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Signals for emphasis: Editor's Notes #328
December 09, 2020

Mere literary talent is common;
what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing.

—Donald Hall

In this issue:

1. Signals for emphasis
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt
5. My Covid-19 offer to you

1.Signals for emphasis
One of the most common mistakes I see when I edit a whole book is confusion about what the writer means to emphasize. Knowing and using the signals for emphasis ensures that your readers have a clear path to your main points.

Space is a major way to signal emphasis. If you spend one chapter on the setting of a novel, the setting had better be vital. The largest section in your text book signals the importance of its topic. The sheer number of words given to a point shows the reader how important you think that point is.

Naming characters, geographical features, addresses, and place names tells the reader to pay attention to the named person or item. If the maid simply comes in to make the bed and leaves the door open by accident allowing the villain access to the room, she is simply the maid, not Molly or Jennifer. But if she is the heroine princess, she needs a name.

Repetition signals emphasis. Places, characters, words, any recurrences, show the reader to pay attention. Habitual behaviours of characters should be of consequence.

Signal emphasis by putting material near the end of the book. You build toward the conclusion, which should be the most important thing you say. You may tie up the ends with a moral, conclusion, or deeds, but when you tie up the ends, you signal importance and consequence.

Use signals for emphasis to guide your reader to a conclusion of your choosing. Doing so signals that you are worth paying attention to.

A word to mystery writers. Clues must be available to the reader, but their emphasis must be downplayed. So, show the clue (earlier rather than later), but don’t give it too much space. You get extra hints in the second Interesting Web site below.

2.Tickled my funny bone
A myth is a female moth.

3. Interesting Web site
You get two pages today. The first gives more granular ways to signal emphasis. The page is long, but worth reading through. The examples make the points clear. The second page gives mystery writers more clues about clues.

4. Writing prompt
Start with a title: Name of Place and Item. The name begins with the last letter of your first name. The place begins with the first letter of your last name. The item can be rock, paper, or scissors. An example would be Yelana of Ottawa and the Paper. What story can you tell? I’d love to see your result.

5. My Covid-19 offer to you
A Covid-19 vaccine is in the arms of British people, signalling that there is an end to the restrictions of the past year in sight. In sight, but not here yet. So, I am still offering a deep discount on editing. Go through your writing to choose something that you think is worth sending in as a sample. The sample edit is free, and you will have an idea of what you need to work on and the price of improving your writing.

What follows is a copy and paste from issue number 309. It’s still in force for you and anyone you choose to tell about it.

Along with the health threat hanging over the world, we are facing a huge financial hit. I’ve decided one thing I can do is to make quality editing less expensive during this trying time.

For subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends, I am suspending the fee for the sample edit to anyone using the code EN19 until I cancel this offer. I intend to keep this offer open as long as the world is in crisis with Covid-19 and its aftermath, so watch this space. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer. You can submit your writing sample at Be sure to click the link below the heading "Promotion Code" to get to the special form for a free sample edit. If you find yourself at a form before clicking the special link, scroll slowly back up the page, and you should see the link for the code (EN19).

But it gets better…

When I return an edited writing sample, I include quotes for the full range of my editing services. Until further notice, I will give a true quote, but I will not charge writers the full amount. I am discounting my services 50% for subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer.

Feel free to pass this offer along to any writing friends you think may be interested. As long as anyone uses the code, I’ll honour the offer.

This is what I can offer you in this time of crisis. I hope it encourages you as you face possible illness and financial uncertainty.

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