Are we there yet? Knowing when to edit.

013zBelieve me, the quickest way to a bad editing experience is to have your manuscript edited too soon. There is no point wasting money on a copy-edit (that is, one that deals with spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, and so on) until the structure and the story are completely sorted, because even the slightest redraft can result in most of the copy-edit, and the money you spent on it, vanishing into the Recycle Bin before your very eyes.

The key to a good edit is to know your manuscript and to choose the right type of edit at the right time.

Let’s imagine you have reached the end of your first draft. So, the next step is to send the manuscript to an editor? Actually, no. The next step is to give yourself a well-earned pat on the back for finishing the draft in the first place. Then shove the entire manuscript in a drawer (or the computer equivalent of a drawer) for a period of time and forget about it. Most people recommend two weeks proving time, I personally would suggest a month, or longer, if you can manage it. Go and write something else – a short story, a poem or flash fiction, assuming you aren’t already diving into your next novel.

DSC00072When you are ready, take out your novel and read it straight through, just as you would any other book.  This should give you a clear idea as to which parts of the story are working, which parts aren’t, and what, and where, the main problems are. Time for draft two, and, perhaps, even draft three or four, who knows? Repeat the process for each draft, and when you have the manuscript as good as you can get it, structurally-speaking, you can edit it yourself, checking in particular for obvious typos and spelling mistakes. Then send it to your beta readers: fellow writers, friends and family whose judgement you trust and who will be honest with you. Once you have all the comments back from your readers, proceed to draft and self-edit number whatever we’re at.

Now your manuscript is ready for a developmental edit.

Heart writing 001Many writers are sorely tempted to skip this step mainly due to the expense of hiring a developmental (or structural) editor. But you should remember that the story is one of the most important elements of your novel (character being another). Forgive the bluntness, but there is enough evidence out there in the marketplace to show that a rattling good story will sell a book, even when the prose is fairly pedestrian. Hiring a developmental editor to help you get the story right could be the best investment you make. If you really can’t stretch to a full structural edit, at the very least, have it professionally critiqued, so that you are sure there are no major plot, character or pacing difficulties lurking in the manuscript just waiting to pop out and infuriate your readers.

Once you’ve implemented any changes you want to make after your developmental edit, then it’s a ‘rinse and repeat’ exercise: send out to beta readers, redraft/rewrite and self-edit.

Now, fast-forward another draft or three to the point where you are absolutely certain there will be no further amendments to the story or structure. Congratulations, you’ve made it! It’s time for a line/copy-edit.

For more details on structural and developmental editing, copy-editing, proofreading and manuscript critiques, check out the Editing FAQs section of Book Nanny’s website. 

5 signs that you need an editor

  1. Your friends, family, writing group colleagues – in fact, all your beta readers – have been highlighting the same problems for a few drafts now, despite your efforts to resolve them.  When groups this diverse are all agreeing, and you don’t know how to fix the problems, it may be time to enlist some professional help.
  2. You’ve twisted and turned that plot, killed off a few darlings, resurrected and re-instated them; you’ve expunged large chunks of text, surgically removed smaller chunks, pasted back large and small bits, jigged it all about, picked a number between 1 and 10, meditated on the fact that the meaning of life is 42, and yet you know in your heart of hearts, it’s still not right, but you are thaaat close!  Time to bring in the big guns.
  3. You’ve received a positive rejection letter (yes, such things do exist!) from a literary agent or publisher with some suggestions or comments. Take their suggestions on board and consider having your next draft edited. It might be just the ticket to get you that positive acceptance letter you’ve been dreaming of.
  4. You are thinking of self-publishing. Please, please, pretty please get an editor. Get two. Or at least two edits – substantive to deal with any structural issues and a copy-edit to help your prose to sparkle.
  5. You’ve already self-published and reviewers are suggesting your book needs editing. Take their advice, especially if you are working on your next book. And when you find a good editor for Book Two – why not let them at Book One as well? If soap scents and chocolate flavours can be regularly reinvented, there is no reason why you can’t sell your own new improved version novel. Who knows, maybe some of your reviewer naysayers will find themselves having to eat their less than charitable words as a result?

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

Let the right one in: choosing an editor

DCFN0008.JPGYou’ve made the decision that your book needs editing, but how do you go about hiring an editor? A good working relationship with an editor can be of tremendous value to an author – a bad one can leave an author demoralised and upset. As with any other business relationship, putting a little effort into finding the right editor in the first instance can save you a lot of heartache at a later stage.

