Category Archives: Musings on Editing

State of the Zoo-nion Address 2015

Image from cafepress.com

Image from cafepress.com

Greetings, my fellow Simians.
Perhaps I’ve been binge-watching too much Homeland lately, but today, I am compelled to once again brief you on my current state of affairs as your faithful Primate President, as well as a Reader, Writer, and Editor.

First, I’d like to make a motion that we conduct our US zoological elections more like they do in the UK, with primary–I mean, primate–election campaigning limited to four months instead of an absurd two years. It’s enough that they’ve entrusted our species with the great responsibility of protecting their limited freedoms within our limited abilities (we’re all in cages, after all, so there’s only so much we can do, am I right?). But from the lion’s den to the penguin sanctuary, animals zoo-wide are crying (or roaring, or squawking, or squeaking, or spitting–looking at you, lamas) for us to waste less time throwing our feces and bribing each other with bananas and spend more on addressing the primate–I mean, primary–issues we all face. For instance, zoo opening hours have been extended to far too late, and really? Stringing up the zoo with fairy lights in winter means we can’t get the holidays off now, either? Humans have become too handsy with our habitats as well, reaching between our bars, fingerprinting our plexiglass, and throwing too much inedible waste our way. We must also battle against the discrimination still plaguing our gift shops and wall murals, in which the same animals are represented over and over again. We monkeys have had more than our fair share of the limelight, and the tigers, elephants, giraffes, and flamingos have grown increasingly vocal in their frustration, too, with the paparazzi attention such exposure continually wreaks upon them. But we must acknowledge the joys, too, in what we have taken for granted, so I want the more obscure species among us to exalt in that recognition as well someday. The crowned lemurs, the Inca terns, the Sichuan takins–they, oh yes, they will have their day to shine. Maybe even literally, if they can get onto one of those glow-stick thingies the shops are selling now, you know, with the LED lights and thingamabobs sticking out and spinning around for no other purpose than looking really cool in the dark and getting kids to stop crying. All this and more lies before us as achievable realities, not mere cow-pie-in-the-sky fancies.

In other current events, as of this week I have the honor of beta-reading the English translation of author Ellen Dunne‘s manuscript. Ellen was one of my very first blog buddies when The Fallen Monkey was instituted in 2010, and it’s been amazing to follow each others’ writing journeys, celebrating successes and persevering through challenges. She has since published two novels (both in German but hopefully translated soon!) and the English-language short story “Cigarette Break,” which I’ve read and highly recommend. In the pipeline are two more novel-length manuscripts (also translated), one of which I’ve got loaded on my Kindle, ready to go! I also recently read an ARC of Shani Struther’s The Return (book three in The Runaway Series, though it works well as a standalone), which was released today and also comes with my recommendations.

As for my own schtuff, I am not as prolific as the talented and creative Ellen and Shani, but I’m of course thrilled to have a debut novel and novelette see the light of day in the past year. And after much (much, much) revision and querying, Manuscript #1 is finally finding acceptance out there. So in the coming weeks, I’ll be weighing my options. Meanwhile, I’m querying a novelette-length urban fantasy, too, and am writing my next novel-length romance of sorts.

On the editing front, I’ve reached a blessed standstill. After a year of reviewing roughly fifty manuscripts in an acquisitions capacity, I’m now back to concentrating on developmental editing—but at a pace that I can better balance with my writing and other life obligations. Last year was very intense for both personal and professional reasons, so 2015 finds me in a state closer to equilibrium. Here’s to a brighter year for you, too. 🙂

*waves and steps down from behind the exhibit information plaque serving as podium*

 


NaNo Nuh-Uh

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!

Whoa, boy. What’s going on. Has the Monkey finally lost it? Did she ever have it to begin with?

Never fear, my resounding guffaw is simply me laughing in the face of my past self who actually thought she’d be doing NaNoWriMo this year. What? Really? HAHAHAHAHAHAAA! Who did you think you were kidding, girl?

Sad but true, I had to opt out. Again. And it’s killin’ me. But editing duty calls, and I am fully realizing the curse that is the otherwise-blessing of being both a writer and editor. Were I still in finance, shifting from numbers to writing after the workday would’ve been an easy enough if not hugely therapeutic way to decompress (I wish I did write back then). Were I still a teacher, I would admittedly still struggle to balance writing with the day-job like I do now since that’s an occupation where the work never ends, even after that last-period bell has rung. But I still dappled in freewriting and such back then as, again, a therapeutic way to shift gears and do what I love.

But as an editor…I spend all day every day troubleshooting story issues and thinking through different ways to rephrase sentences for other people’s manuscripts, so it’s not exactly a welcome relief to then jump into troubleshooting and thinking through mine. I need a break. I need to get away from the computer. I need to not brainstorm story ideas and sort out developmental stumbling blocks. Often, I don’t even want to read an already-published book because the activity is still too similar to what I do all day—and as it is, what I curl up with at night is usually just another raw manuscript that I’m reading on the Kindle and taking notes on so I can brainstorm its future plan of attack. Yes, that, after working on another story at the computer all day. So the most writing I do these days is in my head while I’m doing something else. It’s just kinda how it has to be, at least for now when I’m up against dueling deadlines.

Anyway. I didn’t mean to make this whole post a primate pity party. I’m so, so lucky to have the work that I do and to still have the ideas and drive to write my own stuff. And if I haven’t been writing anything new, I’ve actually been making good progress revising my original Manuscript #1 this month. And editing other people’s work is always a great way to hedge against mine sucking. I can still live vicariously through other writers’ talent. 🙂

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, huzzah! Bravo! Keep it up! Don’t lose steam! You’re over halfway there, and crossing the finish line is so sweet. Good job, and write on.

