Describing Acronyms while Writing Fiction


At a recent critique session, the group was reviewing a chapter from my second unpublished novel, New Duet. Dan is a veteran, and while having dinner with Issy, he tells her about his truck being hit with an IED, mentioning his MOS while serving in the military. However, nowhere did I define what those acronyms meant. Defining IED (improvised explosive device) and MOS (military occupational specialty code) to my critique group help me realize I needed to make them clear to my reader. So within the dialogue exchange over dinner, Issy asked the questions one might ask in a casual conversation. Therefore, giving the definitions and making things clear rather than the archaic writing style of the narrator stepping in and saying, “Dear reader, let me explain what he is talking about.”

Obvious Acronyms

Some acronyms need no explanation. SWAT- everyone knows these are specially trained police in bullet-proof vests carrying assault weapons with particular skills to take down the bad guys. We know FBI, CIA, DEA. And every TV viewer now knows what CSI and NCIS stand for. Tests like MRI or CAT scan or CPR are understood either through experience or watching medical dramas.

Define so they stay engaged

Then again we can’t assume everyone knows. I recently ran across DIY. My mind went blank. But within the ad were the words do-it-yourself. Ah, sweet clarity. As writers, we should be familiar with the term WIP. But non-writers have no clue. Work in progress needs to appear somewhere in the same paragraph for clarity.

If you are writing about a specific trade the acronyms need to be defined once either before or after its first use. Otherwise, readers are confused and leave your story to google the mystery letters. Too many of those and you’ve lost the momentum of turning pages to get to the end at 2 a.m.

My example

As you craft your story, don’t forget to define terms within the story as quickly as you can without drawing the reader out of the story.  If a DEA agent comes to the door, don’t stop to give a brief history of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Instead:

“Men, are in position, sir.” The tall lanky DEA agent looked to Detective Marshall for confirmation.

“Tell the men to move in. Slowly. Don’t want to spook these guys.”

“For sure, they’ve given us the slip more than once. “The agent keyed his mike. “Move in, low and slow.”

“If they flush the drugs, our case is toast.” Detective Marshall kept his eyes on the third story window. Three guys sat at a table. What they were doing could not be seen from his vantage point. Fear moistened his collar. He hated dealing with drug smugglers. It always brought in the feds, and more hands in the pie could end badly.

“I heard from a guy in Vice over at Precinct 23 that these guys operate in four states.”  The young detective moved closer with the declaration. Marshall wasn’t in the mood to chat.

“Well, today it stops here.” Withdrawing his Glock from its holster, he moves in a squat posture toward the building.

Now in this less than stellar scene you get the idea. I have given you the information that the DEA is a federal branch of law enforcement that deals with drug-related crime. I’ve given the reader the needed info without stepping away from the scene.  Always give just enough to define the acronym but not so much as to drag the reader from the action.

What interesting acronyms have you run across? Do you have an example of how yuo defined an acronym while still moving the story along?

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Author Andrea Merrell Shares Editing Tips

Andrea Merrell Photo 10The toughest part of writing a manuscript is editing it into shape. Reshaping our baby when we feel it is perfect and the best it can be is a very emotional thing.

I’ve asked Andrea Merrell to join me and discuss some tips from her book Murder of a Manuscript: Writing and Editing Tips to Keep Your Book Out of the Editorial Graveyard.

Andrea, I wish your book had been available when I started this writing journey. Your tips would have made it so much easier. This small book is power-packed. Tell me why you wrote it and how you chose the content.

Thanks, Cindy. It’s an honor to be with you today. Murder of a Manuscript basically evolved out of all the notes I use to teach workshops at writers’ conferences. As new writers, we have to start with the basics. Even as seasoned writers, we sometimes need a reminder of the little things that can send our manuscripts to the editorial graveyard. My book is not an exhaustive guide on every single thing a writer needs to know. Instead, it is intended to be a quick, easy-to-read-and-navigate guide to help writers understand what agents, editors, and publishers are looking for. Like you, I wish something like this had been available when I first started my own writing journey.

My favorite part was your honest confession of how you put together your first book as a naive novice. Please, share it with my readers.

This was my first major faux pas as a new writer. I had put together a story that was sure to be the next best-seller. J My manuscript was 14 pt. Comic Sans, single-spaced, and filled with words in all caps, bold, and underlined. It was loaded with exclamation points and thoroughly sprinkled with clichés. I had designed my own cover and even used colored paper. Sure that I would wow the ladies at my first-ever critique group, how embarrassing to find out all my hard work screamed “Newbie!” Thankfully, the leader of the group lovingly and patiently explained to me that everything I had done was unprofessional and would be immediately rejected. She, along with the group, pointed out the correct way to format, along with all the things not to do. It was a learning experience I will never forget and will always be extremely thankful for—especially since I was headed to my first writers’ conference.