Here are 5 tips to help you make a choice:

  1. Be clear about what you want, what your book needs and what editing stage it is at.  Don’t waste your money hiring someone to copy-edit text that is likely to be removed in the next draft. If you are still working on your story or structure, hire a developmental or structural editor instead.
  2. Word-of-mouth recommendation. Ask your writer friends, their friends and their friends’ friends about their editors. If they are happy to recommend an editor to you, you are already off to a good start. If none of your friends write, this may be a good time to join a writers’ group and link up with like-minded folks at writing workshops, seminars and on social networking sites. Ask questions, find out what’s good and what is to be avoided.
  3. Picture3BAsk for a sample of the editor’s work and/or client testimonials. Most editors will be happy to provide these for you. They’ll often ask for a sample of your manuscript in any event, so that they can judge the editing work involved. An editing sample gives you a chance to see how the editor treats your text and how you respond to editorial criticism and amendments.
  4. Shop around – don’t feel obliged to plump for the first recommendation. You may have a glowing editor recommendation from your five best writing pals, but if they are all writing romantic comedy and your book is a gritty, intrigue-laden fantasy epic, the editor may not be the one you are looking for. Use your instinct – if the editing sample and other testimonials feel right to you, then go for it. If not, make further inquiries.
  5. Be reasonable with your editing budget – remember, if you’re looking to pay peanuts, you risk attracting monkeys. When properly done, editing is a skilled and time-consuming process. Heart writing 001For that reason it is also expensive. Also, most good editors will be busy and you may need to book an editing slot with them beforehand to ensure they are available when your manuscript is ready for editing. So plan your budget and your publishing deadlines well in advance.

For more details on development (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

The business of writing

There is no doubt that online publishing is transforming the industry and opening up wonderful opportunities for writers to control and manage their publishing careers. But with increased control comes increased responsibility.

DSC00070In her book From Pitch to Publication, UK literary agent, Carole Blake explains how agents and publishers seek out authors who are planning a career in writing. Of course they do. Publishing a book is an expensive and time-consuming business involving months of preparation, editing, marketing and promotional events and traditional publishing houses don’t want to spend all that money on an author who does not intend to become a professional writer.

The same holds true for self-published and indie writers. It doesn’t really matter that you may only ever write one book, the fact is, if you ask people to pay for your work, one can only assume you are putting yourself out there as a professional writer. If you want a professional writing career, then you need to approach it as you would any other business. As we all know, going the traditional publishing route doesn’t guarantee a literary gem, but it does give an author a head start in terms of available resources. Self-publishing authors, on the other hand, need to organise each stage of publication themselves.

This is the crux of the matter. As I mentioned in my previous post ‘Remind me again why I need an editor‘, publication is the process of transferring your private writing work to the public arena. The fact remains, however, that many indie/self-publishing authors are simply not aware of the work which goes into preparing a book for publication, particularly as many of the processes, such as editing, are traditionally ‘behind the scenes’ jobs.

You should remember that publication is not synonymous with printing. Nor is it just about writing. As an indie author in an open market, you are competing internationally with a huge number of other authors, both self- and traditionally published, and competition for readers’ attention and custom is fierce. 012jBasic business principles apply to self-publishing as to any other profession. Work out a short-term and long-term strategy; if your readers like your first book, they will be clamouring for more almost immediately, so you need to plan ahead. Editing, design and marketing services may be expensive – so budget for them. Work out your budget forecast like any other business to get the services you need.

There is no accounting for readers’ personal tastes and you won’t please everyone, but providing the best product possible for those who do want to read your book – one that makes reading a pleasure and not a chore – is a good place to start. Don’t forget, your aim is not only to attract readers initially, you also want to hold on to them and encourage repeat business. The most important way of ensuring that your readers will line up for your next release is to sell them a fantastic book in the first instance.

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

Who nose what there talking about? (words and other confusions)

‘For by the word Nose, throughout all this long chapter of noses, and in every other part of my work, where the word Nose occurs, – I declare by that word I mean a Nose, and nothing more, or less.’

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 1761.

Through meaning 007The gentleman in Tristram Shandy may be fairly certain of his nose, but words and their meanings can be pretty tricky to pin down at times. For example, does our gentleman above mean the nose on his face or is he talking about having a good nose around or into somebody else’s business? Out of context it’s not entirely clear, is it?

