Tag Archives: editing

Book Update – More Milestone Dates!

One of my favourite Nietzsche quotes is “I like to travel from peak to peak.” Well, that’s not exactly the quote, but that’s how I remember it. The quote actually runs: “In the mountains the shortest way is from peak to peak; but for that, one must have long legs.” In the last couple of weeks, it’s felt like the project has been going from peak to peak. Sure, there’s still lots of time for unexpected events to put a wrench in things (after all, this is the premise of risk theatre), but while the going’s good, I’ll take it! So, assiduous readers, here are the most recent milestones.

Final proofread complete! A good friend, Mark Grill, took on this duty. He’s edited articles that have appeared in top journals such as Science and Nature so it was a bit of a coup for me that he took this on. He’s got a comparative literature degree from the University of Chicago so much of the material would have been familiar to him. He got the manuscript on July 30 and turned it around by August 11–blazing quick. I was very happy with his work. He really has a gift for editing and proofreading. For example, there were a few foreign words in the text. One was Trauerspiel, which I had translated in quotes beside it as “mourning plays.” Of course, Trauerspiel in German is singular. Trauerspiele would be the plural. He noted and caught all sorts of little things like this. I was grateful to the point where I wrote him up a glowing recommendation, which runs like this:

Mark proofread my 70,000 word book: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, a complex and dense work on chance, uncertainty, and the tragic theatre in under two weeks. I accepted nearly all of his suggestions. He has the rare x-ray eyes to uncover the most direct way of expressing thoughts with words. His proofreading was absolutely thorough and invaluable. He will be able to do the same for you at a highly competitive price point. Highly recommended.

I was particularly happy with the use of ‘x-ray’. The playing of one of my favourite pianists has been called ‘an x-ray interpretation of Bach’. I always liked that line. The pianist, is, of course, the inimitable Glenn Gould.

The author blurb and book blurb are complete! A big thank you to Keith Digby and Sarah Milne for some really great suggestions that added kick to the presentation. Here’s how the book blurb reads:


The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy presents a profoundly original theory of drama that speaks to modern audiences living in an increasingly complex world driven by artificial intelligence, gene editing, globalization, and mutual assured destruction ideologies. Tragedy, according to risk theatre, puts us face to face with the far-reaching implications of our actions by simulating the profound impact of highly improbable events.

In this book, classicist Edwin Wong shows how tragedy imitates reality: heroes, by taking inordinate risks, trigger devastating low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Not only does Wong reinterpret classic dramas from Aeschylus to O’Neill through the risk theatre lens, he also challenges dramatists to create tomorrow’s theatre. Because today is an age of unprecedented risks, we need compelling, high-stakes tragedies to capture the growing unease with today’s risk-takers who are hurling us into an abyss of unintended consequences.

And here’s how the author blurb reads:

Edwin Wong founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition with Langham Court Theatre to align tragedy with the modern fascination with uncertainty and chance. It is the world’s largest competition for the writing of tragedy. He is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated on ancient theatre. His other research interests include epic poetry, where he has published a solution to the contradiction between Homeric fate and free will by drawing attention to the peculiar mechanics of chess endgames. He has lectured in Canada and the USA on risk theatre and welcomes opportunities to speak. He currently lives in Victoria, BC and blogs at melpomeneswork.com. The competition website can be found at risktheatre.com.

Wow, I could really get used to addressing myself in the third person! Caesar also referred to himself in the third person in his histories: The Gallic Wars and The Civil War. They’re quite fun to read, as every time you read: “And then Caesar put on his red cape to bolster the flagging morale of the troops on the right flank…” you know that, well, Caesar is giving the air of impartiality but he’s really just talking about how great he is! And the kicker is I think he really enjoys it!

The title has changed again! Now the book is called: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. The old title was: Tragedy is Risk Theatre: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. The new title better expresses the idea that this is a theory of tragedy.

Font has been chosen! Going with Berling, the same font that Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and the Markets was set to. Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb was the book that set me off on this journey. It was at the Providence, RI Borders Bookstore (in the Providence Place Mall) that I first saw this book in the winter of 2006. I was working on my thesis and hey, what better thing to do to procrastinate than to go to the bookstore and look at other books! Well, this book was sitting in the economics section and it stood out as sort of a ‘renegade’ title: Taleb was part of Wall Street, but he also railed against the tools Wall Street was using to measure risk. Remember, these were the days right before the Great Recession. His title would prove to be quite prescient in light of the train wreck right around the corner. Well, it was after encountering this book that it first occurred to me that tragedy dramatizes well-thought out plans that go awry in quite unexpected ways. In other words, tragedy could be conceived of as a theatre of risk. It dramatizes and simulates risk on the stage. It was too late, of course, to rewrite my thesis. But it was then that I knew I had to start from scratch. Again (I’ve been trying to come up with a theory of tragedy since 2000; this is attempt 3). So, it is a little tribute to Taleb that my book will also be set in the typeface of his first book. Fitting.