Why did you decide to add a recap section?

So many times when we read, especially a nonfiction book, we see things we want to remember and/or find again. I tend to underline, star, or highlight passages to refer back to, but with the new wave of e-books, this is not possible. The recap section is meant to sum-up each chapter with bullet points that, hopefully, the readers will remember. This is where repetition is helpful.

You’ve dedicated a whole chapter to what you term “little foxes.” Explain those.

In the Song of Solomon (2:15) we read about how the little foxes are ruining the vineyards. While the larger foxes were able to reach the fruit, the smaller ones resorted to chewing on the bottom of the vine so it would fall to the ground. That way they could easily reach the fruit. The problem was that the vine was ruined. As writers, we need to watch out for those little foxes that ruin our chance for publication. We tend to see the larger critters invading our manuscripts, but it can be all those pesky little typos, grammar glitches, and incorrect usage that derail our project. This is why editing and proofreading is key. If an agent, editor, or publisher can’t get past all the little foxes in your manuscript, they probably won’t invest the time to fall in love with your story.

You’ve listed additional resources at the end of your book, which is so helpful. If you could recommend only one, which resource would it be?

That might be a nearly impossible question to answer. As an editor, it’s essential to use the CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style), the CWMS (Christian Writer’s Manual of Style), and the AP Stylebook. These are considered industry standard. I think as a writer, my two favorite go-to books are Polishing the PUGS by Kathy Ide (now Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors) and The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus. My favorite online resource is Grammar Girl and her “Quick and Dirty Tips” ( I would also encourage your readers to visit and subscribe to As editors, my friend Alycia Morales and I share information once a week that is helpful to writers. We have a guest post once a month by a well-known author or editor, and we love to do book giveaways.

Andrea, there are so many books out there about self-editing and how to write. If a writer read them all (okay, realistically a few) on the many subjects of writing well would they still need to hire an editor?

Yes, yes, and yes. J When we’re going through our own work, we’re too close to the story. Our mind knows what is supposed to be on the page, but our eyes can skip over obvious errors. After we’ve read something over and over, we can become blind to what we’re reading. Carefully proofing and editing your work is essential, along with feedback from a critique group. But editors are there to help make your words shine. This is more important than ever now that self-publishing is the new trend. We need to make sure we are putting out the best products available, especially in the Christian market.

I’m confident I know the answer, but I’ll ask what others are thinking. You’re an editor so you didn’t hire an editor for your books, right?

Yes, absolutely. I would never have a book published without using a good editor. I think every editor would say a hearty “Amen.” We’re all fallible. I always say even the best editor needs an editor.

I’ve appreciated our time together. Before you go, please tell us about your other books and upcoming projects.

Praying for the Prodigal is my five-year journey with two prodigals. My son and daughter both took a dark path at the same time, and my husband and I experienced our own personal hell. The purpose of this book is to share what God taught me during this time, and to help restore hope to those who are going through this crisis. There is advice from my former prodigals, along with thirty days of prayers and Scriptures to help parents, grandparents, and guardians battle for the souls of their prodigals.

My short story, The Gift, is part of the Christmases Past Series and the Kindle version is available on Amazon for only ninety-nine cents. It is the story of a young couple’s journey through pain, loss, healing … and an unexpected gift.

There are three novels in various stages that are begging to be completed, but my next book is Marriage: Make It or Break It. I share many things I’ve learned in forty-plus years of marriage that can bless or crush a relationship. I also talk about how our basic temperament and love language can affect our relationships, the difference between the way men and women think, and how to pray for yourself, your spouse, and your marriage.

If you’d like to hire Andrea to edit your manuscript, you can contact her through her website: or e-mail her at AndreaMerrell 7 @ gmail (dot) com.

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Andrea Merrell is Associate Editor for Christian Devotions Ministries and Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC). She is also a professional freelance editor and has been a faculty member at various writers’ conferences, including:  Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, The Asheville Christian Writers Conference (Writers Boot Camp), the CLASS Christian Writers Conference, and Write2Ignite. Andrea has been published in numerous anthologies and online venues. She is a graduate of Christian Communicators and a finalist in the 2015 USA Best Book Awards. Andrea is the author of Murder of a Manuscript: Writing and Editing Tips to Keep Your Book Out of the Editorial Graveyard, Praying for the Prodigal, and The Gift. Andrea has a passion to help writers sharpen their skills and polish their prose. To learn more, visit or


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Paying for Edits?


