Tag Archives: making the best book possible

Says the Editor: Verb? Adjective?

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Is it a verb? Is it an adjective? No! This is a picture!

Seriously, though…

I had an interesting experience I wanted to pass along, because it’s about worldview, and it’s about word choice, and it’s about how every person brings something different to a piece and to the use of language, itself.

You see, I have a short story. I’ll be telling you more about this short story in the near future, but for now, let me say that I wrote a short story and I’m working with an editor on it. Yes, even editors use editors! (That’s because we understand the value of a second set of eyes, and we understand that it’s money well spent, and we understand how a fresh perspective (dare I say worldview can help us produce the best book — or in this case, short story — possible.)

And I used this phrase: At last, we quiet.

Or something like that. 😉

And my editor wanted me to change it to At last, we quieted.

So I took a look. Because I brought her on board to help me, right? And… I realized that the piece is in present tense, which is kind of rare for me but there it is, and approving her change means… a tense change right in the middle of the piece.

I pointed that out to her. She looked it over, thought about it, agreed, but said something about the phrase still bothered her.

I took another look, both at her request and because, frankly, I was intrigued.

And it hit me. She didn’t like that I was using quiet as a verb. So I changed it to an adjective by adding a verb in there and we were both happy.

It was a few hours later that it hit me what a brilliant change that wound up being. It’s one of those small, subtle changes that no one will ever be aware of (although now that I’m pointing it out to you, you might), but it’s a verb that echoes back to the genesis of the story, the action that sets the character on the path that leads us to the point where she finally quiets.

But hopefully — and this is what really good writing does — that one small word change, that one insertion, will give the reader a more complete reading experience, will heighten the emotion even if they don’t know the hows or whys they got there. That the reader will come away with a bit of extra satisfaction that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

This is why we use editors, friends. I sent her the best story possible. She helped me make it better.

More to come about it, so stay tuned.

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Don’t Lose Your Voice #atozchallenge

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I see authors worry about this fairly often. They complain about it, too, when it actually does happen — and it DOES happen.

The dreaded bad freelance editor who edits out the author’s own unique voice.

Now, we can spend a long time struggling with the concept of “What is voice?” — it’s a nefarious thing, hard to pin down and explain. In the short version, it’s the voice your narrator takes up in the manuscript. It’s the unique signature you as a writer develop, although an author’s voice can change from book to book, depending on that particular book’s need.

In short, it’s the signature of the book. And it should be unique to the book and to the author.

That’s why authors get upset when a freelance editor removes it and makes their book sound like it’s not something produced by them. Voice is personal. It’s also important.

So do I really need to tell you that an editor who changes your own personal voice isn’t doing you any favors? An author should walk away from a first read of a set of edits both exhilarated and maybe intimidated by the job still ahead. They are often frustrated with themselves, for having missed so many small errors. (How did I type SHE there? Manuel is clearly a HE!)

But they should never, ever feel like an essential component of their book has been altered beyond recognition.

This is why getting a sample edit is a good idea. No, it won’t reveal everything, but it’ll give you an idea of what the editor is looking for. And yes, you ARE free to say, “Thanks, but I don’t think we’ll be a good fit.” (Hell, I’d rather hear that than, “I’m going with someone cheaper.”)

You need to know before you spend money if the editor is going to alter your voice.

Get recommendations from friends and peers. Ask for samples. Walk away if they won’t offer you one.

Save your voice. It’s what makes you uniquely you.

And personally? I like you just the way you are. Changing your voice isn’t my aim. Hell, I’ll take the extra time to make my suggestions sound just like you! Because, remember, I can’t help you make the best book possible if I’m imposing my will over yours.

It’s YOUR book. YOU’RE the boss. Freelance editors can only help, offer suggestions, teach points of grammar, and plead our cases. But it’s YOUR book.

It’s YOUR voice.

Fight for it.

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Revising Me #atozchallenge

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I have an editor friend (well, I have a BUNCH of editor friends, actually, but we’re talking about one editor friend in particular right here and now) who says there’s a difference between editing and revising.

Editing is what you pay for.

Revising is what you do yourself.

Either way, let’s face it: even my clients who send me their first draft have engaged in some form of revision. They have worked their prose as they’ve created that first draft, shaping and honing their past words as the present unfolds on the screen in front of them.

I say it fairly often: in the quest to make the best book possible, you have to recognize that writing is a craft. You have to hone your tools, push and pull and mold your clay, your canvas — your manuscript — into its final form. It doesn’t just happen by itself. You have to work it. And work it. And work some more.

So, yeah. Revising your work, whether you do it as you go or you go through multiple drafts, is essential. There’s no rule about how much revision work you’ll have to do, and not only does it vary from author to author, but it varies from manuscript to manuscript and project to project, too. Sometimes, even chapter to chapter, scene to scene, and yes, paragraph to paragraph.

But you have to do the work. Bring that baby up to its best possible form. And then, because revising is what you do and editing is what you pay for, you send your masterpiece to your editor, who sends you comments and sets you up for another round of revisions.

Whoever said writing wasn’t a lot of work was either amazingly blessed or lying.

Or they don’t care about quality.

Trust me. I’m a voracious reader. Quality matters.

And how.

*And hey, do you like my post title? It’s a play on a certain Metallica song. (I particularly like this version, so if you’re convinced you don’t like Metallica, or you’re not sure, this would be a SUPER link to click on. Seriously. As we say in Ultimate, chilly chilly chilly!)

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Describe, Descript, Desecrate #atozchallenge

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Okay, I’m not sure what desecrate is doing there, except it sounded good.

Well… I am sure. Because when it comes to description, I’ve seen authors desecrate their manuscripts with too much of the wrong kind.

Wrong kind?

Yep.

Like every other tool that authors use to craft the best book possible, description needs to be used in the right way. Taking time to describe every single room the characters enter in a fantasy quest is important in D&D. It may not help us understand anything new about the setting, plot, or character when we’ve had to stop all the action to take a long look around the fifteenth room. Or even the fifth.

Yes, you read that right: Ideally, description is used to help further the reader’s understanding of setting, plot, or character. It can be used to increase tension.

What it should never do is bring the entire works to a screaming halt. Description isn’t a time for an author to stop and let the reader catch their breath before we dive back into what’s going on. It’s a tool, and it needs to help further your story.

Now, can you have too little description?

Fans of Raymond Carver are going to scream, but yes. I believe so.

And for the same reason that makes too much description a bad thing: we need some to help us understand the character. Their basic personality, their perceptions, their sensibilities. What a character takes in, observes, and spits back out for the reader tells us a lot about who they are. If they don’t give us even a little bit, they begin to exist in a vaccuum. Or, as one of my clients says, “I’ve got a problem with talking heads.”

I never did like that band much.

So description, like everything else in fiction, is a tightrope. It takes skill and instinct to know how to wield it most effectively. The best way to gain that skill and hone that instinct is to read, read, read, and write, write, write. Pay attention as you read. What does this descriptive passage achieve? Does it stop the action in order for you to drink in the surroundings?

And then sit and write. Do you need long descriptive passages, or can you use a few words to create a broad brush stroke that conveys the essence of what you are trying to say, so that you can return your focus to the plot, the pacing, the tension, the fact that your male lead is trying to take his shirt off but you’re embarrassed, so you’re focusing on the way the silk flows instead of the washboard abs and warm, silky skin underneath?

Ha. Gotcha.

But think about that. It’s the best example of description you’re going to get in this post. So take a few minutes. Think about the picture I just painted. Count the words.

Do you REALLY need to stop the action and make sure you hit all five senses in order for a description to be good?

I didn’t think so.

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