 


The Red Pen: POed at POVs

red penHappy Monday, my Monkey friends! I’m putting my editor hat back on today to comment on an issue that’s plagued me a lot as of late: POV. I ranted on this topic a while back in my post “POV for Vendetta,” when I feared a colleague and I were nearing impasse, ironically because we shared different points of view on point of view. As I eventually related in my follow-up post, “The POVerdict,” we did find compromise, and, in retrospect after gaining more experience, I do think the book is better for it. At the crux of it, though, was when sharing multiple POVs is head-hopping or not. The reading and editing community at large has become increasingly intolerant toward shifting between characters’ thoughts and prefers the nice-n-tidy confines of limited POV. But even when multiple POVs are limited versus omniscient, when can such perspectives alternate without having to denote the shifts between them with an obvious section or chapter break?

Now, I’ll be honest that I do personally prefer when a scene or chapter is kept to one character’s perspective. It’s simply easier to understand and allows me more intimacy with that character, provides me more insight. Even JK Rowling’s expert use of third-person omniscient in The Casual Vacancy drove me a bit nuts at times, purely because I don’t care for those shifts occurring on a sentence or paragraph level. For me, it always comes down to the story and the writing, whether the alchemy of the two produces an effect that works for my brain or not. It can be a very personal choice and difficult thing to articulate.

What perplexes me at the moment, though, is a novel I just finished: the NY Times and international bestseller The Expats, by Chris Pavone. No doubt the writing is good (better than mine fo’ sho’), and the story well crafted (though arguably a bit underwhelming and in need of a wee bit of tightening), yet I can’t reconcile the straying POVs within it. The story is 99.5% told through the protagonist’s point of view, but every now and then, we jump inside another character’s head. It’s an easy mistake but a just-as-easily fixed one, leaving me to wonder how these shifts got through—via oversight or justification? If the latter, I’d love to know what that was. Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong.

But allow me to share a challenging POV predicament that recently came my way—something I could and did do something about. Unlike The Expats, this manuscript tried for third-person omniscient narration, not limited, so shifting between perspectives was acceptable. But unlike the omnisciently narrated The Casual Vacancy, these shifts were intolerable. Rather than recreate the wheel, I’ve pasted an excerpt of my actual notes (with specific story information removed for sake of anonymity):

The aim here is evidently third-person omniscient, in which an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator is observing from the outside yet still able to know characters’ thoughts. Consistent with that, we do get to follow everyone around […]. The dilemma, however, is that it treads a fine line between omniscience and head-hopping that our acquisitions and editorial teams found dizzying.

Head-hopping and third-person omniscient narration are not the same thing, so I’m not going to claim that a story can’t reveal different characters’ thoughts in the same scene or even same paragraph. Omniscient narration is common in classic literature, after all; it’s just less common these days for assorted reasons. For some, it sounds old-fashioned; for others, they prefer the intimacy they can have with characters under a limited POV. Those are largely personal preferences—for readers, it’s a choice of which POV they like to read, and for writers, it can also be what they like to write, but first and foremost POV has to suit the story. Regardless, many writers shy from third-person omniscient because it’s very difficult to pull off without lapsing into head-hopping.

The strength of your narration is that it does maintain a consistent sense of voice. Even if it dwells with one character a while, it doesn’t assume that character’s voice instead. That’s vital for omniscience. There are also times when ducking in and out characters’ minds lends comic relief and a colorful storytelling quality to that narrative voice. But the main thing you have to ask yourself when approaching any story is whose story is it? Who is the hero? Whose perspective matters most?

As one of your first readers, if I were to answer these questions for [your manuscript], I’d say [A] is the story’s heroine with [B] as her leading man. Next in the hierarchy are [C] (the heroine of her own subplot, which triggers [A]’s main plot) and [D] (the villain of the story). These four are very tightly intertwined, though, and drive the story collectively, so I like your choice to use multiple points of view. Each of them is worthwhile to follow around, and their individual POVs can take us places where the others don’t go to provide us important information to be gleaned from different locales at once.

But note that I didn’t list anyone beyond those four characters. [P]resenting bits of the story through secondary characters’ POVs is more difficult to justify. There’s the comic relief, yes, but that’s embedded in the narrative voice itself and certainly shines through the four main characters. This quality of your storytelling wouldn’t be lost even if we don’t get to hear every minor character’s internal quipping (like I said before about killing your darlings, if it means editing out a good joke or clever wordplay, use it another story that shares similar dynamics. Maybe write a sequel with the same cast of characters but different leading roles, etc.). And even if their thoughts have important bearing on the plot, most likely we can acquire that information ourselves through their body language and dialogue.

[Example from the text.]

The other factor at play here is not just that [A]’s, [B]’s, [C]’s, and [D]’s POVs should be the main ones but that they already are. We spend more time in their heads than anyone else’s, so the story seems to already want to limit itself to their perspectives. And I think that’s where the overall POV has an identity crisis of sorts between omniscient and limited that lends to the head-hopping quality. When we’re in one perspective for most of a scene, it’s jarring to shift out and then back into it during that scene. On the other end of the spectrum is when we’re not oriented in any one POV at length but, rather, shifting around frequently among several people. Even between a couple of characters, shifting on such a sentence/paragraph level is really disorienting.