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To hire an editor or not to hire an editor. To trust my own instincts to catch every dangling modifier and wrong POV… My apologies to Shakespeare. But this is a question that often plagues writers. It’s on the top of a list of things we must decide as we prepare our manuscripts for publication. And it is in my humble opinion the decision that can make or break your career.

Editing isn’t cheap. At least it’s not if you hire someone who really knows what they are doing. An editor can realistically charge $35 to $200 an hour. GULP! If you have never taken the time to edit someone else’s work, you can’t truly appreciate their value.

Why you don’t want to rely on free edits

Think of the hours you’ve spent crafting your book. Hours of self-editing (at least I hope you do.) You hand it off to a writer friend to give it a once over. (Translation: look for blaring errors.) That can take hours of their time. And because they are doing it as a favor to you, they are not going to give you a detailed edit, they don’t have the time. Unless they are OCD about finding every dot and tittle that needs fixing. You will get some good help but errors may still abound.

You get what you pay for. Free can leave you wanting. Besides, your fellow authors may focus on specific things that are always red flags for them. While other obvious things like head hopping may not be a concern. Your friend who is a high school English teacher might find every grammatical error and red mark all your sentence fragments or run-ons. But they may not understand POV or how to write tight for a magazine.

Magazine editors, unless they also write fiction, are not going to be the ideal help for your novel. Actually, it could be more harmful than helpful to solicit free editing from those without the specific editorial skillset needed for your project.

When and how to benefit from free edits

Using free help such as critique groups and fellow authors in the crafting stage is a great way to make you conscious of frequent mistakes you make. But once your baby is done, you need to consider paying an editor.

Find a good fit

Get recommendations from other writers. Ask for a sample edit. You want to see if the editor you’re going to give your hard earned money to gets your voice. Nothing is more disheartening than asking someone to edit your work who changes it so much it no longer sounds like you. I had a friend whose writer friend edited his thesis because he wasn’t really a writer. When he received it back, it sounded like his friend. And the editing changed some points so drastically that the meaning was different. Fortunately, for him this was a free edit. Unfortunately, he was back to square one in the process.

Pay back from a professional edit

My final thought, if you pay an editor before you send your manuscript to a publisher, you’ve got a better chance of getting a contract. A better chance at looking professional in the eyes of the publishing world. You receive a first-hand education into editing by paying close attention to the things the editor has fixed and suggested in your work. It can be a win-win on many levels.

What has your experience been with editors? I love to hear about it.

Over the coming months I’ll be interviewing some editor friends of mine. So….

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One of My Favorite Editing Tools

Today I want to give my readers one of my favorite editing tips. It saves gobs of time and draws attention to overused words. The Find and Replace Tabs are wonderful. They enable you to replace a word instantly. Partway through my novel I needed to change my characters name because it sounded so much like another character.  I went to the find key and typed in Drake and then typed Jake in the replace area. Voila! That was done. I needed to change the names of my fictitious towns because they weren’t fictitious after all. Find and replace equals done in thirty seconds.

Oh, but there is more. Do you have the habit of using words like just, so, but, then or a myriad of  favorite phrases that pepper your articles and make them ho-hum? Find and Replace to the rescue. Let’s type the word just, for example, into the Find space and then type JUST in the replace space. Like magic every time you have used the word just, it appears in all caps. Now you can choose to keep the word, delete it or rewrite it. Just is one of those words that can be deleted more often than not, and the sentence is stronger and clearer without it.

Find and replace helps you easily edit those things you tend to overlook. Because you will be searching for words in all caps, your eyes will move slower over your work, and you will be amazed at what other faux pas you find.

In Windows 7 these tabs are found on the far right of the Home tab. In earlier versions they can be found in the Edit tab.

Below are instructions for using Find and Replace. I love the Replace All option.

    • 1

Click “Replace” in the Editing group of the Home tab in Microsoft Word 2007 or later. Click the “Replace” tab in the window that appears.

    • 2

Enter the word or words you want to find in the “Find what” field. Enter the replacement term in the “Replace with” field.

    • 3

Click “Find Next” to find the first occurrence of the search tem. Click “Replace” to replace it and find the next occurrence or click “Replace All” to replace all occurrences with the replacement term.

You can read more on other uses for Find and Replace by clicking on the link below.

Read more:

Try this and see if it doesn’t make editing easier.

What techy tricks make your writing easier?

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