Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Tale of Three Books

My daughter's neighbor took this photo last week. I suspect the bear-proof lock wasn't down tight.

Taken outside a school. Aargh!

A Tale of Three Books

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have had occasion to edit three extremely different manuscripts - two by  beginners with widely varying talent and attitudes and one from a published author who is not only good but ought to be well on his/her way toward the best-seller list. And the odd thing is, I enjoyed working on them all, though  I anguished over having to tell one of them a total rewrite was necessary.

The simple truth is that I enjoy editing, particularly the "content" part, from awkward sentences to gaps in the plot. I have no idea why this appeals to me - must be that I was born into a long line of teachers. In any event, I tackle each new book with wonder - what will this one be like?

A quick review from past Mosaic Moments. Why should you have someone edit your book? Unless you have a strong background in English and the patience of Job, you need help. There's no way any book is going to read well without judicious self-editing by you, plus content and copy editing by those willing to deal with the nitty gritty. I recently groaned over Book 2 of a series I really like. It had some truly egregious errors, the kind that indicated nobody had bothered to proofread, let alone edit. Fortunately, Books 1 and 3 in the series were a clean read, so giving the author the benefit of the doubt,she is still on my "read" list. (Believe me, there are authors who are not, because I felt that when they failed to edit, they did not respect their readers. Including me.)

Now to the Tale of Three Books . . .

The three books I've worked on over the last few weeks brought home to me the truth of all I've been preaching since the start of this blog in January 2011. The same beginners' mistakes seem to occur over and over and over again. (As well as a few "doozies" I hadn't run into before!) Here are a few home truths and reminders sparked just by the three most recent books I edited.

Attitude.  Although every author needs confidence in his/her work - and huge doses of perseverance - it can be fatal to ignore expert advice. Never assume that your first draft is perfection and you only need a little help with fact-checking (or punctuation or whatever). We're all guilty of this arrogance at some time - I once had a contest judge deduct five points from my score, calling the the alien language I had so carefully crafted "misspelled words"!  But seriously, if you go to the expense of hiring an editor, pay attention to what he/she tells you. You don't have to accept every comment and correction, but consider that a professional editor just might know what he/she is talking about. . For example, if told the overuse of "then" is the mark of an amateur, make an effort to get rid of as many of those pesky little words as you can.

Subjective Editing Decisions. Cooperate with your editor when asked your preferences about the many variations in grammar and punctuation allowed in Fiction.

Self-edit. For heaven's sake, self-edit! Run Spell Check daily. Edit at the end of every chapter or two. Edit for content - did you actually say what you thought you were saying? Edit for clarity. Add more description and color, missing motivations, etc.. Delete sentences that sound like running-off-at-the keyboard - words that obfuscate rather than clarify. Words that detract

Five weeks, three books. Here are some of the classic lessons I pointed out in my critiques. (Most you've read in great detail on Mosaic Moments over the last few years.)

1. Identify. Always identify your characters clearly as they are introduced. (If in the midst of an action scene, do it as quickly as possible afterward.)

2.  Clarity. Write clearly, using the principle of "Less is more." Make sure you don't leave things your readers need to know inside your head. Remember: Everything you want your readers to know must be on the pages of the manuscript.

3.  Motivation.  In most cases you can bring off the most incredible plot if you provide enough motivation, explanation, set-up, etc. Do NOT just plop some twist into your story and expect readers to swallow it. There must be set-up, hints - something that prepares for the reader for the big revelation, dramatic action . . . whatever. The reader needs to understand what is happening and is entitled to an explanation in a reasonable amount of time.

4.  Big Moments. Do not be in such a hurry to get through a scene that you forget to give special moments the attention they deserve. Readers love details. And they absolutely hate it when you slough off what should have been a Big Moment with only a few words.

5.  Secondary Characters. Do not allow them to overshadow your hero and heroine. They are there to add color, be foils for dialogue, etc. You can make them interesting, sassy, evil, whatever, but we do not need their life stories as part of this particular book.

6.  Show vs. Tell. Yes, authors are still having trouble with this one. All this phrase means is that you have to get inside the heads of your main characters and let us see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. Do not, as author, TELL us. Let them SHOW us through their introspection, action, and dialogue.

7. Self-edit.  Once again, do not be so arrogant you think what you wrote the first time around is perfect. Self-edit to improve your content, choose better words and phrases, add better descriptions, better clarity, more clear motivations, etc. Always self-edit at least twice before letting anyone else see your manuscript. Don't let your ego, or laziness, get in your way. That's why editing at the end of each chapter is easier. You don't find yourself at the end of the book with ALL those chapters waiting for a first "read."

Don't be the author who trips over that old saying, "Pride goeth before a fall." Listen and learn. Your work will be far better for the time it takes to edit. 

 ~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.  

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