You write. I edit. You shine.

Author: Sharon Honeycutt (Page 1 of 9)

Capitalization craziness

I’ve been editing a lot of fantasy and sci-fi lately, and I find that my authors love to capitalize words and terms that really shouldn’t be capped. And I get it—I really do.

For instance, when you’re creating a fictional world (whether it’s SF/fantasy or not), it’s natural to want to capitalize the names of all the places in this world. For instance (and from the top of my head, not a client’s work):

  • Aldo traveled the High Road to Mount Crumpet, crossing the River Blue Fin on his way.

We’ve capitalized the name of the road, just like we’d capitalize Main Street or Downing Street or the Champs-Élysées. We capped Mount Crumpet, just as we would cap a geographical location like Mount Hood or the Matterhorn or Mount Everest. And we capped the name of the river just as we would, well … you get the picture.

Everything capped in this sample makes sense according to the world in which we really live (as opposed to the fictional world we’re creating), so ensuring consistency throughout the 80,000 or 90,000 or 100,000+ words making up the book isn’t so hard because we’re following rules we’re used to.

Where it gets tricky is when we start creating our own rules—or fail to create or own rules—and start capitalizing just because it “feels” right or it “looks” right. Consider this (again from my own noggin):

  • Magda stooped to pluck a bloom from the Luminous bush as the Watcher observed her from behind the Wall and recorded her actions in his Notebook.

The first oddly capped word is “Luminous,” which is the name of a flowering bush in this sample. In our real world, we wouldn’t capitalize “rose bush” or “lilac bush,” but in this world we’re capping “Luminous.” This doesn’t fit with accepted grammar rules, so it requires a note to ensure every use of “Luminous” is capped.

Next, we capped “Watcher.” Evidently a “Watcher” is the name of a certain position or job or role that a character plays and is important enough to capitalize. This is also different from the real world because we wouldn’t capitalize “teacher” or “janitor” or “lawyer” or “server” if we were writing about one of them. Because of this incongruity, I’d make another note.

After “Watcher” we have “Wall” capitalized. Now, it could be that this wall is an important wall, that it’s THE “Wall” that surrounds an important place in the world and is therefore capped to signify its importance. However, there could also be several “walls” in this world and the author would likely cap them all. I’ve seen both scenarios—a specific, clear use and a willy-nilly use. At any rate, I’ll make a note of it.

And finally we have “Notebook.” It’s a gadget. It must be an important gadget because it’s capped, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. This occurs just as often in sci-fi as it does fantasy. Just because a gadget doesn’t exist in our real world doesn’t mean it should be capitalized in our fiction. If it’s a fictional brand name, that’s one thing, and I’d cap that. If it’s simply the generic name of a fairly ordinary gadget in my fictional world, I wouldn’t. So in this instance, I’d make a note about “Notebook.”

Capitalization choices like these show up all the time in the fantasies and sci-fi books I edit, and they require me to create a spreadsheet for each book. In each spreadsheet, I list every unique capitalization and spelling instance to ensure consistency throughout the book.

I’m working on a sci-fi book right now; I’m about 65K words into it, and my spreadsheet contains more than 120 entries.

I’m not suggesting that authors stop capitalizing unique words in their books. What I am suggesting is that you make these choices consciously, thoughtfully. Think about what the word in your fictional world represents and ask yourself if you’d capitalize its cohort in English. (You wouldn’t cap “teacher,” so why are you capping “Watcher”?) If you have a solid reason for doing it and it’s a reason that’s significant to and makes sense in the world you’re creating, by all means capitalize that word. That’s why God created spreadsheets.

Your writing should be thoughtful and consciously done, no matter what we’re discussing, so in a way this is extraneous advice. However, I think it’s advice some folks need to hear (and heed). Whether you hire an editor or not, you want your writing to be consistent because readers love to pick books apart. If your editor isn’t keeping a spreadsheet to track your terms and your personal style (or if you’re not hiring an editor), you definitely should be keeping one.

And really, you should hire an editor. Another set of eyes, a professional with years of experience is a valuable asset. Let’s talk about that. Send me an email at and  tell me about your work in progress. I’ll help you figure out your next, best step.

