Tips from the Editing Desk #2

POV switches

I’m a big fan of using multiple points of view. It just helps me get a broader view of the story, so that’s my preference. There’s some important things you should know about using multiple points of view, though.

  • Don’t switch POVs during the same scene. This will leave the reader feeling disjointed and most often, irritated, especially if it’s a dramatic scene. To avoid this, add a scene break (usually the three asterisks, centered ***)
  • I’ve heard there’s an exception to this rule if the scene is between two lovers. Like, if it’s a love scene or an important moment for both characters, usually in a romance. What do you think? Are there exceptions to these rules?
  • I’m not a huge fan of switching POVs if the story is in first person. Although, I recently worked with an author who pulled it off. Her trick? Chapter breaks, with the POV character’s name as the chapter title.

Had and Have

I see these words a lot, and usually out of context. I didn’t even notice how improperly I used them until my editor for Soul of the Sea pointed it out to me. Usually, this happens when a character needs something. They ‘have to’ have it. Most of the time, these ‘had’ and ‘haves’ can be replaced with a word like ‘need’ or ‘want’ or ‘must.’ The key here is to boil your sentence down. What do you really mean when you say a character had to do something?

Here are a few examples:

  • I have to go see him.
  • She had to have known I was stopping by her house.
  • She had long black hair.
  • He had an evil grin on his face.

Ways to fix:

  • I need to go see him.
  • She must’ve known I was stopping by her house.
  • Her hair was long and black.
  • He wore an evil grin on his face.

Dead Words

Dead words are words that occupy space in your story without adding to it.

For example:

I felt a chill crawl up my spine.

I saw a plane fly overhead.

I heard an owl hoot in the night.

The words above (felt, saw, heard) only take away from the story. Your words will have a bigger impact if you keep things action oriented. Think of it this way, your reader knows that if you describe something, the protagonist is feeling, seeing, or hearing it, too, because they’re the eyes and ears of your story. In other words, the “I saw” is a given.

To fix:

A chill crawled up my spine.

A plane flew overhead.

An owl hooted in the night.

 

Sentence Structure

This is another one of those things that’s best to focus on once you have a full draft of your novel. If each sentence in a paragraph begins the same way, your reader will get bored quickly. This is a tricky one to explain so I’m going to give you an example. This is from one of my most recent projects, and as of now, is untitled.

She didn’t know what to say to him. She knew there was nothing she could say to him. She just stood up and walked quickly away before she let the pain show. She was alone now, that was the worst part. She stood outside the den, with her back pressed against the wall and let the silent tears slip down her cheeks. Why did this happen?

To fix:

She didn’t know what to say to him, but there was nothing she could say that’d change his mind. Admitting defeat, she stood and walked quickly away before she let the pain show. The worst part—the unbearable part—was that in the midst of all this pain, she was alone. Standing outside the den, with her back pressed against the wall, she let the silent tears slip down her cheeks. Why did this happen?

The key here is to really let your creativity flow. Mix things up. Find your style. Which brings me to my next topic.

Style

 

  • The most important thing to remember is not to become bogged down in nit-picky editing details so much that it cramps your style. Some rules are meant to be broken, that’s why we write novels instead of essays. Sometimes, breaking certain rules gives your story that extra edge, that something different. I like using sentence fragments for emphasis sometimes. Everybody has his or her own little writing quirks—it’s called your voice. So, it’s your job to decide when these ‘nit-picky’ so-called problems add to your story or take away from it.

If You and Your Editor Disagree

I haven’t been editing for World Castle long, but I haven’t run into this problem. Most of the authors I work with are excited to learn and usually appreciate my input. On the author side, though, I’ve worked with editors that I’ve disagreed with. Let me tell you, there’s nothing more aggravating than arguing with someone who acts as though they know what’s best for your story. Naturally, you’ll get defensive. These characters and events are very important, very real to you and every editor understands that, most of them (at least that I’ve encountered) are writers themselves. This situation can be tricky. For example, you think a character should sacrifice himself for the greater good, but your editor thinks audiences will be angry because they love the guy and wants you to find another way to solve the problem.

How do you know who is right? The important thing to keep in mind is that your editor is only trying to improve your book so it will sell more copies. That’s their job. They’re not just tearing it apart for no reason (unless they’re really cruel.) But, sometimes, you won’t just see eye-to-eye. What you should do here is take a step back, try to open your mind and really consider each aspect of the situation. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What, exactly, is your editor’s problem with the story and is there a compromise the will please both parties?
  2. If you went with your editor’s suggestion, would it open up other possibilities for the story?
  3. Have you grown so attached to your book as-is that you don’t realize its full potential?

If, after asking these questions, you’re still torn about what to do, seek some outside advice. Contact another writer friend through Facebook or Twitter. There are writing groups and chats all over those social networks, so you could poll people and see which option has the most appeal. If you’re concerned about giving away spoilers, contact a writer friend you trust privately, preferably one with a little more experience or one who’s worked with the same editor. If, at that point, you have mixed feelings and you and your editor just disagree and can’t come to an amicable solution, contact your publisher. Do this carefully, though. Your publisher is very busy and, although they want what’s best for your career, they don’t have time for petty arguments, so use this as a last resort.

When e-mailing your publisher about an editing disagreement, keep it brief and simple. Don’t rant and rave about every little thing your editor’s done to offend you. Be polite. Say something like: “[Editor] and I are having a disagreement and we can’t solve it. She thinks this should happen, while I think it should go this way. Which option do you think will appeal to readers?” Remember to thank them for their time. Chances are if your publisher and your editor agree, then you’re not stepping back far enough to view the big picture. Sometimes you just need to bite-the-bullet and make the requested changes.

 

 

And, Happy Release Day to me! Soul of the Sea comes out today and to celebrate, the first person to comment wins a free e-book  version. Ready, set, go!

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