Archive for August, 2017

Dark and Story Night

This is where we start the actual “editing” part of the writer/editor relationship. During our phone call, I took extensive notes. Because while I had my editor’s edit letter — which  was efficiently organized by plot, pacing, world building, character development, and writing style — it was during our phone call that she was able to elaborate and we had time to discuss possible solutions.

In the past I have done several major revisions to this full manuscript, including a Revise and Resubmit for an interested agent.  In those cases, many of the changes were global and required that I trace each thread through all of the chapters, keeping a careful eye on consistency.  In most cases, several of these threads were in effect simultaneously — such as changing my main character’s motivation throughout while also adding a new source of tension.  Or I may have cut a major scene altogether which was referenced a number of places later on, while at the same time adding a new scene elsewhere to replace some of the missing elements.  This required a lot of planning and outlining.  All of the changes had to work in concert, so everything I revised had to be part of this master plan.

Not so much, this time. The changes my editor suggested were all specific and fairly contained.  Which, to my unending delight, means I can tackle each of them in turn. For example, my favorite suggestion is to change the setting for the novel.  Not every setting, but the main setting, where the key action takes place.

Most of the scenes take place at home, at summer camp, at a sleep-over, etc.  There is a scene at soccer practice, another at the mall, yet another at a restaurant.  None of these have to change, or not much. But the main action takes place at the family business — a booth at a local craft fair and farmer’s market, where the family spends their weekends and makes their living.  This is where the story starts, where the inciting incident happens, where the villain makes his moves, and where the climax takes place.  Aside from the family’s booth, several other important characters also reside at the fair, and our hero learns about her destiny and works toward her goal by visiting — sometimes secretly — these other characters.  It’s important that there are lots of people and activity.  But in my ongoing efforts to streamline the beginning of the book and strip out every superfluous word or sentence, my descriptions of the scenery fall a bit flat.  There is no real sense of “place.”  And no weather or seasons.  It’s just a backdrop.

I immediately saw what she was talking about, and based on our conversation I settled on a brand new setting.  Before, the book took place in the made-up town of Rockford, in no particular state — or even region — of the United States.  I thought it might be good to let my readers imagine the story took place near their own town.  Now, it’s going to take place in Rockford Harbor, Maine.  This is still a made-up town (which my editor and I agree is best, since I’ve never been to Maine, and would never be able to accurately describe a real place).  It is on the southern coast of Maine (near the real towns of Rockport and Rocklin).  Specifically, it will take place on the Ferry Beach Boardwalk and Pier, which is modeled after the real Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

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This is where the family business will be — on the boardwalk, tucked in among the amusement rides and crab shacks.  And the old lady who tells our hero her destiny will have her shop at the end of the pier.  There will be the sounds of rides and arcade games, the smell of the ocean and lobster rolls, crying seagulls will fly overhead, and there will be tourists and sand everywhere.  It will snows in winter when business is slow, and the crowds will come when school lets out for the summer.  My setting will come alive.

And I can go through the book, scene-by-scene and revise the settings where needed, leaving many of them — home, mall, restaurant, camp — exactly the same.  Then when I’m satisfied with these changes, I can move on to the next item on the list.

I’m in no hurry.  Eager, but not rushed.  First I need to research the Old Orchard Beach Pier, as well as the state of Maine. It needs to feel real, especially to people who have been to these places. But I am more excited about this change than any other I have made so far.  Because without having to alter the story (much), I will be adding a rich, new layer that will be evident from the very first sentence, and will give readers a whole new reason to want to turn the page.


Michelle Millet

If other freelance editors are like Michelle Millet of Write On Editing, the writing community is in good hands.

Not only did Michelle offer me exactly the level of feedback I needed for my project, but her turn-around was remarkable.  I already outlined in part 1 and part 2 of this series, how and why I chose Michelle from all of the other freelance editors out there, and some of the feedback she gave. But the best part of the whole experience was the follow-up phone call, which was part of the editing package.

First of all, I was nervous.  I’d paid for this call and I’m not going to be able to afford to pay for another, so I was nervous about getting all of my questions answered.  But I was also nervous because someone I trusted was going to tell me to my face (well, to my ear) what was broken about my book.  Unlike advice from beta readers or friends and family, when you pay hard-earned money for a professional critique, it is not easy to dismiss if you don’t happen to agree with it.*

I had no need to worry. Michelle was friendly, well-prepared, and had a slew of questions of her own. We methodically went down her list of items she felt needed work, and was happy to listen to my reasons for why I had made the choices I’d made. This was not me making excuses; it was a conversation about my book.  That was something I’d never really experienced before.  With the beta readers and critique partners I’ve interacted with, there is little back-and-forth.  I’ve gotten some outstanding advice, but sometimes you’ve simply explained something poorly or not emphasized something well enough, and your reader fails to get something important.  These are the times when you feel perfectly justified ignoring certain advice, because you know what you’re written is right, maybe just not clear. On my call with Michelle, I was able to discuss such instances, and found in many cases she agreed with me — “It’s okay to leave that in, then, just as long as you make this other thing more clear in the beginning.” Or, “Oh, that makes perfect sense, now that you point that out.  Maybe you should add in a bit of clarification so the reader gets what you intended.”  With advice I’ve gotten in the past, I’ve had to live with comments that simply say “Cut that thing because it doesn’t make sense,” and having to decide whether or not to accept or reject that advice.

