Getting Edited

Great post from the wonderful Jo Robinson. Forget ‘killing your darlings’; the editing process is often a very rewarding and worthwhile process for authors.

Lit World Interviews

Some writers love being edited, and others really, really don’t. Once we’re finished with our darling that we think is absolutely perfect as it is, the last thing we want is criticism. Ann Rice refuses to be edited. Other than proofreading, her words are all written exactly as she wants them. Most other writers, famous or otherwise, tend to have their work edited.

Getting your manuscript back with comments all over the place, and your favourite scene completely trashed could very well lead to apoplectic rage or rivers of tears. If so much is wrong then obviously you must be an absolutely rubbish writer and you may just as well give up could be your next thought—the one that comes after writing the rudest, most insultingly literate letter to your editor before hopefully having the good sense to delete it.

The thing to remember is that when it comes to…

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Flash Fiction Foray – Jealous #FFF30

This week’s Flash Fiction Foray challenge is to write a short story inspired by the song “Jealous” by Labrinth.

I’m not even going to attempt to capture the raw emotion of Labrinth’s singing in my offering, so instead here’s a light hearted view of jealousy itself. Once again, please accept my apologies for going way over the word count.

*****

Jealous

“Daaaaahling,” trilled Singer, kissing the air above Actress’s shoulder, “I’m sooooo thrilled about you Bafta nomination.”

“Mwah, mwah, Singer, I just know you’re going to sweep the board at the Brits this year.”

Model tottered through the door on impossibly high heels. “I simply adore your new single, Singer daaaaahling. Take no notice of those awful accusations in the Current Bun – we know you sing on all your records. Mwah!”

“Mwah!”

“Mwah!”

“Model, daaaaahling, your hair extensions are divine. No one would ever tell they’re not real.”

“And your Botox treatments are going sooooo well, Actress. Who wants a face that moves anyway?”

Snatching up a plate from her dressing table, Actress would have looked outraged had her over-Botoxed face been capable of expressing emotion.

“Catering!” she screeched. “One lettuce leaf, not two, you moron. How can I maintain my beautiful size zero figure if you double my daily calorie intake?”

Catering stepped out of the shadows where she’d been waiting quietly with Hair-and-Makeup and Wardrobe, grabbed the offending lettuce leaf and stuffed it in her mouth.

“FAT COW!” shrieked Singer, Actress and Model in unison. Dancer pirouetted into the room and burst into tears.

“Daaaaahling, what is it? Have you been sacked from Strictly? We all know you didn’t really sleep with the politician you partnered last year…”

“No!” wailed Dancer. “Far worse than that – you called me fat!”

Singer, Actress and Model giggled prettily behind perfectly manicured fingers.

“Not you, daaaaahling. Caterer. Stuffing her fat face on lettuce.”

Dancer’s crocodile tears vanished in an instant. Smoothing her hands over her Stella McCartney dress, she looked over at Wardrobe and sneered, “What are you looking at, you jealous bitch? This dress cost more than you’ll earn in a lifetime.”

“Mwah, mwah, Dancer, you’re sooooo funny.”

Trademark pouts in place, surrounded by surly bodyguards, Singer, Dancer, Actress and Model sashayed down the hallway, the clack-clack-clack of Jimmy Choos gradually fading into the cheers of a thousand fans and the click of a thousand press cameras. Catering, Hair-and-Makeup and Wardrobe watched as the heavy doors closed behind the four celebrities who currently had the world at their feet, then fell about with helpless laughter.

“Jealous of them? Really, daaaaahling?”

Sooooo thrilled for you – and everyone knows they hate each other.”

“And everyone knows they’re jealous as hell of each other.”

“If that’s fame and fortune, you can stick it.”

Catering looked at her healthy size ten figure in the mirror and smiled approvingly. Turning to her two dearest friends, she draped her arms around them and said, “Come on, ladies, that lettuce leaf’s given me an appetite. I hear the local Italian restaurant’s giving away free garlic bread with every bowl of pasta, and I’ve got a fat cow reputation to maintain.”

3820009-Lettuce-Leaves-www.123rf.com

Writing Tips – Show, Don’t Tell

Consider the following passage:

John-Paul was a successful businessman. He was six foot tall and athletically built, with blue eyes and blond hair. His brother was called George. John-Paul was a rich man who drove a Jaguar and owned a large house in the suburbs. All his family holidays were taken abroad and they always flew first class. His parents were huge fans of the Beatles, which was how John-Paul got his name. He was named after John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Despite being rich and powerful, John-Paul was a kind hearted man…blah, blah, blah

Snore – oh, do excuse me. I dropped off for a minute there.