Very long story short, I’m generally not inclined toward using a third-person omniscient POV for this story because it:

–   detracts from the main characters, whose perspectives matter most
–   can easily slip into head-hopping or produce a similar whiplash effect when shifting POVs across too many characters too many times in a scene

So based on my own observations and those across our acquisitions and editorial teams, I highly recommend switching to third-person limited POV. You could (and should) still use multiple points of view […], but try to keep scenes within a single character’s POV and use a section/chapter break whenever there’s a shift.

The idea is to keep readers oriented and not jar them by shifting without warning. If POV does shift at all within a scene, it needs to be very, very carefully controlled on an absolutely as-needed basis. And weed out the strays if one character’s POV clearly dominates a section—e.g., say you have five paragraphs in a single POV except for a few sentences of an alternative POV interspersed within them. The best solution is to delete or rewrite those few sentences into the dominant POV.

When your main characters separate, it’s easy to choose which one’s POV to follow for that scene. But remember also that they’re often in the same room with each other, so even having to choose one POV among them doesn’t mean we can’t still see and hear the other characters and draw conclusions based on their spoken/body language (and whoever’s head we’re in at the time can form those conclusions for us in their thoughts, too). And if you’re dealing with one scene but really, really want to show it through more than one perspective, look for shifts that naturally lend themselves to a section break. If we see a situation in [A]’s POV for several paragraphs but then [B]’s POV kicks in with his viewpoint of the same time and place for the next couple pages, those are sizable chunks that can be divided with a section break marker but, together, still constitute a single scene. Section/chapter breaks aren’t the end-all, be-all way to handle shifts, but they’re the safest when in doubt.

So there’s my two pence on that topic. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the author was on board with shifting POV from omniscient to limited multiple. Very enthusiastically so, actually. And yes, my editorial plans can be long-winded. 🙂 Especially when they go to the author for a preliminary rewrite rather than straight to the editor, as I try to be as specific as possible in my guidance for newer writers.

As a reader and/or writer, what are your thoughts on omniscient vs. limited point of view? Limited vs. limited multiple POV? And how do you define the difference between true omniscience and head-hopping?


Bits, Bobs, and Birds that Beatbox


Word, bird! Shout-out to the feathered friends in my tree for giving a Monkey music to bust a brag to, yo. (Can you tell a square white girl writes this?)

On to the bits and bobs, then. It’s been an eventful couple months on the editing front. My publisher represented for the first time at the London Book Fair in April. International reps visiting our booth clamored for smart contemporary tales but not YA or paranormal, markets they find pretty tapped, at least in Europe and Asia. And a Chinese agent began his criteria with “no sex.” But through random outside conversations, I learned e-published erotica is huge in the Middle East, and on audiobook it goes gangbusters among senior citizens in general…who knew.

In other news, the ongoing debate between traditional and self-publishing amused me as per usual—the mutual bitterness and disdain has not diminished, though they coexisted peacefully enough under the same roof. The big publishers and agents remained aloof, toasting each other in self-congratulation but otherwise totally unapproachable to walk-ins, whereas the non-traditional platforms sowed the seeds of revolution among the plebeians in the Author Lounge. Relative to the States, the UK still seems slow to adapt to both indie and e-publishing, but it’s getting there. At any rate, London is not where the big deals are made; it’s just a primer for Frankfurt in autumn, when publishers are looking to stuff their catalogs for Christmas.

Oh, and I met the publicist of a certain presidential intern of the 1990s. And learned that life is not happy for the “unmarriable and unemployable” thanks to that scandal. Which actually makes me quite sad, considering said president made out relatively okay in the end.

Also during this time, I was promoted, reviewing manuscripts on acceptance to determine whether they’re ready for micro-editing or need to go back to the author first for big-picture revision. In either case, I give the editor/author recommendations on how to more effectively shape the story and its characters. I usually only need to read a manuscript once for this (as opposed to the five-plus times for a deeper edit), maybe twice for a substantial rewrite. And as utter lack of luck would have it, I’m finding that the ones I usually send back for rewrite are previously published authors who seem to be sliding by. Ah well. Another discussion for another day.

But for every bunch of rotten bananas like that, there’s one that’s green and ready to ripen into something sweet indeed. A book I edited in winter has been on Kindle’s Top 100 bestseller list ever since its release this month. It’s made its way to the single digits, topping its categories as well. Yes, yes, truth be told, I am Dan Brown’s editor…okay, no, not really, so I am gobsmacked—and ecstatic for my actual author. Two of the Big Four publishers have already purchased rights to several of our books, so I won’t be surprised if this one follows suit…I just selfishly hope I can edit the sequel first! Meanwhile, I’m developmental editing a sequel for a YA author and paranormal series that I adore (your loss, Europe and Asia!), and think I’ll go on hiatus thereafter to make more time for editorial direction.

So that’s my editing news. My writing news is not nearly as eventful. I did finally finish drafting manuscript #2, but surely we all know revision is only the beginning. The story is partially set in the 1920s, so I had hoped to query by now while Gatsby‘s back in the  limelight, but what can ya do. In the meantime, I managed to find a home for one of my short stories, which was actually inspired by one of my early writing prompts on this blog—remember how I used to do that? Anyway, it should appear in an anthology later this summer, so I’ll follow up on that when the time comes…as in, when I know for sure it’s actually happening. Unlike a 9,000-word story of mine that had won 1st place in a 2010 short-story contest and was supposed to be published in an anthology but went homeless after that prospect went bust. No luck finding new shelter so far. One publication said they “were really impressed by the writing” and “enjoyed the different voices and POVs,” but they’re more into flash novels and my tale didn’t have the temporal breadth for that. Fair enough; I’d kinda known that but thought I’d try anyway. 🙂 Then there’s good ol’ novel manuscript #1, which has received a couple more rejections, but while one publisher “just wasn’t excited enough” by it, another said:

This was a near miss. We were intrigued by your proposal, and it seems that the genre and style in which you write match what we are looking for. We would be happy to see more of your work in the future, either when book submissions re-open, or for consideration in future anthologies.