One of the sly ways in which words can trip us up is by having two completely opposite meanings at the same time. These contronyms or Janus words (Janus being the Roman god with two faces) can be relatively common words such as ‘weather’ (‘the boat weathered (withstood) the storm, narrowly missing being dashed against the rocks weathered (changed or worn) by time’), ‘fast’ (to move quickly or solid and immovable), or ‘trim’ (‘she trimmed (cut away) the rough edges of the pocket, then trimmed (added to) it with a pretty silk ribbon’). By the way, ‘fast’ also falls into the homonym category – words which are spelled and sound the same, but have different meanings – think ‘fast’, as in not eating.  What a star!

Next on the confusion list are homographs: words that are spelled the same, but have different pronunciations and meanings. For example, ‘lead’ (as in down the garden path or what you walk your dog with) and ‘lead’ (the stuff you put on your roof).

Through meaning 010But the real celebrities in the world of confusing words are the homophones – those awkward blighters that sound the same, but have completely different spellings and meanings. This category contains such everyday bamboozling classics as ‘to’, ‘two’ and ‘too’; ‘their’ and ‘there’; ‘principal’ and principle’; ‘stationery’ and ‘stationary’, and, of course, every author’s favourites – ‘write’ and ‘right’. Rite? Grate, glad we’re all singing from the same him sheet. Otherwise it wood bee such a waist!

Yes, the sad truth is that these sneaky saboteurs of clarity can fool spellchecks and intelligent beings alike. No-one is safe, but a stout dictionary of any nature (physical or virtual) and/or a good copy editor can go a long way to keeping them at bay. If in doubt, check it out. The truth (or at least the correct spelling) is out their. Oooops…

Building a Character: What kind of animal am I?

No, I’m not going crazy. Figuring out what kind of animal your character might be is a basic acting exercise familiar to theatre actors, and it can be a useful character building tool for authors also. Basically, actors use ‘animal work’ to explore the essence of a character. The trick is to progress beyond the simple representation of roaring, mewing or squeaking, beyond even the clichés – ‘wily as a fox’, ‘quiet as a mouse’ or ‘greedy as a pig’ – to an internalization which will give a fully rounded and nuanced physicality recognizable (albeit often on a subconscious level) by an audience.

So using an animal reference can be a great way of getting a quick handle on a character, either in your own mind or in the mind of your reader.  Like a form of visual shorthand.

With his dull brown hair, large eyes and perpetually twitching nose, Mr Doulton resembled a rather dim-witted mouse, but Hannah soon found to her cost that his personality was pure ferret, and nasty, bad-tempered ferret at that.’

Two sides to every animal 

References to animals have powerful connotations and it is these connotations (for good or bad) that can be utilized by writers and actors alike.

Take the pig, for example.  Even when used positively, there is an underlying sense of uncontrolled appetite about them that can be exploited.

‘Hannah could barely hide her laughter. The fact was that Mr Blower had all the appearance of a rather jolly pig stuffed into an expensively-tailored suit.’ 

Of course, you don’t necessarily need the full animal – you can still work from the basic pig image, but highlight certain aspects with equally powerful effect.

Mr Blower was a short, rotund man with little, piggy eyes and ludicrously tiny feet.’ 

or

‘Mr Blower’s hair was coarse and blonde, bristling to a peak on top of his head. His nose was snub and the corners of his mouth turned upwards in a perpetual porcine grin.’

Obviously, you need to use animal references wisely and sparingly, otherwise your play or novel will begin to resemble some form of bizarre humanoid barnyard or an exotic zoo with an Orwellian theme. The whole point is, of course, to get the writer or actor’s imagination working beyond the obvious: to look for and think about physical nuances which not only set each character apart from the others, but also give an indication of what makes them tick.

Point of View 4: POV shifts – Working Examples

Let’s look at POV shifts within paragraphs and some possible solutions:

Version 1:  

autumn leaves 0034Julia smiled to  herself at happy memories of children tumbling amongst the fallen leaves in autumns long past. Now the only thing tumbling about in the garden was her husband, Simon. He vigorously rubbed the grit from his eyes with his hands, having accidentally hit himself in the face with the grubby roots of a particularly stubborn dandelion.

Julia’s cat stared at Simon curiously with her bright green eyes from the edge of the flowerbed. She wondered what he was doing and hoped that all that strange pulling and tugging on his part might be the prelude to a tasty morsel or perhaps an interesting game. Realising it was neither, she gave a loud yawn and stretched herself to her full length, before sauntering back in the direction of the house.

In the living room, Julia laughed. Poor Simon, she thought, even Puss thinks he’s boring.

