attempting to do this I start worrying again, I look down at my notebook and discover I have just written the following sentence: “Oh, er, um, …ugh what’s that, ooh, ow, o, yo, brr, yikes, that’s the yukkiest squidgiest most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen!” He confessed.
Mmmmmm….back to the dictionary!
Anne-Marie Norman can be contacted via The Society of Authors