Believe me — this is better.

Our 45 minute call stretched to an hour and a half (your results may vary). She was not willing to end the call until I had asked every question I could think of — several not precisely related to her critique.  Such as query etiquette or career advice.  Did this bargain-priced editing experience find everything wrong with my manuscript? Was it a silver bullet?  I won’t know until I study the extensive notes I took along with her comments, and dive into the revision process.  I will be making several substantial changes.  Because I went with a less expensive editor, I am not getting a second read-through after my revision (unless I pay again). That’s a big advantage with the more expensive, more thorough package deals out there.  Like me, you have to weigh your priorities.  For me, it was find an editor that fit my very limited budget, or do without altogether.

I highly recommend Michelle and Write On Editing.  They have many different packages available, depending on the kind and level of feedback you’re looking for. And more broadly, if you can afford it, I highly recommend hiring an editor in general. If you do, I hope your experience is as satisfying as mine has been. You know what to look for, now.

*This is not to say you can’t dismiss the advice of a professional editor.  You certainly can, and I would even say in some cases you should.  But it is like throwing away money, so t’s harder to do.

There was a survey posted the other day on the front page of one of my favorite writerly websites:

You’ve decided to write your first novel. What’s the single best way to learn how to do it?

o Take a class.
o Join a writers group. Get some advice.
o Read a good book on how to write a novel.
o Just write! Tell your story as you think it should be told.
o Read some great novels, from a wrier’s point of view.

I’ve actually done every one of these things. And each of them has made me a better writer. I would recommend any of these as a way for a novice writer to improve his or her craft. Or all of them. But one in particular stands out in my experience as absolutely necessary.

Join a writers group. Get some advice.

All of the rest – even taking a class – are fairly solitary endeavors. And what you need to be a successful writer (besides good ideas, devotion to craft, commitment, and a better-than-basic grasp of your language of choice) is feedback from other writers. All of the theory in the world will only get you so far. You need people to actually read what you’ve written and tell whether it is working. It’s all well and good knowing you aught to have a hook at the beginning of chapter one, but it isn’t as if there is a list of them somewhere you can choose from. You have to craft it. And once you’ve done it, how do you know if it is any good? Just because you think so? You’re the novice, remember?

To quote Nanny Ogg, “There’s many a slip twixt dress and drawers.”

So it will serve you well to surround yourself with fellow writers, hopefully writers engaged in the kind of writing you yourself are pursuing – young adult, historical romance, science fiction, whatever. Otherwise they may not represent your target audience, and may not be able to render useful advice about whether or not your vampires are scary or if Penelope’s bosom is heaving properly. Plus the structure of meeting weekly or bi-weekly provides a tremendous motivation to produce pages of story, which is often hard to muster when one is only writing for one’s self.

There’s an even better reason to find a group of like-minded writers, a reason most novice writers fail utterly to grasp: the real value in the critiquing process comes from giving critiques. There are a number of reasons for this. Writers often reject sound advice if it means tossing out their favorite lines, ideas or characters. Critique groups are fallible; you may get conflicting advice, or your readers may simply not “get” what you are trying to convey in your story (although if they do not, that is in itself often a problem). But when you read the work of other aspiring writers and identify the problems – or triumphs – you begin to see what is working and not working with your own writing.

So where does one find such a group, I hear you cry. Fear not; there are thousands of local writers groups of every genre and experience level looking for new members. Professional writers associations, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, will even help you form one if you can’t find one to your liking.

But, really, it’s even easier than that. You’re already on the Internet; just click here. This will take you to that writerly website I mentioned earlier, the one with the survey. The site is call the Critique Circle, and it has been around for over ten years and has over 3,000 members. The site is designed specifically for writers to submit their work for peer review, in categories ranging from children’s to romance and fantasy to horror. And the critique process works well because it is based on a point system – in order to submit your own work you need to earn points by critiquing the stories of others. People are polite, helpful, and for the most part able to render meaningful advice (in my experience). Plus there are dozens of writer forums where you can discuss your genre, your story, your premise, or your characters. You can ask questions in the research forums, and somebody is bound to know something useful. Many of the members are published authors, from all over the world. The site also contains a whole boatload of useful tools for helping your story along: a name generator, writing exercises, a word meter for tracking your progress, a submission tracker, and many more.

I personally filtered my entire novel through this site, to my very great benefit. I can say with complete clarity that the advice I received consistently improved my chapters and my story, and my finished manuscript would not be nearly as good had I worked on it alone.

Oh, and it’s free. And anonymous, if you want.

So if you’re serious about writing, particularly about writing a novel, find a critique group and dive in. The sooner the better. You have nothing to lose but poor writing.