Simon groaned. He hated this place. 

Version 2: 

autumn leaves 002Julia smiled to herself at happy memories of children tumbling amongst the fallen leaves in autumns long past. Now the only thing tumbling about in the garden was her husband, Simon.

Simon rubbed the grit from his eyes, having accidentally hit himself in the face with the grubby roots of a particularly stubborn dandelion. The pair of green feline eyes gazing curiously at him from the edge of flowerbed unnerved him. That cat – Julia’s cat – didn’t like him, he was sure of that. As if to prove his point, the animal gave a sudden loud yawn, stretched herself to her full length and sauntered in the direction of the house. Simon groaned. He hated this place.

Watching from the living room, Julia laughed. Poor Simon, she thought, even Puss thinks he’s boring.

Commentary: 

  • In Version 1, the POV shift from Julia’s point of view to Simon’s is unnerving. One sentence on, we get a further shift: we are now viewing Simon from the cat’s POV. Then we are back to Julia, then Simon again. The end result is confusion and irritation for the reader as they try to figure out on exactly who or what they should they be focussing, no doubt also asking themselves at the same time why they are having to work so hard.

  • Misc 2009010In Version 2, the shift from Julia’s POV is more clearly signposted (although still a little disconcerting). We’ve also lost Puss’s POV. This may be quirky, but it is distracting and makes the cat more significant than is warranted in the overall scheme of things. In addition, we are setting up reader expectations only to cruelly dash them, if this is the only instance of her POV. Cutting her out allows us to focus more clearly on Simon’s feelings, which is more useful for the story, and gives the reader a better sense of his and Julia’s relationship and the physical and emotional distance between them.

Whose story is it anyway? 

Of course, all of the above assumes that Julia and Simon are the two viewpoint characters in the story, but the tale could just as well be told solely from Julia’s POV or Simon’s POV, or indeed, entirely from Puss’s POV. Or you could use the cat yawning at Simon as the pivotal event in which the same story is told from three different points of view. To be honest, the possibilities are endless and the joy of being a writer is you get to try out as many as you wish. So, please, go explore and enjoy!

Point of View 3: Split personalities

You are perfectly at liberty to have more than one viewpoint character if you think it will serve your story best. Think fantasy epics such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. Lots of books. Lots of characters. Lots of viewpoints.

Harry Potter 004The main problem with multiple viewpoints is how to manage the POV shifts between characters. Again, consistency is the order of the day. You need to set up a structure for the POV shifts and signpost them clearly, because shifting POV without warning is like speaking to someone without first catching their eye. The first time, they may be merely taken by surprise, but if it happens more than once, they will become irritated very quickly.

Most common is a pattern of alternating narrators, with POV shifts usually occurring between chapters or larger book divisions. There are no limits on the number of viewpoints, but be aware that if your readers are fully engaged with a particular character, they may be unhappy at a POV shift regardless of how well you manage it. The way around this problem, of course, is to make the next viewpoint character every bit as fascinating as the last (something to keep in mind if you are planning a large number of them). Beware also random minor characters who pop up to grab their fifteen minutes of POV fame. Unless they have some piece of information absolutely vital to the story which cannot be imparted any other way, remove them from the premises quietly and quickly. Don’t forget, the more viewpoints you have, the more goodwill required from your readers.

Dracula 003A good example of the use of multiple viewpoints is Bram Stoker’s classic vampire tale, Dracula. The story weaves between major and minor character narrations via letters, journals, interviews, ship’s logs and newspaper reports. The clever thing about the way the novel is structured is that each narration moves the plot forward in time and place, linked by and chronologically following Dracula’s physical journey from Transylvania to England and back again. Indeed, it is the reader’s awareness of this sinister thread of Dracula’s evil presence underlying the narrated events (and mostly unbeknownst to the other protagonists) which pulls the disparate sections of narrative into a cohesive whole and gives the story its overwhelming sense of menace and urgency.

A note of caution – one of the most common mistakes in early draft manuscripts is the unintentional POV shift within chapters or even paragraphs. We’ll look at this in more detail in the next post, but here’s a quick taster:

autumn leaves 0034‘Julia  smiled at happy memories of children tumbling amongst the fallen leaves in autumns long past. Now the only thing tumbling about in the garden was her husband, Simon. He vigorously rubbed the grit from his eyes with his dirty hands, having accidentally hit himself in the face with the grubby roots of a particularly stubborn dandelion. 