If this passage were to be used as notes for the author’s own reference, fine. Even if this were a first draft, there’s plenty that the author can edit and refine at a later date – as long as they do edit and refine it. Sadly, though, I have encountered self-published books (clearly un-edited) which actually begin like this, bombarding the reader with far more information than they can take in at once. Whether or not the writing style improves I can’t say, as by page four I’ve usually given up.

Why?

Because it’s boring.

So how does an author get information across to their readers in a way they’ll enjoy and remember? Two ways: one, introduce the information bit by bit so the readers can gradually get to know the characters as they’d get to know someone they’d met in the “real” world. This is also true for places, background information – anything essential to the story.

Two, pretty much anything can be shown to the readers. They don’t need to be told when they can work it out for themselves.

John-Paul parked in his reserved parking space and locked his expensive car, then strode with natural athletic grace towards the door of the pristine Financial District skyscraper in which he worked.

What does the reader now know about John-Paul? Well, he’s rich (expensive car), successful (he has a reserved parking space in the Financial District) and he keeps himself fit (couch potatoes don’t tend to have athletic grace). However, not one of these facts has been stated in so many words.

On the way into work, John-Paul’s blue eyes alighted upon a homeless man, shivering as he sold copies of the Big Issue. Making a detour into the nearest Starbucks, John-Paul ordered a large coffee then crossed the road.

“Here you are, Joe,” he said, handing the steaming drink to the Big Issue seller. “Milk and two sugars, just as you like it.”

From this our readers can deduce the blue-eyed John-Paul is kind hearted, clearly on a regular basis (he’s friendly enough with Joe to know his name and how he takes his coffee), and they don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes in order to make the deduction.

Later that day:

Walking into the bar to meet his friends, John-Paul was transported back to his childhood as “Love Me Do” rang out from the jukebox. Growing up with two Beatles fanatics as parents, he and his brother George had passed every day of their formative years to a soundtrack of the Fab Four’s music.

(I didn’t have the heart to give John-Paul another brother called Ringo!)

John-Paul’s visit to the pub tells the readers enough about his childhood for them to work out for themselves how he got his name – and please don’t try to explain for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with the Beatles. Can you imagine it?

John-Paul was called John-Paul after Lennon and McCartney because his parents loved the Beatles. That is John Lennon and Paul McCartney, you understand, the main songwriters behind the Beatles, the highly successful sixties band

Snore, indeed!

When I first started editing, I myself wasn’t clear on what writing coaches and other experts meant by “Show, don’t tell”. It sounded like great advice, but how did it actually work in practice? Fittingly enough, I was shown the answer to this question via some of the manuscripts on which I was working, and the first intimation I had was through dialogue:

James and Minnie met for coffee.

“Hi, James, the usual?” said Minnie.

“Yes please,” said James gratefully.

“Two lattes please,” said Minnie to the barista. “So, James, how are you?” she asked, turning back to James.

“Great thanks, Minnie,” said James happily. “I’ve just won the promotion I was after at work, and my daughter’s been accepted to study at Cambridge,” he added proudly.

“My daughter can’t even be bothered to get up in the morning to go to the job centre,” said Minnie jealously.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Minnie,” said James sympathetically.

“Oh great, that makes all the difference,” said Minnie sarcastically.

I’ve added far more information than is needed in the above example. Let’s break it down.

“Hello, Minnie,” said James.

We already know that James and Minnie are the only characters involved in the scene, so “Hello, Minnie” is enough to show the readers that it’s James speaking. There’s really no need to tell them.

“I’ve been promoted and my daughter’s going to Cambridge.”

I’m sure the readers can work out from this statement how James is feeling. The words he’s spoken have shown them he’s proud – well, he’s hardly going to be feeling embarrassed about successful job promotions and prestigious university places. Sometimes, of course, you will have to tell the readers who’s speaking and who’s listening, but wherever possible ask yourself if you can dispense with the constant “he said”, “she said” after every piece of dialogue. Your writing will flow far better for it.

As well as showing the readers who is talking and how they’re feeling, dialogue can also give them plenty of clues about the characters’ personalities (Minnie is obviously rather a bitter and jealous woman, unable to appreciate her friend’s successes as she’s so bogged down by her perceived failures), their lives (James is clearly making a success of his, and they each have at least one daughter) and their tastes (they both enjoy a latte).

