This blog post first appeared on Almost an Author, August 22, 2018.
Writing is a funny art because agents and editors (freelance and publishing house) tell us to write, write, write . . . and to make sure that our manuscript is edited well. “Edited well?” What if we don’t like the word editing because it’s too daunting? What if our minds turn to jelly or we seize up when an agent or mentor tells us to edit our manuscript?
Well. Editing doesn’t have to be so intimidating, daunting, or scary because it’s really another piece of the writing process. Before sending our manuscript to a freelance editor or mentor (or even critique group), we need to make sure that our manuscript is fluid. Simply, we edit to make sure our manuscript is ready for the public eye. How do we think like an editor when we aren’t one? I’ll give you some more tips on how to think like an editor. Ready?
Three More Rules for Thinking Like an Editor
4. Is the point of view clear in my story?
Who is doing the “seeing,” or telling the story, anyway? As a contest judge and having read over 100 books this year, an issue I see a lot is a wobbly point of view. And, granted, it’s so easy to overlook, especially since there are so many points of view we can use in our manuscripts. There’s first person, second person, third person, third person omniscient, omniscient, and—are you confused? Take heart. I was too before I really sat down with someone and they talked me through the differences, and then did some googling to make sure I really understood.
Best rule of thumb here: whichever character you choose to tell the story, that character must experience the story unfolding in those scenes. What does this mean? This means that that character you choose must see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, as well as perceive what’s going on in the current situation. If Mabel is your protagonist, you cannot describe Jacob tying his shoe when he’s behind Mabel because she cannot see what’s behind her. Now, she might be able to hear noises, and you can describe those. If there are too many people “talking,” the story gets muddled, and our readers won’t know who to root for.
5. Is my manuscript well researched?
Ew. Please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me! While I realize not everyone enjoys research, it’s important for our books to be well researched. Why? Because if we use the word “bulbous” in our 1577 medieval fantasy manuscript or refer to saddle shoes in our 1929 novel, our knowledgeable readers may snap the book shut, and their investment in our story comes to an abrupt end. Or, if we have our character walking through a door before he’s opened it shows that we haven’t researched the sequence of the action. These may seem like unimportant details, however, small as they are, these details add credibility to yourself as an author—and makes you think like an editor. And it truly is the difference between the Victrola and an MP3.
6. Is the manuscript tightly written?
If you’re anything like me, I’m imagining a 300- or 500-page manuscript stuffed into a miniature straight jacket. Well . . . not quite. But that’s the idea. By “tightly written,” this means that every detail, dialogue, and plot thread in your manuscript connects to the overarching theme and overall message of your story.
For instance, if Sassy had not gone with Chance and Shadow (Disney’s Homeward Bound), that sarcastic element would not have made poor Chance’s misadventures humorous or empathetic; or if Shadow had had an elderly woman’s voice, he might not have been endearing to viewers. (I am not downgrading male or female voiceovers here.) The tired, old man voice fits Shadow’s personality, as well as the storyline.
Now let’s apply it to a sentence or two of writing. In these sentences, our character’s goal is to get from the house to the barn to play with the new baby goats that are a few weeks old.
Helen set the cup down on the table and scooted her chair back. She put on her jacket and headed out to the barn, where the tiny bleats sent a pitter patter through her chest.
Tight rewrite (keeping only necessary details for our character’s goal in this scene):
Helen set her cup on the table and scooted her chair back. As she shrugged into her jacket, she ran to the barn. Tiny bleats sent a pitter patter through her.
Did you catch the smaller details that were left out because they did not propel this scene forward?
Keep in mind that every author and editor has their own style, preferences, and idiosyncrasies for what they like in a story. The bottom line is to make sure your writing shows what is the most important for the story that’s on your heart. And if you write like an editor, you will have a much stronger story that creates a fabulous reading experience for your readers.
Please join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!
Take a few minutes and ruminate. What are some other ways you can think like an editor?