The POV shift from Julia to Simon may be subtle, but is unnerving nonetheless. Let’s face it, if readers have to work too hard to get the sense or atmosphere of a story, they may end up thinking less kindly of you as a writer. So keep an eye out for errant POV shifts to ensure you don’t end up with lots of  VARs (that is, Very Annoyed Readers).

Point of View 2: Limitation or opportunity?

You might think that choosing one character as the viewpoint character and sticking to them would solve any POV problems. Not necessarily. For example, if your first-person or third-person limited narrator doesn’t actually witness an important event in the story, then he or she can’t describe it.

Of course, in theory, you could use another character to tell that part of the story, but one of the main rules for POV is that it should be consistent. So if most of your story so far has been seen only through the eyes of one character, switching POV at this late stage may seriously disturb your reader. At the very least it will break their connection with the first character which has been building for most of the book and, once broken, there is no guarantee you will get it back again.

Jane 003Imagine, for example, if Jane Austen had discarded Elizabeth Bennett’s POV following Lydia’s elopement with Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and sent us galloping off to London with Mr Darcy instead. Apart from the consternation of finding ourselves suddenly flung into the intimate company of a man seen to this point only through Lizzie’s eyes, we would miss all the tension, irritation, anxiety and feelings of helplessness that our heroine goes through during her long wait for news in Longbourn. The advantage of all this soul-searching not only adds considerably to the reader’s experience of Elizabeth Bennett’s character, but also ups the ante for the moment when she learns the truth about Darcy’s role in rescuing her sister. And who better to tell Lizzie about Darcy’s involvement, but silly, indiscreet Lydia? A delicious combination of plot point and character moment.

If your narrator finds themselves in a similar situation, you do what writers have done for centuries: you get creative. You have your viewpoint character talk to people, overhear conversations, read letters, newspaper reports, books, secret diaries or files (or their modern-day technological equivalents), basically whatever it takes to get the information the reader needs.

Sun 001But no Deus ex machina, please. This Latin term meaning ‘god from a machine’ refers primarily to the Greek tragedy penchant for having gods ascend or descend miraculously in mechanical stage devices (hence the ‘machina‘) at the end of plays to provide improbably contrived resolutions to unsolvable situations. Please do keep your POV solutions within the context and internal logic of your viewpoint character and the world of your story.

Most of all, you should view the limitations of a narrator choice not as a downside, but as a virtue and a truly wonderful opportunity to build up oodles of character, atmosphere, tension and plot. What’s not to like?

Point of View 1: Whose story is it, anyway?

Choosing a point of view (POV) for your book is probably one of the most important decisions you will make as a writer. Why? Because in choosing to tell the story through the eyes of a particular character, you are also determining the reader’s journey through the book.

Harry Potter 002Think about it. The Harry Potter series of books would have been very different had they been told from the point of view of Hermione, Dumbledore or even Lord Voldemort. Well, they wouldn’t be Harry Potter books for a start!

Of course, choosing your viewpoint character is only first step. You will also have to decide the narration point of view. Second person narrative (you) is very rare, so the most common choice is between first person (I, we) or third person (he, she, it) narrative. Next, you will need to choose between subjective narration (inside a character’s head and describing their feelings or thoughts), or objective narration (staying out of people’s heads and reporting only what you see). Finally, you will need to decide whether your narrator’s point of view is limited (knowing everything there is to know from that character’s POV, but limited to that character) or are they omniscient (with an all encompassing knowledge of all characters, times and places).

What effect does a particular narrative point of view have on the reader’s experience of your novel?

Viewing a story through the eyes of a first-person narrator, either observing or participating in the action, connects the reader directly with the narrator and imbues the narrative with the immediacy and energy of an eyewitness account (for example, Raymond Chandler’s gumshoe, Philip Marlowe, in The Big Sleep).

Ray Chandler 002A third-person narrative puts more distance between the narrator and the story; the narrator is a not a character in the story but provides a bridge between the character and the reader. The reader can still engage with the character, whilst also allowing the author to manipulate the narrative without interfering with the character’s viewpoint (the Harry Potter series – told from Harry’s point of view, third-person narration limited).

So whose point of view is best for your story? That is a question only you can answer and exploring points of view can sometimes be what your first (and possibly second, third and fourth) draft is all about, as you try to figure out who is telling your story and why. So, if your novel is stuck in a rut and is refusing to go where you want it to go, maybe you should look at who’s telling the story. Just as in life itself, a completely new point of view or perspective can sometimes transform an old tale into a wholly new experience.