Tag Archives: Developmental Editing /

Editing Workshop Part 3: Big Picture Editing Lessons from the Slush Pile

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shutterstock_131060561As promised, in today’s post I’d like to focus on developmental editing. Naturally, no two novels will have exactly the same problems to tackle. So since I can’t offer specific advice for your story, I went through our slush pile notes to look for patterns. Based on 2013 submissions to date, here are the most common “big picture” issues that made a story NOT work:

The first 25-50 pages are stellar, then the story starts to unravel. By “unravel,” I’m referring to a slew of possible problems (pacing issues, characters become clichés, story feels boring, voice falters, etc.). But the take-away is this: writers often spend a disproportionate amount of time editing and polishing the beginning of their novel. On one hand, that’s great—those are the pages that will hook your future agent, editor, or the readers who buy your book. Do spend a lot of time on your opening pages; just don’t lose steam on the rest of the novel. Slush piles are full of novels with fabulous beginnings—it’s faulty middles or ends that keep them from breaking out.

The author’s message drowns out the story. This problem is related to both voice and theme. Have you ever read a novel and felt like the author was thumping you over the head with a lesson? In nonfiction, having a see-through message or thesis is often the point. But as a fiction reader, even if it’s a message you agree with (I think we should do more to prevent global warming—absolutely!), you will likely be turned off when the author’s agenda shows through. Readers want to discover the meaning behind a story on their own. This is especially important for adults writing for kids, and one of the top reasons agents turn down MG & YA submissions is that they sound too didactic or pedagogical. MG & YA readers spend all day in a classroom—the last thing they want in a novel is to hear their teacher’s voice echoing through! Keep the focus on the characters and their story.

Narratives in a multiple POV story are unequal. When it’s done well readers have no idea how difficult this technique is because they’re so engrossed in the story. But when the different narrative threads are not of equal strength, the problem is immediately obvious and disappointing. Here’s an example: in a romance novel with alternating POV, the heroine’s story is absolutely gripping and the voice is spot-on; then we get to the hero’s voice and it feels phony or flat. Some writers have a hard time writing characters of the opposite sex; for others, this is actually easier. Or it may be that the writer has a clearer vision of a particular character than the others. Readers will end up skipping the weaker sections to get back to the more compelling narrative.  A similar situation can occur when you have a love triangle—it’s tough to make all the sides of the triangle strong, but readers have to care about each of the characters (even when they’re ultimately rooting for just two of them) or there will be less at stake.

May this give you some good food for thought. Happy editing!

Editing Workshop Part 2: What Are the Different Types of Editing?

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Whether you’re preparing to submit your manuscript to agents and editors or finalize it for self-publishing, there are several distinct types of editing and it’s important to understand the difference. The four main types are developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. So what the heck is the difference?

Developmental (also called substantive) editing is about the big picture. This is where you’ll want to start if you’re new to editing or in the early stages of cleaning up your finished novel; that way you won’t waste time fine-tuning sections that may not make it into the final draft. Developmental editing can help you fix things like these:question

  • holes in your plot
  • story threads that dead-end
  • main characters that fail to captivate
  • secondary characters that should be scrapped or given a larger role
  • decisions about voice (first-person vs. third, close vs. omniscient, etc.)
  • order of the scenes
  • flow of action and pacing
  • and many others

Line editing focuses on the sentence or paragraph level, rather than the broad story-scope of your novel. It’s about refining sentence structure and flow to make your writing both more readable and more pleasurable to read.  Line editing can fix wordiness, awkward sentence structures, and other issues that make your writing feel “unpolished.” Line editing is what helps you go from the first sentence to the second one below:

–Hands trembling, she stared at her sister’s number at the top of the call list on the screen, and after hesitating another moment, sent the call through.

–Hands trembling, she stared at her sister’s number for a moment, then sent the call through.

Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage. It’s the kind of editing you’d pull out your Chicago Manual of Style to do. Here are the types of questions you might ask yourself when doing a copy edit:

  • should I use “which” or “that”?
  • did I use punctuation correctly in the dialogue?
  • should that be a comma or a semicolon?
  • and a zillion others

Note that in the publishing world, the terms line editing and copy editing are sometimes used interchangeably, as they are closely related and often done by the same person or as a single step in the editing process. Some line editing may also be done during a developmental edit. So if you hire an editor, be sure you’re clear on what services he or she is offering.

Proofreading is the final step in the editing process and results in the final don’t-touch-it-again draft. This is where you catch spelling mistakes, typos, missing words, isolated punctuation errors, and the like. It’s the step that requires the most attention to detail, so if you’re doing it on your own work, it’s often essential to set the manuscript aside for a period of time so you can approach it with fresh eyes. Another helpful trick is to read your work aloud at a slow, measured pace.

For many writers, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading fall under a single umbrella called “being anal.” : ) If this is your stance, you might want to consider hiring a professional. Agents, publishers, and the reading public want a flawless product. So if you’d rather leave the nit-picking to those who enjoy it, no problem! But in the long run, you’ll be glad you didn’t cut any corners.

In upcoming articles, I’ll talk about some of the common issues writers need to address in their developmental and line/copy edits. Stay tuned!