The proofread text has been sent to Friesen Press where the Microsoft Word document will be transferred into Adobe InDesign, LaTeX, or some other typesetting system (not sure which software Friesen uses). From there, I have one revision round, or one chance to catch any final errors that are still in the text or arise when the Word document is typeset. Once I approve that, they’ll start generating the index. Friesen’s is saying first printing January 2019 (six month process). But really, this date should be able to be pushed back to November or December. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much left. Let’s say the typesetting and revision round takes us to end of September (that’s a month and a half). The index takes a month. This takes us to the end of October. The cover design can be done concurrently with indexing. So, the package will be ready to go to the printers by the end of October. From there, the lead time for a small run would be what…one month? That sets us in December. Of course, December is a peculiar month, full of holidays and time off. We shall see.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

The First Draft, The Second Draft…

Newsflash: the preface is rewritten. Chapter 1 is halfway rewritten. Most of the preface was salvageable. It had to be rearranged and paragraphs added to reflect what was actually in the chapters. But most of it survived. Chapter 1, however, is a different story. It’s being completely rewritten. Not much of the first draft is going to make it into the second draft. The topic is the same: introducing the basic building block of the risk theatre. But that’s about it.

Normally, this would be a bummer. But good thing I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s a book on writing fiction. But it applies to all sorts of writing. The basic toolkit is the same. The process is also similar. Non-fiction is still creative: you’re presenting the facts in a ‘story’ to persuade the reader. King’s advice came to mind: the first draft is for the writer. The second draft is for the reader. No writer gets it right the first time. It is through the hard work of writing, rewriting, editing, coming up with the second draft, and the third draft that gets things done.

Now, what did King mean when he said that the first draft is for the writer and the second draft for the reader? This is what I think he means. The first draft isn’t really directed towards any sort of audience. It’s a proof of concept. It’s the writer talking with himself. Rambling. Or not even that. It’s the writer standing helpless as his words revolt against his ideas. There’s something of a Frankenstein in writing: once you’ve written it, it has a mind of it’s own. The idea can be beautiful. But the words can be ugly. The concept could seem perfect. But the words can prove the concept wrong. In the first draft, the writer is both active and passive. He is active in the sense that he is the one writing. But passive in the sense as he is helpless to where the story takes him.

If proof of concept takes place after the first draft is done, then the writer can proceed to the second draft. Proof of concept means that the words, verbs, and adjectives sort of square with the original idea. There is a congruence between idea and expression. It may not be perfect (and oftentimes is the opposite of perfect), but it works. If proof of concept has not happened, then, well, sorry to say, there is no need to proceed to the second draft. Time to start again. This has happened to me before. It is quite sad.

In the second draft, the writer is writing for an audience. He writes with the benefit of hindsight: he knows where the story is going to go. He can tailor the second draft so that it makes sense to readers. In all likelihood, the first draft just makes sense to the writer. For King, his ideal reader is his wife Tabitha. That’s who he writes the second draft for. My ideal reader is an old friend from grad school. The book is like a conversation or a chess match between us. A bit of agreement and some competition and disagreement as well. But no matter who the second draft is written for, it’s not written by the author for the author. That’s what first drafts are for.

In writing the second draft, the biggest lesson is that writing is just as much a process of destruction as it is of creation. You have to have the courage to throw out everything that doesn’t fit, no matter how much labour you’ve put into it. It’s like spring cleaning. It’s as difficult as throwing out old family heirlooms. But it must be done. Others do it. Of the really focussed and direct books I’ve read, I shudder to think how much writing, rewriting, and pruning must have taken place to achieve crystal clarity. Judging from my own experience, I would say a lot. Or, more than the writer cared to do. That’s probably where good editors come in… To tell the writer to put more fire into his work or put more of his work into the fire…

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work by putting some of my hard work into the fire.

