I’ve asked Carlie Cullen, author of Heart Search, and one of my editors on the Tower of Bones series to write a guest post detailing what an editor looks for when they receive a manuscript for the first editing. I also asked her to take a hitherto unedited bit of a current work in progress and to edit it for this post in the way she will when it actually goes to her sometime next year. The following is her post and the commentary. To the left here, I’ve inserted a screen shot of the unedited ms. At the bottom of this post is the screenshot of what the ms looks like now she’s sent it back to me.
What I hope you will all gain from this is (a) the importance of an impartial eye on your work, and (b) the understanding that criticism is a necessary part of growth.
I take each of her comments, and I analyze it with as fair an eye as I can. Then I make the changes, but I do them my own way. I don’t do heavy descriptors, and Carlie’s own work is very descriptive. This is why we work well together. She brings out the places where I’ve skimped on the descriptors too much, and forces me to be more forthcoming with showing the emotions of the scene.
Today I bring you part one of Carlie M.A. Cullen on editing!
Editing a raw manuscript is like dealing with an overgrown garden full of weeds; you need to cut back the long stuff before you can see the weeds choking the plants. This analogy is why editors generally do more than one round of editing, as they need to get some semblance of order to the manuscript before they can look at structure and the development of a story.
An editor has to look for a large number of things as they go through each line. As well as spelling, grammar (including correct use of tenses) and punctuation, which is the first thing I look at, there are the following:
- · Sentence structure. If a sentence doesn’t flow there’s something wrong with it and an editor needs to identify what it is and give suggestions as to how to put it right.
- · Consecutive sentences beginning with the same word. A couple of sentences beginning with ‘I’ for example, you can get away with, but more than that and it becomes repetitive.
- · Repetition of words. This is a classic mistake every author makes and there are certain words which stick out like a sore thumb. The most common one I come across is ‘that’. In addition, I look for repetitive phrases. In the example, there is one paragraph which has ‘it will’ repeated three times.
- · Dialogue. The dialogue has to be realistic otherwise the characters don’t come to life. This is more than just the actual words they say it’s also how they say it. Everybody uses contractions when they speak in everyday life (don’t / can’t / it’ll / I’m / I’ve / you’re / it’s – you get the drift) so these need to be reflected in your work. Also too many tags (he said / she said) can interrupt the flow.
- · Inconsistencies. Again if we look at the example (comment C6), you will see some dialogue where Wynn is talking about seeing a firedrake and he then asks if they ‘look all fiery’. He’s already seen one so he shouldn’t be asking a question he already knows the answer to. This is just one example of how an inconsistency can occur.
- · Timelines. In my first book I had an issue with a woman’s pregnancy and got the number of weeks muddled up, which thankfully, my editor picked up. An editor has to ensure the timelines are true to the story so it flows.
- · Incorrect descriptive words. You will see towards the end of the example piece where the author used ‘grim smiles’. This doesn’t accurately reflect what’s happening in the story so the use of the word ‘grim’ is incorrect.
- · Distinguishing ‘thoughts’ from text. Thoughts should be shown in italics to separate them from the general text and should be written in present tense, regardless of what voice is being used.
All the above is what I would normally do on a first round of editing – the cutting back of the long stuff to get to the plant-choking weeds. Then on the second round, I double check all the items above once more to ensure nothing has been missed, plus I begin the structural and developmental part of the edit. These are the sorts of things I look at:
- · Imagery. A powerful analogy can help a reader picture a scene more clearly. This is where a writer can be particularly creative as using lots of clichés makes the writing boring and predictable. Also clever use of descriptive phrases can make something come alive.
- · Showing not telling. This is mainly for character connection. Readers want to see expressions, gestures and mannerisms which give the character a three-dimensional quality. They want to be able to see and feel what the characters are feeling and seeing. They don’t want to be told someone is crying, they want to see the tears rolling down the cheeks and the anguish in someone’s eyes.
- · Cutting extraneous text. When writing, it’s very easy to get carried away and add in all manner of superfluous detail. An editor needs to be able to isolate this extraneous text and suggest removal whilst ensuring the story isn’t compromised in any way.
- · Actions reflecting character’s state of mind. Sometimes, writers give mixed messages about their characters. Their protagonist could be suffering a high state of anxiety yet their actions are portrayed as those of someone who is calm. This isn’t realistic. Therefore an editor needs to be able to identify these types of issues and suggest how to rectify the problem.
- · Inflections. Think for just a moment about how people around you talk. Do they constantly talk in a monotone? When you’re out shopping and you overhear conversations, are the voices flat and devoid of any emotion whatsoever? No, and characters shouldn’t be either. By writing inflections in their voices, you are making them more rounded and real. It’s not called for in every bit of dialogue you write, but at a particularly emotive scene, whether it is anger, frustration, fear or sorrow, showing an inflection in the voice again helps the reader to connect with the characters.
- · Story structure. This is where an editor looks at the story as a whole. Sometimes the starting place for the story isn’t strong enough (on the basis that you want to grip your readers early on to encourage them to continue reading). Sometimes the starting point would be better moved to another part of the book. Occasionally different P.O.V.’s (point of view) found in the same chapter can be confusing if not separated correctly. This point needs to be identified fairly early on in the editing process.
- · Character development. A close look at how each character is written can reveal a great deal. Is it realistic for a character to be meek one minute and a raving psychopath the next if there is no trigger point or mention/hint of mental illness? There needs to be consistency, a journey for the character to take through the story and wild variations don’t work.
- · Consistency. If a writer states in chapter two that Fred is the uncle of Lisa’s husband, he can’t be portrayed in chapter six as Lisa’s uncle. If a home is shown as being in Baltimore in chapter three, it can’t suddenly up sticks and walk to Florida in chapter twelve.
At the end of these processes and when the author has made any relevant changes, the editor has to final check the manuscript, to ensure it’s a polished gem, before it goes out for beta reading and subsequent publishing.
Thank you Carlie! On Wednesday we will see what the lovely, colorful commentary on the finished ms above means!