And there ya have it. I’m back up in my tree and making a royal racket in the branches—clearly, more beatboxing animals are in order. Barnyard, cameras on you in three…two…[silent one]:


Slap Happy


To be mid-thirties and still getting toys for Christmas…magic.

(Thanks, Mom! :))

And that video is what I’m feeling like in these young months of 2013. In a good way. Slappy…but happy.

I know it’s been a looong time, and if you’re still with me, I love you for your loyalty. Thanks for havin’ a monkey’s back. And now I hate to inundate you with a laundry list of all I’ve been up to, but we’ve got some catching up to do since my last post.

First of all, I discontinued my writing services as a web content writer. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t take on new projects, just that I’m done with the old and not presently soliciting new. Should any fall in my lap with no douchebag-SEO-guy strings attached and the content requested sounds meaningful and fun, awesome.

Second of all, I’ve since then thrown myself into my editing work and recommenced my querying process—for my first manuscript, yes, but also some short stories I’ve had lying around and collecting dust on my hard-drive. It’s been a much more pleasant process since my discovery of Duotrope. Why in hell has it taken me this long to know about it? If I’m at least still one step ahead of you, allow me to expound my new-found knowledge: the site allows you to filter through a comprehensive listing of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry markets (~4,500 of ’em) based on your criteria (e.g., genre, word count, etc.).

In any case, it’s been a lovely time getting reacquainted with my shorter pieces of fiction, but, alas, I haven’t been doing much new writing lately. For shame, I know, but I’ve been editing multiple manuscripts back-to-back. My workload in this respect has significantly increased since agreeing to assist with editorial direction on fresh acceptances as well, which is much quicker turnaround apiece but still a crapload of reading, analyzing, and plan writing.

I don’t know, maybe I kill myself too much over them, but I care, gol’ damn it. I know it’s not my name that’ll be attached to a book in the end and that it’s usually very different from my own writing, but I strike up lovely little synergies with these authors, and, in the end, a lil’ piece of me is in that book. I’m there in spirit, existing in the syntax and idea development. I might be the reason a description really enhances a setting or character, or that POV is third-person limited and not omniscient. I might be why that villain exhibits vulnerability rather than a caricature of evil intent. I might be the one blasting a hose of cold water on the fiery libidos of two love interests, asking them to please keep it in their pants until at least the next chapter. Or I might be why lush summer gardens fade to blustery winter landscapes when the original time frame doesn’t sync. And perhaps I’ll be why an adult paranormal novel becomes new-adult contemporary, as I reduce characters’ ages to something commensurate with their behavior and situations…and save the world from one merman story at a time.

And I will always be why a writer feels good about his or her work in the end. Because for as much grunt work as I can take credit for, it ultimately has to stay in keeping with the author’s vision and style. They are the ones who provide the clay to work with. As two of them recently emailed me:

“[T]hank you so much for the kind words. As someone with the fragile writer’s ego, I appreciate them!”

“Just wanted to thank you for all the wonderfully encouraging comments and smiley faces.  As a writer […] there have been many moments when I reread my own stuff and thought, ‘this is terrible.’ I can’t tell you how gratifying and inspiring it is to view the parts you particularly enjoyed as I revise.”

It’s such a special collaboration to be a part of, and I look forward to (hope for) the opportunity to experience this process from the other side someday.

As for someone who already has walked that wild side of publication for her second time now, I’d be remiss not to close on the very happy news of my sister’s latest book! Divine Temptationa paranormal romance and Nicki Elson‘s second novel—is fresh off the presses as of last week:

Maggie Brock has everything under control…until an angel shows up in her bedroom.

God speed to this good read!

And now—with a *slap* *slap* to both of my cheeks—time to happily get on with my work. 🙂


The Curious Case of the Missing Editor

OMG, the Monkey screeches again! (for those of you who are still left to hear it)

Though I’ve obviously been MIA, my title isn’t in reference to me. As an editor, I’m always at the ready—always on the job, in fact, even if it isn’t my own, apparently. You see, I mentioned before how I’ve been more in Reader than Writer mode lately, and I’ve got to say I’m gobsmacked by some of the poorly edited work I’ve read lately. And I’m talking traditionally published stuff by best-selling authors. Even the best indie authors know not to dare self-publish without consulting the expertise of an editor. At least they should know if they take their writing seriously and want others to as well. Repeat after me:

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

We can be ever so proud of our book babies and earnestly believe in our talent, but it’s downright diva to think that any of us could possibly be above the need to have someone else edit our work (and neglectful of editors to let anyone slip through the cracks). I don’t just mean proofreading to clean up the spelling/grammatical bits; I mean deep copyediting, where, yes, you might have to let go of that sentimental scene or hack out some delightful description, no matter how poetic the prose. Anyone who wants to evolve from rookie status should understand the value of a fresh pair of eyes. None of us are perfect in any way, shape, or form.