The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

Brief digression: a BIG thank you to everyone who responded to Monday’s post! Beta readers are going to make Paying Melpomene’s Price more accessible, clearer, and more fun to read. To those of you on the fence: join in the fun! There’s no commitment: do as little or as much as you please! I’m looking for feedback, comments, suggestions… It’s good to be writing for an audience again; for too long I’ve been writing for myself. Even knowing that the text will be beta read forces me to think more in terms of the reader. That is a good thing. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is the shortest and most frequently recommended of all styleguides. The body of the text weighs in at 85 pages. With the forward, introduction, glossary, afterword, and index, it is still a lean 123 pages. I have been meaning to read it for a long time. They say classics are books that everyone wishes they have read but no one wants to read. Well, The Elements of Style is definitely a classic. I am glad to have finally read it. I should have done so earlier. Better late than never.

Why would such a short book require two authors? It turns out that Strunk (1869-1946) was an English professor at Cornell. He wrote The Elements of Style to distribute to students. White was one of Strunk’s students in 1919. In 1956, seeing a need for such a book, White published it. He expanded Strunk’s original 43 pages and added an introduction and a concluding chapter (‘An Approach to Style’). That is the reason the book has two authors.

Back Blurb

Making ‘every word tell’ is what The Elements of Style is all about. This famous manual, now in a fourth edition, has conveyed the principles of plain English style to millions of readers. It is probably the only style manual ever to appear on the best seller lists.

Whether you write letters, term papers, or novels, the ‘little book’, as it has come to be called, can help you communicate more effectively. It will show you how to cut deadwood out of your sentences; enliven your prose with the active voice; put statements in a positive form; approach style by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity.

The original ‘little’ book was written by William Strunk, Jr., late professor of English at Cornell, for use by his students. Years later, one of the most illustrious of those students, E.B. White, prepared an edition of the book for the general public, revising the original and contributing a final chapter of his own that sought to lead the reader beyond mere correctness toward distinction in English style.

This Fourth Edition includes a new glossary of grammatical terms. In addition, the book has been revised to update many of the references in examples and to reflect contemporary usage. These changes help make the ‘little’ book even more accessible to new generations of readers and writers.

The Eureka Moment

Believe it or not, it wasn’t what Strunk had to say but what White had to say in the final chapter that was the eureka moment. What Strunk lays out in the main body of the text is good. For example, one thing that’s always been on my mind is the difference between that and which. Here is how Strunk clarifies the difference between the two:

That is the the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, which the non defining, or nonrestrictive.

The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question.)

The use of which for that is common in written and spoken language (‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass’.) Occasionally which seems preferable to that, as in the sentence from the Bible. But it would be a convenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision. Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the defining whiches, and by so doing improve their work.

That is pretty good, but not the eureka moment. The eureka moment is in White’s final chapter on style:

With some writers, style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity, as surely as would his fingerprints. Here, following, are two brief passages from the works of two American novelists. The subject in each case is languor. In both, the words used are ordinary, and there is nothing eccentric about the construction.

He did not still fell weak, he was merely luxuriating in that supremely gutful lassitude of convalescence in which time, hurry, doing, did not exist, the accumulating seconds and minutes and hours to which in its well state the body is slave both waking and sleeping, now reversed and time now the lip-server and mendicant to the body’s pleasure instead of the body thrall to time’s headlong course

Manuel drank his brandy. He felt sleepy himself. It was too hot to go out into the town. Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurito. He would go to sleep while he waited.

Anyone acquainted with Faulkner and Hemingway will have recognized them in these passages and perceived which is which. How different are their languors!

Or take two American poets, stopping at evening. One stops by woods, the other by laughing flesh.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,

To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing,

laughing flesh is enough…

Because of the characteristic styles, there is little question about identity here, and if the situations were revered, with Whitman stopping by woods and Frost by laughing flesh (not one of his regularly scheduled stops), the reader would know who was who.

It dawned on me: no one would mistake Faulkner for Hemingway or Frost for Whitman. In the above passages, there is nothing bombastic in the style: in Hemingway’s case it is even sort of mundane (e.g. ‘Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurito’). But yet they are all great writers. The eureka moment for me was that style does not come from trying to do something fancy. Style comes from within. It is in every word we write.

Style is sort of like clothing. One can wear a suit jacket or a t-shirt. One can wear a dress or a blouse. There is style in both. Those with the best style don’t do anything pretentious with clothing. They wear clothing that fits the body. Not too tight, not too loose. Colour is nice. But not too bright and not too subdued. They choose colours to fit the occasion. There are winter colours and summer colours. There is no use in making clothing bombastic, loud, or pretentious: that is not style. Style comes from within. It is probably the way we carry ourselves in the clothing. Words are sort of like that: they are the things we dress up our thoughts with.

