Editing Advice from Editors

As every seasoned writer knows—and most aspiring writers discover in horror—completing a novel is only the beginning of the work.

Sometimes, it can take longer to rewrite a story than it took to write it in the first place.

And it doesn’t just happen once.

The writer’s initial round of rewrites—which hopefully includes story, character arcs, pacing, prose, copy editing, etc.—is followed by more rewrites based on the feedback from beta readers, agents, and freelance editors. And that’s before the grueling process of rewriting with your publisher’s editor.

Editing is hard work. That’s why it’s important to have realistic expectations and to enjoy the process.

Here are some words of wisdom, caution, advice, and experience from three of my editor friends.

Tom Monteleone – Bram Stoker Award winner for writing (BLOOD OF THE LAMBS), editing (BORDERLANDS anthologies), publishing (Borderland press), and lifetime achievement (!) – offers three potential weaknesses to watch out for during your editing process.

BAD DIALOGUE

“This is one of the most obvious flaws in a story because you can’t hide it, and it just kind of calls attention to itself like your shirt-tail sticking out of the unzipped fly in your pants.”

He suggests reading your dialogue aloud.

“Maybe for years . . . until you are certain you have developed a great ear for the way people really talk” and reading stage plays because “the dialogue in an effective play carries the plot, creates the characters, and controls the pacing.”

CLICHÉS

“All writers get lazy once in while and drop in a cliché or a shop-worn phrase . . . just to keep the narrative going. If you’re reading an otherwise good piece of fiction, just excise them like the tumors they are.”

STRUCTURE

Specifically, slow beginning, sagging middles, and unsatisfying endings.

“If the story starts digressing, adding subplots, too much backfill and flashback, it will lose energy and direction. This is the kind of writing that causes readers to put a story down, and “forget” to pick it back up again.”

I’ve suffered from this sort of forgetfulness while reading, and I definitely don’t want to cause it in others!

“There can be lots of reasons why an ending doesn’t work. A very common error is when the writer wraps things up too fast and too neatly. Another occurs when the ending just kind of fizzles out with people dying or disappearing and no real resolution is at hand.”

I’m with Tom. As a reader, it drives me nuts to have invested my time and emotion only to have a story unresolved or, worse, wrapped up like an after thought.

“Endings must resolve enough questions and problems to satisfy your audience’s need for (some kind) of order in the universe. A common error is to assume it had to be a SURPRISE! ending. Big mistake, that.”

And one I will take to heart!

Janice Gable Bashman, freelance editor and Bram Stoker Award nominated author of PREDATOR, adds these cautions to look out for in your manuscript.

OVERWRITING

Janice says that a common challenge is

“not trusting the reader to understand what is happening in a story. As a result, the author overwrites and explains more than is necessary.”

SHOWING AND TELLING THE SAME THING

“For example: Mary was cold (telling). Mary shivered, pulled up the collar of her fleece jacket, and shoved her hands into her pockets (showing).”

It’s astounding how often this happens. Seriously. Check your work and you’ll see what I mean. I sure did!

OVERUSE OF DIALOGUE TAGS

She recommends reducing the he said, she said monotony by interspersing dialogue with action.

“Use beats to indicate who is speaking wherever possible. Example: “Leave me alone!” Tony said. Revised: Tony slammed his fist on table. “Leave me alone.”

A great way to see if you’ve overused the tags is to read your dialogue aloud as if narrating an audiobook. If you start sounding like a tennis match, you’re in trouble. *wink*

EMOTIONAL JOURNEYS

“A novel is not about events that happen to a set of characters. It is about the events that happen and how the characters react and change as a result of those events.”

Great advice!

Lisa Kastner, owner and editor for Running Wild Press offers insight on submissions from an editor’s point of view, including some insight on why she chose my Life After Breath short story for RUNNING WILD ANTHOLOGY OF STORIES 2.

WHAT QUALITIES LEAD TO A PASS?

“The narrative is illogical or the characters aren’t believable.

The story has a clichéd climax or ending or plot point.

The story stays too long in a section such as a flashback or in description so it drags the story down. Although, this can easily be addressed through editing.

The story needs too much editing, meaning I can see this will take at least three rounds of concept edits before it’s ready.

The author hasn’t decided what the piece is. As an example, the author may have begun writing a mystery and then switched to a romance and then switched to a thriller (Yes, we’ve seen this). In this case, we’ll point out what section is a typical mystery opening, what section is more along the lines of romance, and then when it switches to a thriller structure and then we’ll suggest that they take a hard look at what they want the piece to be and revise based on that.”

WHAT QUALITIES LEAD TO ACCEPTANCE?

“When my team reviews submissions, they primarily look at voice and story. When the pieces get to me, then I’m looking for an engaging voice, a narrative (believe it or not, not all stories have narratives), solid writing, and an eye for craft.

For Life After Breath, the original version, I loved the strong voice and that it flipped from very cerebral and moody to action oriented. I loved that the first narrator realized that she could impact another’s life and chose to do so.”

“An invaluable lesson I had from some brilliant workshop leaders was that if the author can divide a room, then the piece is successful.”

Very encouraging!

WORKING WITH AN EDITOR

“When you get feedback from an editor, please remember that we want the author, the story, the press… everyone… to be successful.”

So there you have it my Mindful readers—insights on why some stories are accepted and declined and solid advice on how to make your stories and your writing the best it can be.

Thanks to my editor friends Tom Monteleone, Janice Gable Bashman, and Lisa Kastner for taking the time to share their wisdom.