Thanks for stopping by! Leave questions or comments below and please share this with other writers.

Don’t “begin to.” Just do it.

This will be short and sweet. I have a longer Harry Potter post coming soon!

Writing tip of the day: do you find yourself using the phrase “began to” in your action scenes? Consider these:

1. The noise got louder, and my heart began to thud harder.

2. When I saw they were chasing me, I began to run.

I see this kind of phrasing often as I edit. I think it’s partly a novice thing and partly a rough-draft thing. Whatever its origin, don’t do it. It’s clumsy and actually slows the action down. Consider the revisions:

1. The noise got louder, and my heart thudded in my chest.

2. When I saw they were chasing me, I ran.

Sure, there are times when it makes sense to use “began to,” but they aren’t as frequent as you’d think.

If you have any questions about writing or editing, leave them in the comments or shoot me an email at Thanks for stopping by and feel free to share this post!

JK Rowling & Harry Potter: A guide to writing better

I finally see what all the fuss is about

At the age of fifty, I finally read the Harry Potter series. I have no idea why I waited so long, but I absolutely loved them. J. K. Rowling is a masterful writer, which brings me to my post today. As I read her books, I got out my journal and started taking notes on the way she wrote. I wanted to learn from her.

Sometimes she reinforced something I’d previously learned, and sometimes she taught me something completely new. Those books and her writing delighted me.

What did Rowling do?

I want to share with you things I picked up reading as a writer, paying attention to how a master works. I may not teach you anything you don’t already know, but as we look at how Jo works her magic, perhaps a light bulb will go on for you as it did for me and you’ll feel a new spark for your writing. That’s my hope.

Having poured so much of ourselves into our books, we want our readers to keep turning pages. How do we do that? How did Rowling do it in the opening of The Sorcerer’s Stone? Conflict. Suspense. Curiosity. Consider these examples:

  1. SUSPENSE: When the book opens, we meet the Dursleys, and we learn that the Dursleys don’t like the Potters, and that there’s a secret about the Potters that the Dursleys don’t want anyone to know. (Who doesn’t like to discover a secret?)
  2. CURIOSITY: Mr. Dursley sees a cat reading a map and lots of people in cloaks, but he misses all the owls flying everywhere – during the day – not to mention, some man in a cloak calls him a Muggle. What, pray tell, is a Muggle?
  3. SUSPENSE: Mr. Dursley hears the people in cloaks whispering about … the Potters. Gasp. It’s also interesting that here very early, we don’t know what could be so bad about the Potters, so it’s even possible that way back when, before everyone knew Harry was a hero, early readers might have feared for the Dursleys because of the dreaded POTTERS!
  4. CURIOSITY: Everything about Albus Dumbledore invites curiosity and makes the reader want to know more about him. Rowling does most of this through his physical description and in his first conversation with Professor McGonagall.
  5. SUSPENSE/CONFLICT: The Potters – James and Lily – are dead at the hands of … say it with me … don’t be scared … Voldemort. Jo gives us THE conflict in the series here in these first pages of the first book: The POTTERS are dead. And a grown woman – a professor! – is scared to say the name of the villain. We know very little (next to nothing, actually) about Voldemort here, but look at the suspense Rowling’s created just by revealing the murder and fear associated with him.
  6. SUSPENSE: Voldemort – the evil, frightening murderer – couldn’t kill Harry. He tried, but he couldn’t kill a BABY. Why on earth not? That seems ridiculous. Or magical. Don’t you want to read on to find out how a little baby survived such an attack? Of course you do!

Dissection time …

Let’s take a look at these six elements from this first chapter and try to figure out how and why they work.

