Save the English language: learn the difference between “to lie” and “to lay”

What's the difference between to lie and to lay?

This handsome man is LYING in bed. He may LAY down his screen. (He may also GET LAID.)

When I’m working as an editor, one of the mistakes I see most often is the misuse of to lie and to lay. I’m a substantive editor in the publishing world and a story editor (same thing) in the movie world. I help writers to build and shape their narratives. Grammar doesn’t really come into it. But this particular grammatical error drives me nuts.

Here’s the difference between the two verbs: to lie doesn’t have a direct object; to lay does. So you lie in bed and you lay your iPad on the bedside table. (iPad is the object.)

Things get confusing in the past tense because lay is the past tense of lie. (Why, dear God?) So you say, “I lay in bed yesterday”. And laid is the past tense of lay. So you say, “Yesterday, I laid my iPad on the table.”

If the past tense is messing with your head and, if you’re interested in using these verbs correctly—which, I understand, you may not be—don’t worry about the past tense. Just remember: in the present tense, to lie has no direct object, but to lay does. You do NOT lay down; you lie down.

Establish the present tense as a beachhead and, once that’s secure, go boldly forth from there.

Second thoughts—well, further thoughts—about Since You Left Us

Since You Left Us, Susinn McFarlen, Presentation House, Vancouver theatre

The cast of Susinn McFarlen’s “Since You Left Us” will make you belly laugh

With annoying regularity, I’ll write a review that goes online or into print, and I’ll think, “Damn! I wish I’d analyzed that more perceptively” That happened recently with my review of Susinn McFarlen’s Since You Left Us[Read more…]

Brindle & Glass is looking for new Canadian novels

My pal Taryn Boyd, who’s a publisher with Brindle & Glass in Victoria is looking for new Canadian novels. She’s got great taste. The ms I’m substantive editing for her right now is VERY exciting. Here’s the link: http://www.brindleandglass.com/submission_guidelines.php

Apparently, I’m a superstar at substantive editing. (Thanks.)

Just in from Taryn Boyd and Brindle and Glass: “The author letter is fantastic. So great. Gosh, you’re good at what you do…You’re a superstar.” This is about my edit of a truly exciting new novel. I’ll post more about it when it comes out. VERY glad to be working on this book.

Tough love makes another writer happy

“Colin, you are intellectually honest to a rigorous degree.  It’s such a pleasure reading your notes.  Very very helpful. I’ve been with [my manuscript] all weekend, making edits.  The writing gets easier all the time.” It’s such a pleasure to received notes like this from authors such as first-time writer Rebecca Murdock, whose writing isn’t only getting easier, it’s getting better all the time. I’m looking forward to seeing her children’s fantasy novel in print.

Praise from Pam Withers

pam_zipline“I benefited from the editorial advice of…above all, the brilliant, patient, and ever-humourous Colin Thomas” : very kind words from multiple best-selling author Pam Withers, in her recently published Paintball Island. Thanks, Pam! I will strive to be all of that.

Pam writes excellent adventure books for teen readers. Check out her website: pamwithers.com.

How to write three acts

three-acts, plays, screenplays, story editing, substantive editing

The three-act structure: our brains are wired for it.

It’s simple really. Act 1  sets the scene. In Act 2, the hero pursues what she wants. And, in Act 3, she goes after what she needs. In a story that ends happily, she will prevail thanks to the insight that she has gained through her struggle. [Read more…]

Shameless self-promotion

Vancouver editor, story editing, substantive editing

One thing about working with writers: they express their appreciation very articulately.

Is it shameless self-promotion even if I’m quoting other people?  Yeah, it is. But what the heck.

One of the best things about working as a substantive editor and story editor is that the authors I work with are so darn appreciative.  [Read more…]

Passive to active: let goals be your guide

passive, active, protagonist

To make a passive protagonist active, clarify her goal

As a substantive editor, one of the most common problems I run into—especially with new writers—is that of the passive protagonist.

I suspect that this is because writers are, by nature, observers. We pay close attention to the world around us. That’s great, but it’s not so great when our protagonists become passive observers, when other characters in the story take the most interesting and important actions.

Remember: your story belongs to your hero. We want to see what she’s up to. So make sure that she has a clear goal and that she actively pursues and refines it, gaining greater and greater insight into what she really needs as her story progresses.  [Read more…]

They like me. They really, really like me.

testimonials, editing, Vancouver, Colin Thomas

I appreciate the heartfelt testimonials I receive for my editing work.

Editing somebody’s writing is so intimate. And sometimes it can feel so presumptuous. That’s why I am so pleased and humbled by the testimonials I receive for my editing work.

This week, I’ve gotten a bumper crop.  [Read more…]