Proving the Red Pen Wrong

I try not to talk shop too much on my author blog. But I love the writing process, and occasionally I break down and indulge myself. If you’re a writer, you’ll understand. If you’re not, well, I’m sure this can apply to your life somehow– if you try hard enough. Isn’t that how we were taught to accept everything our authorities ever said to us?

ball-pen-1186363-1280x960If you’re a writer, you need an editor.

Yes, you’re a good writer. Nobody else can tell your story like you can. Your grasp of grammar is legendary. Writing is your passion.

I know! Me too! Guess what—we still need an editor.

Writers practice a form of telepathy, really. We allow others to see what exists only in our heads. Unfortunately, the connection tends to be glitchy. Some ideas come off half-formed, and there’s usually an unpalatable amount of self-therapy involved. Most people find it hard to grasp exactly what we’re trying to say. It’s the editor’s job to clean all that up.

Now, I really love to whine about being edited. For one thing, it’s expensive. You pay a good editor real money. But more than that, the process is painful. Every darn time. Getting a marked-up document back is demoralizing, embarrassing, and frustrating.

But after the initial shock… it’s also challenging. My life coalesces around a single, burning goal. I’m going to prove my editor wrong.

She thinks this plot point doesn’t work? Yes, it does. I’ll show her it does.

She questions whether a character would say this? Yes, he would. Maybe not quite like that… I’ll make it fit him.

She says this isn’t the word to describe this feeling… um… well, okay, she’s right that time. But only until I clarify the emotional tenor of the scene, and then she’ll be wrong.

I’ve worked with Lee Ann at Illuminations Editing for both my novel (released last year) and my short story collection (to be released this year). It’s been a bumpy ride in spots—okay, fine, I cried a couple of times over my marked-up document— but overall extremely rewarding. Going through my story document this morning, I pulled out a few editorial comments to illustrate what I’m talking about.* This, writer friends, is what you pay an editor to do.

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After knowing Curtis for 12 years, I doubt Jordan would actually verbalize a fear of being annoying. After all, this is how she would have always talked around Curtis. Dane made her second-guess herself, but I think it makes more sense to have her self-doubt happen below the surface.

Almost nobody else would pause at a quick exchange of dialogue and think, “Hm, I bet that emotion ought to be internalized instead.” But it does make more sense for that character, and the more consistent I am, the stronger the story is. I took out the spoken dialogue and just left Jordan’s inner voice.

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I deleted this exchange because it sounded forced and unnecessary.

The irritating really great thing about a good editor is that she pinpoints areas you already know are weak. I didn’t like that exchange either, but thought it was necessary. It wasn’t.

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“Went through” sounds vague. Depending on how you revise this sentence, you may need to remove the paragraph break and/or rewrite the next sentence so that the action connects and builds properly.

One of the rewarding aspects of a working author-editor relationship is how I can be nudged into a little more creativity.

The offending sentence read, “I went through my purse for my phone.” I could just ignore her comment. What reader is going to stop and think, “Went through is so boring. I hate these stories.” But… what if I made my character dump out her purse, and her phone slides underneath the coffee table? More energy, more interest. That’s better, and I always want the story to be better.

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This does not sound like a Makayla gesture or Makayla words—or maybe the gesture doesn’t sound right because the words aren’t how she would describe it.

In one particular story, I had trouble staying in voice. I kept barging in and talking like myself instead of like the narrator. Lee Ann never let me get away with it, either. I took out the gesture and reworded the dialogue so that it was no longer me talking.

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But just like I don’t ignore my editor’s suggestions, I don’t take all of them either. I’m the ultimate authority over this piece. She highlighted an entire passage with the comment:

This is all unnecessary to the story.

It wasn’t unnecessary. I needed to wrap up a loose end, and I needed to give a character more space after his introduction in the beginning of the story.

The trouble was a telepathic glitch—I’d written it sloppily, so it didn’t ring true for Lee Ann. So I cut down the dialogue and condensed the action. The scene doesn’t drag anymore, but the information remains.

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It’s a lot of work to revise a manuscript, maybe harder than writing it to start with. But if the marked-up manuscript is painful, there’s nothing quite like getting it back with, “You fixed everything. I love reading your revisions. It’s like magic.”

I proved her wrong. Life goal achieved.

 

*Lee Ann approves of “show, don’t tell.” When editing my novel, she had to mention it so often that she finally just shortened the comment to “S,DT” to save us both time.

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