  1. When she introduces us to the Dursleys, Jo is appealing to our human nature. She shows us characteristics that we can identify with in the Dursleys. (I didn’t say that we admired or respected them, necessarily, but we can identify with them.) And she appeals to, as I mentioned above, that part of our human nature that is sparked by secrets.
  2. Because the Harry Potter series is a fantasy (magical realism, to be specific), Rowling has to introduce us to the world. Parts of the world look very ordinary and make it easy for us to see ourselves there. But other parts, such as the cat, the cloaks, the owls, etc. are obviously very different, not normal, possibly magical, and they entice us to read on. Do you see how she slowly dips our toes into Harry’s world?
  3. When we first hear about the Potters through the Dursleys’ POV (mostly Mr. Dursley’s POV), we learn the Dursleys fear the Potters. Fear is an emotion we can all relate to and it conjures suspense well. We don’t know why they fear the Potters, but we want to find out.
  4. Our introduction to Dumbledore is another toehold in the magical world. We not only learn things about Dumbledore himself when we see him with Professor McGonagall, but we learn things about the magical part of Harry’s world too. We learn a little about how they dress, and we learn that they can transform (or transfigure, if you’re taking McGonagall’s class) themselves into animals. Rowling doesn’t beat the reader over the head with these details either. She doesn’t make a big deal out of the way Dumbledore appears; he simply looks the way he looks. She doesn’t show McGonagall becoming a cat or becoming a human after being a cat; she simply is one and then the other. Rowling allows us to put some elements together for ourselves.
  5. In a way it’s brave of Jo to begin the whole series with two deaths. We don’t know Lily and James when we find out they’re dead, so there’s a chance we really won’t care about them, right? Except that we know because of the way McGonagall and Dumbledore react and talk about it that their deaths are tragedies and that their lives mattered. So that compels us to know more about Lily and James and about why they died (and Rowling teases all of this out for books and books and books). And, again, Rowling uses fear as a driver. Why is McGonagall so scared to even say Voldemort’s name? I must know … I must keep reading …
  6. Harry’s conflict with Voldemort is the most basic of all conflicts: man vs. man. (Yes, I know, it’s wizard vs. baby wizard, but in literature we know this is called man vs. man.) It’s all about survival. Harry survived. How? Why? And what will Voldemort do to finish the job? Jo starts a circle right here, doesn’t she? The whole series is built around this conflict. Even when Harry himself doesn’t know it, Jo did, and she used seven books and more than 4,000 pages to work it out. Much to our delight.

Here be the bullet points:

So how do we learn from this? What, as writers, can we do to follow in Rowling’s footsteps?

  • Appeal to human nature – think about what makes us human at our core and appeal to those qualities.
  • Build a world your reader can see, feel, hear, touch, and taste (pumpkin pasty or butter beer, anyone?), and give them details to hold onto as you do.
  • What emotions drive you? What do those emotions drive you to do? How can you use emotions to drive your characters?
  • Don’t be afraid to start big.
  • Know your basic conflicts (man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, as well as man vs. machine, man vs. society, and man vs. fate/supernatural) and use them.  

I wish I could sit down with Rowling and talk about her writing. Because I can’t do that, and because I think I have something to offer others through this process, I’m going to talk about it here for a while. Maybe next time we’ll look at characterization. Maybe we’ll look at all those magical names. Come back and see. I’ll post another one soon.

In the meantime, tell a writer friend about my blog. Share my blog. Tweet about my blog. I used to teach. I like helping people.

If you’re a writer who’s ready to move to the next stage and hire an editor, please
email me at and tell me about your work in progress. Let’s see how I can help you make that book the best it can be.

Dialogue Tags: Is “said” all you need?

One giveaway that I’m working on a manuscript by a fairly new writer (or with a writer who hasn’t worked with an editor before) is an abundant variety of dialogue tags.

Elmore Leonard advises writers to use only “said.” (Don’t know who Elmore Leonard is? Raylan Givens is shaking a finger at you and insisting you educate yourself. He’ll wait while you do so.)

I try to limit the variety of dialogue tags I use in my own writing and to limit them when I’m editing others’ writing, but I admit Mr. Leonard would argue I stray too often as I will sometimes use “answered,” “added,” and “replied,” among a few others.

With that said, consider this mess:

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Self-Editing and Stuck? Try this technique!

When writers first approach me about working together on their book or story, they often ask me about my process. How do I work? What do I do with their book? What will it look like when they get it back? Those are great questions, and we usually exchange a few emails going over the details, sometimes even including a phone call to ensure everything’s clear.

Today, though, I did something I don’t do very often when I’m working on a client’s book, so I thought I’d share it here. It will give you an idea as to how deep I go and how hard I work to ensure you’re getting my best, and it’s also a technique you can try if you’re really stuck.

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