Hats off to indie author Tahlia Newland, for instance, who in the last few months has published an imaginative suite of stories through Catapult Press. Having myself offered some input on a couple of her projects, I was just one of several beta readers Tahlia makes a point to share her pre-published work with before then employing the services of a professional editor. I’ve been following her blog for a while and, consequently, her journey to bring her short stories and soon-to-be-released Lethal Inheritance novel to readers, and her revision process has been nothing less than comprehensive, involving a team of critical eyes. She also runs the Awesome Indies website, which upholds a standard of quality for the independently published.

Some traditionally published authors, on the other hand…

Well, of the last several novels I’ve read, one that I enjoyed while reading but was quick to criticize in hindsight was The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht. Now, this is a bestseller that has had readers falling over themselves in absolute love with it, and I just have to say, “Eh.” NO QUESTION, Obreht is a debut author that will be a literary force to reckon with going forward. She has a spectacular if not intimidating command of the English language (which is not her first language and surpasses many of those for whom it is!), a maturity transcending her years, and her capacity to describe is absorbing. I’ll delve more into that last observation in a future post about 1st-person POV, but for now I just want to say that, while a tremendous and captivating storyteller, Obreht should have trimmed down a substantial amount of that description, along with secondary characters and story lines. A classic rookie case of wanting to keep in every great idea that crosses the mind, she was just too ambitious with all the folk stories of sorts that she chose to interweave—we’re introduced to an exhausting list of characters who are described in exhausting detail, only for them to fall off the planet with no lingering consequence. The tangle of tales, I felt, ultimately rendered none of them as effective as they could have been (standing alone as part of an anthology, maybe?) and, in the end, left the primary story thread underdeveloped. And her editor should have known this.

To be honest, I think a lot of the readers who gave The Tiger’s Wife rave reviews did so because they didn’t get it and attributed that fact to some profound, intellectual meaning that was surely just going over their heads. That their comprehension simply and understandably fell short in the face of genius. And, hey, you can bet I originally gave benefit of the doubt that my own questioning was a product of me being dumb as rocks. But I don’t think we readers should be so quick to sell ourselves short. When I find myself discussing this book with a group of women on the same page, and all of us educated, well-read, and discerning yet equally baffled as to whether there’s indeed some grand overarching purpose unifying the excess, methinks it actually all boils down to, nah, it was just really crappy editing.

But by far the most abysmal absence of editing I’ve recently encountered was in Julian Fellowes’s Past Imperfect. Now, Fellowes is another brilliant storyteller. He’s brought us the Oscar-winning Gosford Park and hugely popular Downton Abbey. But after just finishing the aforementioned novel (as well as reading his book Snobs a few years ago), I’ve come to the conclusion that screenplays are clearly his forte. Why? Because there’s no doubt he knows his subject matter (rich people). No doubt that he conceives compelling stories, engaging dialogue, and settings that are a feast for the eyes. But he can’t write narration. Or, rather, he has a clumsy handling of it. He’s very good at description and development, but in Past Imperfect, he seems to have invented an entirely new narrative POV: 1st person omniscient

That’s right, his 1st-person narrator can read the minds of every other character in the novel:

A pink cloud of nostalgia hovered over him for a moment. “The library was one of the prettiest rooms I’ve ever seen, never mind lived in. But no.” He shook his head to loosen these disturbing, self-indulgent images. “I’m finished with all that.”

*

“What happened to her?”

“She died.”

“Oh.” She sighed, saddened by the inexorable process of life.

The narrator can also see what other people do while on the phone with him:

“And Terry.”

He was puzzled for a second, and then he nodded and smiled. “You’re right. I’d remembered it as being before we left.”

Unless this was a video-conference (which I assure you it wasn’t), seriously, WTF. Or should I say, WTE, as in “Where’s The Editor?”

Because he/she certainly wasn’t there to correct the error in “reaping what you sew.”

And certainly didn’t caution Fellowes against too much telling or constantly interrupting the flow of dialogue with needless narration:

“Are you on good terms these days?”

The question seemed to take him by surprise and return him to the present. My words had told him something beyond their content. “Why did you want to see me?” he asked.

*

“Which ‘some’?”

“Sorry?” The phrase sounded foreign. I couldn’t understand him.

*

He shrugged. “It was obvious she was talking about Damian.” He must have caught and mistaken my response to this news, and hurried to undo any possible hurt. “She was always very fond of you, but…” How was he to phrase it?

I helped him out. “She wasn’t interested in me.”

We both knew she wasn’t, so why should he argue? “Not like that,” he said, accepting my own verdict.

*thump*
*slam*
*swish-swish*
*bam-bam-bam*

Oh, sorry, that was just the sound of me tripping over narration, brushing myself off, then proceeding to deliberately bang my head against the wall. Back to what I was saying…

The long and short of it is, Writers: Each of you needs an editor. And Editors: Even if your authors are already best-selling superstars, don’t cut corners in polishing their work. Just as every writer should take pride in their writing, editors should take pride in their editing, whatever the constraints we face.

I like to think I do, and yet I still don’t claim to master the art on my own—for the work that I do for a small publisher, I have three other editors on my team for any given manuscript, and it’s always a learning process for me. I’m pleased to say, though, that two more guinea pigs I’ve developmentally edited on this publisher’s behalf are out in the world as of September, making five published novels in total, with three more on the way this winter. I also just finished editing a short-story prequel to one of those books, and a freelance manuscript that I’d proofread for the sake of querying has already found itself an agent. SO proud of my authors, and may we all continue to write, edit, and prosper.