What’s the takeaway from all this? First, read The Elements of Style. It is a nice short book. The way books ought to be. Second. When writing, don’t worry about style. It’s everywhere. It’s part of you. It is you. You don’t have to think about style to write with style. But do think about finding the words that fit just as you would find clothes that fit. And by fit I mean both the body and the occasion. Using a foreign word, for example, is like wearing the latest Spanish cut. And so on.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I am Doing Melpomene’s Work in style.

What is Concision in Writing?

The other day CM and I were catching up. We hadn’t chatted in months. He’s been working on his yard. Landscaping. The big project was a picket fence. I betcha it looks good. As assiduous readers will recall from prior posts, I’ve started the rewriting and editing process. I shared with him the good news that the first draft of the book was complete and that the goal was to get the book down from 210 pages to 150 or less. ‘The writing has to be concise’, I said, parroting what the style guides were saying. Concision is everything. But then CM asked, ‘What exactly is concision in writing?’. Well, I hadn’t actually thought of that! Concise is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. But what is ‘as much as possible’? How does one know? Is there a boundary between too little and too much?

How to Express Concision

Communication is a two way street. When attempting to get ideas across, it’s always helpful to remember how the other person is looking at things. It just so happens that me and CM share a construction background. In fact, years ago, when I was thinking of getting into the trades, I asked CM which trade I should get into. He said if he were doing it all again, he’d check out either electrical or plumbing: they’re paid well and you’re not outside working in the rain or on top of a slippery roof.

So, when asked ‘What exactly is concision in writing?’, I came up with the following: concision is like what you find on a blueprint. Tradespeople read blueprints when they build a house. The print tells them where the stairs go, the rise and the run of the treads, how many levels the house has. It tells them how to lay out the walls, where the bathrooms are, and how many bedrooms there are. It does not tell them where to hang the Monet, where to put the TV, or which pan goes into which cupboard.

The plan tells the tradespeople what they need to know to build the house. And in very exact terms: the shear wall will be screwed together with certain types of screws. The length and type of plating of exterior screws will be specified. But it does not go beyond what it is designed to do: it will not talk about where the TV goes, for example. This is concision: the state of expressing as efficiently as possible what needs to be said.

How Concision Works

If a set of blueprints for a house can be described as being ‘concise’, concision works because there is an understanding between the architect who drafts the blueprints and the tradespeople who interpret the blueprints. Through experience, the architect knows what to put on the blueprints and what not to put on. And through experience, the tradespeople know what to look for. A book then, must be like a set of blueprints: it must start off with a well defined goal. Just as the point of a blueprint is so a house can be built, the writer must define the purpose of the book.

To continue the analogy, once the writer defines the purpose of a book, the next thing to establish is the book’s audience. Just as an architect is making a set of blueprints for tradespeople, the writer must figure out who the audience is. That way, the right amount of information is conveyed. Once the architect defines the audience as an audience of tradespeople, certain things can be said which do not need further elaboration. For instance, if acoustic insulation is specified, it can be presumed that the tradespeople are familiar with how to install it: no need to give a lesson on the history and application of acoustic insulation. For the same reason, if a writer is writing about theatre to an audience of theatregoers, there is no need to give the background of each play under discussion: it can be presumed the audience is already familiar. There is no need, for example, to say that Macbeth is a play by Shakespeare in which an ambitious vassal assassinates his lord. That information would be superfluous. To include it would not be concise.

The Current State of Paying Melpomene’s Price

Now that the process of rewriting and editing the book has started, how does it look? To use the blueprint analogy, currently the book is like a glorious house built in the clouds. It has no foundation. Some of the stairs lead nowhere. Others are in the wrong place. It needs concision.

But even in this bad state, one can tell that the house has an interesting design. With the proper corrections, one could live in there. And comfortably. The crucial thing I can see right now is that what I have created is not yet a house, but, can become a house with the proper revisions. And that for now is good enough. Actually, in a way, I’m counting my lucky stars because I’ve started off a lot of projects where, looking back on them, they’re not even salvageable.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work many times over.