Now, I have done editing work for many authors who instinctively use the show rather than tell technique, and as a result their writing style is wonderful. Without doubt, their readers will be hungry for more. However, while having no intention of being patronising, I felt this post was a worthwhile exercise as there are plenty of authors, including those who already “get it”, who ask me to explain show, don’t tell. I hope I have succeeded.

This week I’ve touched upon dialogue, which is a favourite of mine both to read and to write, so next week I’ll delve into it in more depth.

*****

If you’re an author looking for an editor and you’d like more information on the services I offer, please either click on the image below or email me directly on alisoneditor@outlook.com.

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Short Story – Doctor, Doctor, Please

Doctor image www.dreamstime.com

Picture courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com

‘Come in, come in. Please, take a seat.’

‘Thank you, Doctor. So, what’s the verdict?’

‘Good news, Mr Average. I’m delighted to say you have a clean bill of health. All that remains of this year’s medical is a teeny weeny questionnaire.’

Opening a file on his computer, the doctor clicked on page one of 325 and read out the first question.

‘OK, Mr Average, do you laugh?’

‘Er, yes, Doctor, but only on special occasions…’

The doctor fixed Mr Average with a penetrating gaze.

‘Oh, alright then. I do enjoy a good laugh.’

‘How many per week?’

‘Um, seven or eight, I’d say,’ replied Mr Average, crossing his fingers behind his back.

‘We need to cut that number in half,’ murmured the doctor. ‘You are aware of the Government guidelines, are you not, Mr Average? Five chuckles a week. Chuckles, that is, not belly-laughs. So, do you laugh every day, or save your – ahem – seven or eight for the weekend?’

‘Oh, I save them. You can’t beat a few laughs on a Saturday night.’

The doctor drew in a deep breath and jotted binge laugher on the notepad in front of him before scrolling down to question two.

‘When was the last time you enjoyed a good view?’

‘Never, Doctor. I don’t enjoy views. I know the risks…’

‘I see from my notes you regularly walk in the Peak District.’

‘I swear, Doctor, I keep my eyes closed the whole time.’

‘Did you ever enjoy views?’

‘I dabbled in my teens,’ replied Mr Average, hanging his head in shame. ‘But I gave up over twenty years ago, and haven’t so much as glanced at a view since.’

‘Excellent. The Nanny State’s strict controls on view enjoying are there for a reason – they’re highly addictive. Here, have a leaflet.’

The doctor dropped a hefty tome on Mr Average’s lap.

‘Sport,’ he said, glancing at question three. ‘Do you practise sport?’

‘Yes,’ replied Mr Average, ‘I play football a couple of times a week.’

‘And do you hate every minute?’

‘Absolutely,’ lied Mr Average, who was actually quite partial to a game of football.

‘I hope you’re telling me the truth, Mr Average. I see evidence of people enjoying sport everywhere I turn, especially at the weekend. Good for nothing low-lives having fun, cluttering up open spaces which are supposed to be empty. Do you realise, some talk about sport, and some,’ the doctor lowered his voice conspiratorially, ‘even watch it.’

‘Surely not!’ said Mr Average, tucking his newly-purchased ticket for the rugby the following Saturday deeper into his pocket.

Shuddering, the doctor moved on to question four.

‘Music.’

Mr Average blanched.

‘Ah, I see that’s struck a chord, Mr Average,’ said the doctor, regarding his patient through narrowed eyes.

‘Music, struck a chord, that’s a good one,’ said Mr Average, just catching himself before he smiled.

The doctor was furious.

‘Are you accusing me of making a joke? Joking is a filthy habit. Filthy!’

‘Sorry, Doctor, no offence meant. I didn’t think.’

‘Well, that’s something, I suppose. There’s far too much thinking going in in this hedonistic world. Now,’ he continued, steepling his fingers under his chin, ‘music. Why did that make you react so?’

Mr Average looked at his shoes.

‘Come now, Mr Average. Trust me, I’m a doctor.’

‘I sang a song last week,’ replied Mr Average in a small voice. The doctor sat up straight, startled. He hadn’t been expecting that.

‘And it gets worse…’

‘How can it possibly get worse than singing a song?’

‘It was on the radio,’ whispered Mr Average.

‘The radio? You were listening to the radio? Oh, hold on, don’t tell me – you were…singing along.’

‘And tapping my feet.’

The doctor leant back in his chair, disgusted.