See my related post: “Editing Out the Editor

Also, stay tuned for some reflection on use of 1st-person narration


When Not Being Published Doesn’t Feel Too Shabby…

First of all, I’ve got nothing to whinge about because 15 submissions in over a year is hardly attacking the publishing world with my A-game. God-willing that I can light the fire under my arse by this summer. I have to laugh, though, because right on the heels of my earlier post about the ever-so-lovely rejection letters I’d received from a couple small publishers (I mean it; they were nice!), I got this one from an agent:

“Thanks for sending your manuscript. Sorry it’s taken so long for me to get back to you. Unfortunately, I’m going to pass. It’s just not for me.”
*

And then soon after that, I received the same ol’, same ol’ form letter rejection from another small publisher. Not very phased, although I’ll admit I felt the brevity of that first one in my gut a bit, as it followed reading my manuscript in its entirety. I appreciate that this agent gave the time to doing that, honestly; I know these people are outrageously busy, and I truly hate to sound ungrateful, but I can never help but wonder…if you’ve surely articulated the thought in your own head as to why a manuscript’s “not for you,” wouldn’t typing even one sentence’s worth of specific feedback only take another few seconds? Or how about just a bulleted phrase or two (e.g., “pace too slow,” “main character not developed”) and we’ll call it a day?But whatever. I’ve also been reflecting on what happens once one is published. I just attended the London Book Fair last week, sitting in on sessions aimed at assorted industry folk across the board. Interestingly enough, the bulk of the author-focused ones were about self-publishing; it’s like they bypassed the actual creative process of writing a novel to just cut to the chase with live infomercials on e-books and how to sell yourself. Disappointing. Hats off, nonetheless, to Acorn Independent Press, which offers a self-publishing platform that’s seems almost as good as being traditionally published if you’ve got the dough to shell out—if not as good if they deem your manuscript good enough for their highest-end services. There’s a range of packages, but all provide professional copy editing/proofreading, cover design, distribution, and marketing to an extent; if you qualify for their elite imprint, they’ll roll out an entire publicity campaign on your behalf. It’s really a brilliant model run by well-connected professionals from the industry who were frustrated at seeing only a handful of books a year being chosen from hundreds of manuscripts submitted per week. And yet in giving other manuscripts a chance, they want to ensure it’s a high quality product hitting the market.

So that’s nice they give a helping hand at promotion, but it all just got me thinking about the tremendous burden of marketing placed on authors these days. Session after session at LBF, agents, publishers, and authors admitted that when you’re not the crème de la crème publishers know they’ll bank serious money on, mid-market authors just don’t get the support from traditional publishers like they might have back in the day; the budgets allocated to them sounds piss-poor. And of course self-publishing leaves you on your own unless you enlist professional help. Which leaves writers to hoof it even though we’re not necessarily equipped with the marketing savvy and resources we need.

And do I want to be? Book-signings/readings and other in-person events actually sound like a lot of fun, but from a social media perspective, working full-time tweeting and Facebook-updating and blogging and commenting on others’ blogs hoping they’ll comment on mine and obsessing over Amazon rankings and otherwise Me-Me-Me-ing all over the internet just doesn’t entice me at all. To be frank, I believe in my writing, but I can’t stomach the self-promotion it takes to get others to read it. So maybe I’m not cut out to be a published author. Maybe I don’t want to be. Maybe I’m only meant to write as an outlet of personal pleasure as well as means of honing the skill and insight I can offer as an editor. Maybe it’s enough helping others see their work in print.

Because I’ll tell ya, not being published myself certainly doesn’t feel too shabby when I receive an email like this (yesterday) from someone who is:

“I absolutely LOVE working with you. ❤ I have learned so much from you, not only about editing and the technical aspect of it, but about my own writing. The editing process is so much fun for me because of that; I try to learn and retain what you’ve fixed and how I might implement that in my next manuscript.”

Or others I’ve received:

“If I haven’t said so, I wanted to let you know how wonderful I think you are! Your points are always excellent and I’m amazed at how much you can catch each time you go through the book. That trait of being able to see beyond the story is amazing.”

“I don’t know if I told you, but after one of my critique partners finished reading [my novel] she made it a point to tell me she loved all the changes and how the final version turned out. The finished novel being what it is today has a lot to do with your incredible editing skills. So thanks!”

“I really feel that you did such a wonderful job with the editing. As I’ve been reading the finished version, it’s so polished and reads so well. I couldn’t be happier with the work that you and [the managing editor] have done.”

Hey, so maybe I’m not so bad at this self-promotion thing after all! Hardy-har… Well, after undergoing the incredibly humbling process that is writing and querying—as all you other writers well know—I do need to toot my own horn now and then, gol’ damn it. 😉

So I don’t know. There are a lot of us in this together, so I hope my sentiments here haven’t put anyone off who has been working so very hard to promote themselves. If you’ve got your work out there, you gotta do what you gotta do—hey, my commissions hinge on my authors peddling their books, so God speed! I’m only judging myself here, feeling out if I’m expending energy toward something that might not, in the end, suit me. It’s a personal matter, and yet I ask you:

Can you relate to what I’m talking about? Any similar frustrations or advice for overcoming such that you can share?