Editing & Style

Since the first draft is complete, it’s time to start rewriting and editing. The manuscript is at 126 Microsoft Word pages which is equal to about 210 softcover book pages (depending on size, font, etc.,). I’ve started rewriting the preface. The goal with the preface is to shorten it 20% and it looks like I might be able to exceed that. I’ve also started to put in the appropriate footnotes. And then it struck me: I can’t remember all the formats! It’s been eight years since I’ve done this sort of stuff. Same for editing. I haven’t edited anything in these last eight years either. Rusty. Of course, the goal is to get professional editors to go through everything. But the goal also is to get it to the very best of my ability before getting outside help. Junk in, junk out, as they say. And if you’re wondering, no, my ‘academic’ writing isn’t the same as my ‘blogging’ writing. Too bad. Because my ‘blogging’ writing actually has some good things going for it. It’s short. It’s fairly concise. It’s readily understandable. At least that’s what Yoast SEO reports: ‘The copy scores 70 on the Flesch Reading Ease test which is considered easy to read’. I’m pretty sure if I fed my manuscript into WordPress Yoast SEO it would yell at me for making things too difficult to read. Time to change that. I think I might try too hard to appear clever in my academic writing. This is where having a blog sorta helps me out.

Off to the Library to Find Editing Books

So, at the library I found four interesting volumes. And on the bookshelf at home, there was a good old standby. Here’s the library picks:

Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. I’ve never read this before. But everyone swears by it. It’s the only book to appear on every top 10 list. And it’s short. Actually, all these style guides are short. Maybe that’s some sort of hint to would-be writers. Some famous writers read this volume yearly. Wow. Here’s the back blurb:

Making ‘every word tell’ is what The Elements of Style is all about. This famous manual, now in a fourth edition, has conveyed the principles of plain English style to millions of readers. It is probably the only style manual ever to appear on the best seller lists.

Whether you write letters, term papers, or novels, the ‘little’ book, as it has come to be called, can help you communicate more effectively. It will show you how to cut deadwood out of your sentences; enliven your prose with the active voice; put statements in a positive for; approach style by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, simplicity.

The original ‘little’ book was written by William Strunk, Jr., late professor of English at Cornell, for use by his students. Years later, one of the most illustrious of those students, E.B. White, prepared an edition of the book for the general public, revising the original and contributing a chapter of his own that sought to lead the reader beyond mere correctness toward distinction in English style.

I like it. The goal of writing is to ‘communicate’ with readers. Put this way, I’m beginning to understand why simplicity and concision are desirable: it’s just like talking with people. Who appreciates a conversation when someone is hammering them over their head with huge words and sentences which never end?

Number two is the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. I used to have the 5th ed. Now it’s up to the 7th ed.! This volume has all the goods on the format footnotes go in, how to do abbreviations, and so on. Maybe it will even tell me how to differentiate between ‘which’ and ‘that’: that’s something I’ve forgotten how to do! Here’s the back blurb:

The MLA Handbook is published by the Modern Language Association, the authority on MLA documentation style. Widely adopted by universities, colleges, and secondary schools, the MLA Handbook gives step-by-step advice on every aspect of writing research papers, from selecting a topic to submitting the completed paper.

The seventh edition is a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to research and writing in the online environment. It provides an authoritative account of MLA documentation style for use in student writing, including simplified guidelines for citing works published on the Web and new recommendations for citing several kinds of works, such as digital files and graphic narratives.

Number three is The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. Here’s its blurb:

For over twenty-five years, The Canadian Writer’s Handbook has provided invaluable guidance on all aspects of the writing process, from the mechanics of building effective sentences and paragraphs to the intricacies of writing, formatting, and documenting full-length research papers. Building on the foundations laid by William Messenger and Jan de Bruyn, Judy Brown and Ramona Montagnes, both of the respected UBC Writing Centre, have updated this comprehensive and authoritative text.

This volume has MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE style guides for citing references. I can compare it with the MLA Handbook to come up with a style appropriate for my book.

Last there is my own dog eared copy of Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams. Here’s what its back blurb has to say:

This acclaimed book is a master teacher’s tested program for turning clumsy prose into clear, powerful, effective writing. A logical, expert, easy-to-use plan for achieving excellence in expression, Style offers neither simplistic rules nor endless lists of dos and don’ts. Rather, Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb explain how to be concise, how to be focused, how to be organized.

Filled with realistic examples of good, bad, and better writing, and step-by-step strategies for crafting a sentence or organizing a paragraph, Style does much more than teach mechanics: it helps anyone who must write clearly and persuasively transform even the roughest of drafts into a polished work of clarity, coherence, impact, and personality.

Wow! I am SOLD! And, believe it or not, I find books on style actually quite entertaining to read.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I am editing and re-Doing Melpomene’s Work.