‘I hardly dare ask, but what was the song called?’

Mr Average shook his head, tears in his eyes.

‘Tell me!’ roared the doctor.

‘“Papa Don’t Preach”.’

For a moment, Mr Average was worried the doctor was going to collapse. Gasping for breath, one hand clutching his throat, he stood unsteadily and towered over Mr Average, glowering down at his patient.

‘You sang and tapped your feet to a popular song. A popular song! Get out, and never return. I don’t have the time for a hopeless addict like you.’

Mr Average leapt out of his chair and hurried from the room, the doctor’s contempt following him all the way home.

*****

That evening, the doctor returned to the house he hated and refused to kiss his wife, satisfied that they made each other respectably unhappy.

‘Turn on the television,’ he said, throwing caution to the wind. As her eyebrows shot up in surprise, he added, ‘It’s these wretched patients of mine. They’re driving me to sitcoms.’

Not wanting to bear witness to her husband’s demise, the doctor’s wife made for the kitchen, intending to force herself to eat a portion of the inedible offal stew she’d made earlier. However, as the signature tune of ’Allo ’Allo burst from the television’s speakers, she was unable to resist a parting shot.

‘You’re a doctor, you imbecile,’ she hissed. ‘You know what watching light entertainment will lead to.’

The doctor’s wife was gratified to see an expression of dawning horror on her husband’s face.

‘Yes,’ she concluded smugly, ‘reality TV!’

*****

There could only be one song to follow this little swipe at the nanny state – the great UFO with ‘Doctor Doctor’. Feel free to sing along, and even tap your feet if you like. I won’t tell…

Writing Tips – Self-Editing

What? A professional editor advising writers to self-edit? Surely not!

I’d like to make one thing abundantly clear right now: I am advising self-editing in addition to employing both a professional editor and a proof reader, not instead of doing so. Even the best writers in the world will miss crucial mistakes in their manuscript – unrealistic timelines, misleading or superfluous storylines, howling typos – because they’re simply too close to it. When an author’s eaten, slept and breathed their manuscript for weeks, months or even years, they get to the point where they may be reading the words on the page, but what their brain’s seeing is whatever they intended to write. (‘He visited they’re house’ made a valiant attempt to sneak into my debut novel, despite me reading the manuscript through about 100 times. Thank God for proof readers!)

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So why self-edit at all? Why not hand your manuscript over to the professionals the second you type ‘The end’ and have done with it? Two words – first draft. Do you really want someone else seeing the initial results of your brain going into overdrive while your hands struggled to type the words fast enough? No, neither do I. Furthermore, many editors and proof readers charge per 1,000 words, so if you can rein in the word count it’ll gain you some Brownie points with your bank manager too.

Self-editing is very relevant to me at the moment since I spent my Christmas break working through my own novel, Dory’s Avengers, due for re-release later in the year. I did this with the benefit of hindsight, extensive editing experience and the constructive criticisms of a number of reviewers, none of which I had four years ago when I first signed up to publish (with a vanity publisher – big mistake). Back then the manuscript weighed in at a whopping 163,000 words; I’ve since cut out 40,000 words of waffle and over-emphasis, rewritten passages that struggled, and dealt with characters acting out of character (why would someone who’s snivelling and needy in one chapter suddenly become admirably strong willed in the next?) and knowing things they couldn’t possibly know. (Just met someone for the first time? Well naturally you’re going to know all the names of their extended family – not!) Having done all this, though, I will still be employing professionals to go over my work before I publish. Yes, even editors use editors.

If you’re not happy with parts of your manuscript, the likelihood is your readers won’t enjoy those parts either. Can they be amended? Do they need to be included at all? Does your prologue (if you have one) entice people to read on or turn out the light and go to sleep? Does your epilogue (if you have one) add anything to the story, or is it just that you can’t let go? (Yep, been there, done that.) I know scrutinising every part of your manuscript will take time, but it’s well worth the effort.

Over the coming weeks I will share with authors following my blog the writing tips I’ve compiled from my three years as an editor, but I want to emphasise that these are only tips, not rules. You are the creative talent behind your manuscript and it’s essential that your author voice is heard; I merely make suggestions to help you produce a sublime reading experience. Next week I intend to tackle the ‘show don’t tell’ concept you may have heard writing coaches and other such experts lauding. Many authors ask me about that one, but it’s really not as daunting as it sounds. However, I recognise it’s not enough simply to wag an admonishing finger and say, ‘Ah, you should show your readers, not tell them’. It would be a lot better if I actually – well – showed you!