The Red Pen: Stating the Obvious that Obviously Needs Stating

I’ve been wearing my editor hat again the last couple weeks, working with someone’s raw manuscript that is pending rewrite for resubmission. For confidentiality reasons, I apologize that I can’t be more specific than I am. What follows below are merely some overarching concerns that a rookie can easily overlook (hey, I’m one, too!) and sometimes get the Monkey’s head beating against the trunk of its tree:

1. Research – They say, “Write what you know,” but one doesn’t have to live in a place or serve in a certain profession, for example, to be able to research authentic details relating to such. Writing fiction doesn’t give the liberty to entirely fabricate a place or occupation if it’s one that actually exists. The internet is a beautiful place for research, as are books, site visits, and interviews with people in the applicable locations/fields. Be knowledgeable of your story’s setting and subjects and use common sense to discern what claims need to be fact-checked, then verify them accordingly. (see also “Settingcategory)

2. Narrative – Do NOT “tell” versus “show”! That is Writing 101. Your story shouldn’t read like an extended synopsis that lists events rather than describes them in such a way that immerses the reader. Don’t say that your character is making a facial expression that looks angry, show that his brows are furrowed and lips screwed into a menacing sneer. Don’t say that the room is filled with expensive-looking furniture, show that it’s cluttered with ornately carved oak chairs upholstered in embroidered silk astride side-tables trimmed in gold leaf (I don’t know if that’s “expensive” or just tacky…). And don’t say something in dialogue that you then paraphrase in narrative—communicate the info/insight one way or the other; to do both is redundant.

Also, avoid an abundance of character introspection. Readers really don’t need to know every single thought and motivation of your character. Make them privy, yes, if it’s from a certain character’s POV, but it’s also more interesting and vivid to visualize if you concisely show their body language and actions and let the reader reasonably infer some of what they’re thinking or feeling. Telling all on characters and the labyrinth of questioning they’re wondering their way through is tedious and doesn’t let readers form questions of their own that’ll make them keep reading in search of answers. Leaving something to the imagination not only indulges one of the joys of reading but can heighten a story’s sense of conflict and climax when the reader isn’t already in the know of everything. (see alsoDescriptive LanguageandSensory Detailscategories)

3. Dialogue. In keeping with the above, character conversation can come across as unnatural when too much information is shared by this means. Be subtle when doling out back-story or insight via dialogue, otherwise it’s blunt and awkward: your manipulations of story become too transparent, and the characters don’t sound like real people. (see alsoDialoguecategory)

4. Characterization. The above narration/dialogue factors are just as important to building a strong sense of character. Do your characters sound believable? Are you showing enough description of features, mannerisms, and personality such that your reader can visualize your characters (yet not so much that you’re telling readers everything about them and leaving nothing to the imagination)? And are you giving your reader reason to remotely care about them and whether or not they reach their goals? Without any of this, characters aren’t even two dimensional; they’re stick-straight lines. Boring. Flesh ’em out and make them more interesting with flaws if they seem too goodie-goodie or benign—or with redeeming qualities if they’re otherwise the Devil incarnate. No one likes a purely good hero or a purely evil villain. (see alsoCharactercategory)

5. Story Arc. Tensions need to rise as the story progresses. Not overly telling and giving everything away (as discussed above) will help contribute to this as readers speculate character motivations and future actions and reactions; scan and replace lengthy sections of introspection with concise, external descriptions of character body language/expression and leave readers to their own interpretations. Add complexity by interweaving relevant back-story and subplot(s). Foreshadowing is also a useful device for enhancing curiosity along the way as readers form predictions, but it will blow up in your face if the seeds you plant are too obvious! Don’t lead up to your big reveal only for your reader to go, “Uh, derr!” That reeks of anticlimax.

It’s not to say everything should be a surprise for the reader—it can be just as suspenseful when the reader already knows something the character doesn’t (like in horror movies when you know the killer is lurking right around the corner from the innocent victim), but only when it’s deliberately played to this effect. There’s a craft in pulling that off, so don’t think simply telling your reader everything and leaving your character in the dark is an easy shortcut—be discerning in what you share and withhold.

Your big revelations can likewise be a let-down if your characters’ own responses fall flat. Think about what you’re wanting your readers to anticipate, to get excited about, and make sure you deliver it in a commensurately enthusiastic fashion. If there’s a big secret out there that your reader knows and is dying for your character to find out, is the character finding out in an exciting and unexpected way? Or is, for instance, another character just explaining it in a straight-forward conversation, garnering a reaction as enthralling as, “Oh.” (see alsoStory Arccategory and, more specifically, Pacing Your Pages” Parts I & II)

6. Other: Plot Elements (in general). Map out all the major and minor elements of your plot and subplot(s) alike and make sure every piece of them flows/connects logically. Ensure not a single important question they could raise is left unanswered if it’s vital to understanding and believing in the story. Loose ends that leave something to the imagination or tease for a sequel are one thing, but overlooking major gaps in how a character got from Point A to Point B (just because you want them to get there for the sake of driving the story forward in other ways) undermines a story’s entire credibility. Don’t just say something happened if it’s not entirely logical for it to have happened and assume your readers won’t notice, that they’ll just take your word for it. If something is complicated whether you like it or not, do the work to figure it out; stop writing and start reasoning through it (via outline or time-line, perhaps). Do more research if it’s necessary. And if it’s not working, accept it and change it to something that will.

Readers’ disbelief can only be suspended so far; you have to earn their trust if they’re going to follow the journey you want to take them on. Even the most fantastical of story-worlds need plausibility (working within the rules/parameters the author so designs for those worlds if it’s not the one we actually live in), so the reader must understand how plot events feasibly come to happen and tie together for the story to be realistic and identifiable.

