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Book Editing Essentials
Writing a Book Is the First Step
I am a book editor. I am also a writer. I am also a teacher.
I mention those things so you won’t think I’m just a blowhard who doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Let me toss aside the first misconception about book editing: editing is more than just correcting grammar. Of course an editor will clean up your language skills, but a talented and professional editor will do so much more for you, and that is the topic for today, those others gifts that a good editor will bring to the table when they agree to edit your book.
Listen, I want you to succeed. Anyone who knows me knows that I am all about finding success in the Arts. I want writers to be better. I want writers to yes, spread their wings and fly. I want writers to achieve their goals. If your goal is to simply write a book, then sit down and get started. If, however, your goal is to write a “successful” book, then eventually you will need to pay some cash and have an experienced editor take a look at your “finished” product.
I place the word “finished” in quotation marks because so many writers finish their book and then think it just needs a couple minor corrections and it will be good to go. Well, that has not been my experience. Most writers are too close to their own work, and thus they are the worst judges regarding its publication readiness.
If you are considering hiring an editor, then ask them what it is they are going to provide for you. Hopefully their answer includes many of the following essentials I am going to list for you.
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WHERE IS THE HOOK?
I have written often about the hook and the Ten Second Rule. If your book does not engage and yes, hook, the reader in ten seconds then good luck to you. A good editor, disengaged from the emotional aspects that a writer has for their own work, can tell you very quickly if your opening few paragraphs have the stuff of greatness.
I will state flat-out that a writer cannot judge this about their own work. They are too close to it. They are too emotionally invested in it. Leave it to the editor to inform you whether you first chapter is a winner or not.
GIVE THOSE CHARACTERS SOME DIMENSION
There is nothing worse than two-dimensional characters. Readers love characters that are alive and that they can relate to. Do your characters have a personality? Do they struggle? Are they healing? Are they emotional? You may think they have it all while you are writing when in fact they are as interesting as week-old white bread.
When I read a novel I ask myself one question about the characters: would I like to know them in real life? If the answer is no then they really have no place in your novel.
ENRICH YOUR WRITING VOICE
Blah, blah and more blah! Is that what your writing sounds like? Listen, all writers have their own writing voice, but that does not mean it is a good voice.
Is your writing engaging? Do you use similes and metaphors? Are you rich in language? Do your characters have personality? Do your scenes come alive to the point that a reader can actually visualize them? Or does your novel read like an instruction manual for car repair?
Real information from real editors
WHERE ARE THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF YOUR PLOT
Novels are about struggle. Novels are about overcoming obstacles. Novels are about joyous celebrations of life. Novels are about incredible highs and crushing lows, and they are about passion and angst, the gambles of life and the emotions associated with it all.
Does your novel have it all? Do you take the reader on an emotional roller-coaster ride? Do they swallow their hearts when they read your work, or do they stifle yawns with each new page? An editor will be able to give you answers to those questions.
COULD THE PLOT BE MORE BORING
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy marries girl. Boy and girl live happily ever after.
Just shoot me now and put me out of my misery.
Seriously, is that how you want your book to read?
A novel writer needs to seek new ground. A novel writer needs to boldly go where Steinbeck never went before.
Develop original characters. Develop a plot that is different in some way. Let your imagination smoke some crack and turn the literary world upside down.
TELL A GOOD STORY
Narration is oh so important when writing a book. I guess, if I were to give an example, I would mention great storytellers you may have heard over the years. I think back to my childhood and think of Will Rogers. There was just something about the way he molded the English language into a story that tasted oh so sweet.
A well-told story transports the reader into the book. The reader can stand on a street corner and watch the action all around him, and that happens because of the narration of the author.
Read one of the classics and tell me that I’m lying. Choose your favorite book of all time and see if I don’t speak some truth here.
Observations by the pros
An essential for publishing
LOSS AND GAIN: MAKE IT SUBSTANTIAL
Remember back to my roller-coaster analogy. Take your readers on a thrill ride. The potential losses for your protagonist need to be huge. Whether that means they could die, or lose all possessions, or lose their loved ones, something needs to give your story an emotional consequence that will have the reader sweating bullets right along with the main characters.
Think big! Think big losses; think big gains. Roll the dice with the lives of your characters and your readers will thank you for it.
CLARITY IN THE SCENES
Get rid of the detritus in your novel. Every scene should be clear, structured and designed around a specific purpose. Rambling diatribes that serve no purpose need to disappear. Only the Russian greats have pulled that one off so don’t bother trying.
Do not go off on tangents that serve no purpose other than to raise your word count. An editor thinks in terms of a foundation, a frame and a roof. An editor does not think in terms of rambling additions to the basic house. An editor could care less if you are thinking of adding a fourth bedroom two years in the future. An editor is only concerned with whether your basic floor plan makes sense.
WHERE IS THE SUBTEXT
Does your story even have a subtext? If not you might consider adding a few. Subtext gives a novel richness. Subtext is the story within the story, the howling coyotes on a stormy night, the foreshadowing early on that are portents of things to come.
A novel is so much more than a basic outline. A novel has conflict within conflict. A novel has richness that can only be found in real life.
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All That and More
That is what an editor can do for you. Editors are first and foremost fans of the written word. If you are just hiring an editor to correct grammar then you are shortchanging yourself and not availing yourself of a valuable resource.
It all boils down to how important your novel is to you. If the answer to that question is very important, then spend the money and have a qualified editor do their thing for you. You won’t be disappointed.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”