*****

If you’re an author looking for an editor and you’d like more information on the services I offer, please either click on the image below or email me directly on alisoneditor@outlook.com.

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Flash Fiction Foray – The Reaper in Love

Every week, The Book Blogger nominates a song to stir the imaginations of his blog’s followers, and those of us who feel so inclined submit a Flash Fiction story inspired by the song. This week the song is ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’.

However, having reread the rules, I find that the Flash Fiction entry has to be fewer than 100 words. That’s Flash indeed, and rather disqualifies my entry. What the heck, though, I’ve decided to publish and be damned, then work on the word count before next week’s foray.

In the last few days I’ve been saddened to learn that two heroes of mine have died: the immensely talented musician David Bowie and the equally talented actor Alan Rickman, so in a bid to drag myself out of the doldrums, let’s take a little sideswipe at death.

*****

The Reaper in Love

Death arrived on Murderous Maureen’s doorstep, a bunch of withered flowers plucked from a nearby graveyard in one bony hand, an solitaire diamond ring (still attached to a rotting finger) in the other.

“Don’t you ever give up?” asked Murderous Maureen with a sigh, opening her door to a skeletal grin.

“I love you, Maureen,” replied Death. “I can’t help it. You’re the woman of my nightmares – that’s a compliment, by the way.”

Maureen picked up a nearby dagger and started sharpening it, Death’s appreciative eye sockets reflecting in its gleaming blade.

“You’ve already given me so many children…”

“Adults too,” added Maureen with a wicked grin.

“Ahh, plenty of adults, which saves me having to get up in the night to change nappies.” Death’s laugh sounded like nails dragging across a blackboard. The neighbourhood dogs howled.

“Death, please don’t laugh. It doesn’t suit you. And anyway, the dead don’t fill nappies.”

Death had to check himself before he laughed again.

“Murderous Maureen, will you marry me?” he said instead, holding out the diamond ring (and the finger). “I can’t help falling in love with you.”

“Marry you?” Maureen threw back her head and barked with laughter. The neighbourhood dogs ran whimpering behind sofas. “I can just imagine the wedding day. What will happen when we get to the ‘till Death us do part’ bit?”

“I promise I won’t. Part us, I mean. You’ll be with me for eternity, giving me ever more babies. And children. And adolescents…”

“Yes, yes, Death, I get the picture.”

“I’m famous, you know. Who hasn’t heard of Death?”

“Who hasn’t heard of Murderous Maureen?” she replied, waving a machete in Death’s face. “Since that bountiful spree I had last week, I’m all anyone can talk about.”

Death visibly sagged, the flowers drooping by his side and shedding their few remaining petals.

“So the answer’s no?”

“I didn’t say that. Actually, Death, I’ve been dreaming of this moment since my first killing at the age of seven. We’ll make an indomitable pair, won’t we? So although you’re the riskiest bridegroom since Henry VIII, the answer’s yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. How can I help falling in love with you too?”

Smiling his skeletal smile, Death took her hand. And took her whole life too.

Grim-Reaper[1] www.mirror.co.uk

Picture courtesy of http://www.mirror.co.uk

We Could Be Heroes

DavidBowie www.beigeUK.com

Picture courtesy of http://www.beigeUK.com

This is not the blog post I intended for today. A tribute isn’t something I would normally write. I’m not a dedicated follower of celebrity, not the sort of person who lays flowers and weeps and wails over the passing of footballers’ wives and reality TV stars, but I didn’t feel I could let the death of a true genius go by unmentioned.

I am referring, of course, to the news that David Bowie has passed away. Talk about the day the music died! David has provided a soundtrack to every decade of my life (and there’ve been a few), so I’m a little bit shocked to learn he will do so no more. I’m not grieving – I’m not crass enough to believe that how I feel can compare in any way to the feelings of David’s family and friends, but I do have a sense of loss. The last time I felt this way was when the world of comedy was shocked by the early death of the late great Rik Mayall, and like Rik, David Bowie was one of my heroes. I think we all need heroes.

So, Mr David Bowie, there’s no ‘could’ about it. You were. And not just for one day.

*****

Fellow authors, please join me next Monday for the first of my ‘Writing Tips’ series. This isn’t an idle promise, like the Christmas Eve love story which took a fatal tumble at the editing stage (hangs head in shame); this time the post is already written, edited and ready to go.