Speaking of “Uh, durr!” and “Oh,” that’s probably your reader-response to all of the above. But you’d be surprised what we writers can’t see in our own writing that we so clearly do in others. As the author, the mental full-picture we see tends to automatically fill the gaps of the written story that our readers otherwise trip into. With that in mind, never underestimate a pair of fresh eyes; it really does pay to have others read your work. So toughen that skin and git ‘er done! Constructive criticism has groomed the Monkey’s own fur into a nice thick and glossy coat. 🙂


What Characters Looove to Do…


Characters love to—

* sigh *
and take deep breaths
when they’re not
catching their breath at the back of their throats
or gasping!
They like taking sidelong glances as they
look out the corner of their eyes,
and they’re fond of
muttering,
mumbling,
murmuring,
and growling
through clenched teeth.
They’ll pinch the bridge of their noses
or roll their eyes in frustration
or furrow/cock their brows in confusion.
And their mouths drop open in shock.
In good moods, they’re wild about
smirking
and
winking
and
blushing
as they
chuckle or snicker or giggle
with smug grins.
In tender moments, they’ll
whisper
and do everything
softly and gently.
And they absolutely get off on
beginning to do some things
while starting to do others.

These are just some of the things I see characters loving to do all over the place when I edit manuscripts. (I catch ’em with the naked eye, but a tool like “Wordle” might also help authors divide and conquer those tendencies)

What penchants do YOUR characters have?

*


Editing Out the Editor

This shit editing is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Hey, Editors, are ya there? Editors? Editors? Bueller? Bueller?…

I recently saw this editorial, “The Price of Typos,” which comments on how “typos are everywhere” now—in large part because publishers are employing less editorial staff and rushing to publish books ever faster. And modern authors are playing their part in it, too:

“Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention. Manuscripts are much longer than they were 25 years ago, much more casually assembled, and beyond spell check (and not even then; and of course it will miss typos if the word is a word) it is amazing how little review seems to have occurred before the text is sent to the editor. Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these things are.”

Though editors arguably have more work cut out for them in light of the above (man, don’t I know it firsthand!), when I read traditionally published books I’ve wondered the same: where are the editors? How did that typo get through? I’ve always said that I’ve never read a book without a typo, which is fine—annoying but fine, as I understand how that can happen maybe once or twice—but lately I see several mistakes, and it’s not just typos anymore.

Back when I read the Twilight series (disclaimer: my Freshman Year students were squealing about it incessantly and kept begging to write book reports on it, so I felt it my duty to understand what they were talking about…and obsessively read all four books, and joined Team Edward, and watched all the movies so far, and…), and, I’m sorry, where was I? Oh, so when I read Stephanie Meyer’s decent storytelling but crappy writing, her overuse of words like “guffaw” and “mutter” bored a hole in my head as they plunk, plunk, plunked against my skull like water torture. Where was the editor to chuck a thesaurus at her and make her vary word choice? [See Also: “Sloppy YA Editing: Tic Words]  And when each book got longer than the previous (and not in a good JK Rowling way), when plot didn’t thicken so much as stretch like taffy and read like a fanfiction of her own work, I asked myself, where was the editor to hack out those paragraphs and pages of redundancy and filler?

So maybe Twilight is an unsurprising example, but I was in a bit of despair when I read the most recent book of one of my new favorite authors: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I loved her first two books in a way I hadn’t anything that I’d read in such a long time, and while I still enjoyed this third one, it needed a good, solid edit. The thread of an interesting story was there for me, which did keep me reading, but I found myself in a frustrated “get on with it” mode—and this from someone who can totally nurture the slow-going and character-based. I don’t need action and rapid pace, really I don’t, but I also don’t need constant dancing around with dazzling wordsmithing and every detail about yet another thunderstorm raging outside while, go figure, conflict between characters is on the rise, too. That’s my two cents, but here’s a sample of what I saw at Amazon as well:

“What on earth went wrong with this book? Was there no editor involved?”

“[T]oo long and too repetitive. A great deal of the fault lies with the editors.”

“What did this book lack? An editor!”

“This seems to be a problem with modern publishing…some way down the line in an author’s output either the editors stop thinking they need to edit or they believe it OK to drop an earlier piece of work on an unsuspecting readership who naively expect new books to be better books.”

Hear, hear! to that last one; I really do think publishers think we’re chumps when it comes to best-selling authors. I don’t read much Philippa Gregory, so maybe she’s been doing this all along in her historical novel series, but I recently read her The White Queen and, while her writing style otherwise does keep a good pace (especially considering the mammoth amount of factual history she manages to distill), I felt little explosions in my head every time I chanced on passages like this:

“More importantly, I think, but I do not say, not even to Elizabeth, that once we are living in a private house quietly, my boy Richard might be able to join us. As we are stripped of our royalty my son might be with me again. When he is no longer a prince, I might get him back. He has been Peter, a boy living with a poor family in Tournai. He could be Peter, a visitor to my house at Grafton, my favorite page boy, my constant companion, my heart, my joy.”

Listen, I know there’s merit to lyrically using repetition for emphasis, but it loses its efficacy when this sort of thing is done over and over and over again for the length of a novel. I mean, seriously, this reads like she wrote the same thing a handful of different ways in brainstorming which she wanted to use and just forgot to scratch out the losing options.

And by this point, you’re probably all wishing I had an editor to keep this post concise. 🙂 But before I go, I leave you with this: eliminating redundancies might be a subjective task, but spelling and grammar are not. An editing colleague recently emailed this sentence:

“A woman without her man is nothing”

Evidently, an English professor wrote this for students to then punctuate. Most of the boys wrote:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Most of the girls wrote:

“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

The power of punctuation! Never underestimate the importance of attention to detail—the importance of EDITING!

 


%d bloggers like this: