So I just turned in the second draft of THE STEAM-MOLE, and although it only grew by 1000 words and my editor called it ‘tremendous’ ( 🙂 Note for Amanda on the mysteries of traditional publishing. That is probably why us insecure authors still cling to traditional publishers. Sometimes the editor pats us on the ego. It’s nearly as good as readers putting down money for it. No, as you all should know, I am not saying it is the only way to go. I’m delighted to have a trickle coming in as an independent too. I want to increase that to at least a rivulet :-))
It did bring back to me the value of a good structural editor. Lou Anders – to give credit where credit is due, is good at the arcane art of seeing something is wrong, and, what is rarer, coming up with non-prescriptive ways for you to fix that. Please understand the difference here between a line edit (which essentially keeps your story as is, but fixes your grammar, and may go as far as your word choice, or that incredibly valuable ‘WHUT?’ (which a structural editor will resort to too.)
Let me explain. ‘Whut?’ is one of those vital functions which comes naturally to some editors. This means (and is often put more tactfully) ‘I am confused’. From the author it usually provokes “Ah. IQ smaller than shoe size” usually expressed in a less polite and pithy way, sometimes with rage. I’m always a little disappointed in authors who think ‘f*ck’ is adequate. The average boot camp corporal can do better than that. You need to try harder*. Despite this inevitable reaction (and trust me, every author that ever had an editor thought this. You are unique, just like everyone else!) it’s one of the best things an editor can do for you. Your job as a writer is to communicate. And your editor may be saying ‘I don’t get it’, or may be saying some/all of your readers won’t. So by all means curse the written evidence that the intellect of publishing has been taken over by prions, thereby moving it up the IQ scale (now that’s original. And far nastier than f*%ing idiot.) but fix it. It needs fixing. Because there are a lot of luke-warm brains out there. Why there are even people stupid enough to think turgid and impenetrable prose takes intelligence and skill to write!
Anyway, to return to the subject of structural edits. Here are some of the good things I’ve learned from such. 1)If possible keep events -especially in separate character threads chronologically linear. In other words, if husband is in POW camp, and wife is having an affair with the only man who can break him out and one thread is hubby and you are alternating between the two… Don’t jump back in time in the one thread. I cannot tell you how often I have seen this, and it’s serious ‘whut?’ 2) For heavens sake don’t abandon threads and then pick them up much later. Find ways to keep them in the story. This, (my dear Maureen) is why fiction is SO much harder than non-fiction. It has to do things real life doesn’t. So wifey, having the affair and doing nothing much interesting for 3 years, while hubby works on a tunnel, escapes, is caught and falls in love with Gestapo female impersonator, before being sent to stalag lufthansa, where he learns to be a forger and builds a flying machine… doesn’t work. Wifey will have to be a busy little bee too if the thread with her is a major one.
3)never explain things mid action. Don’t do this. Just DON’T. If need be put in whole chapters and or scenes earlier or later. But don’t stop half way through strangling the Gestapo cross-dresser to explain what lederhosen are. Or to tell us about the pilot’s unhappy childhood. 4)really, you need the scene setting happening in an active scene. Don’t have your action related or dumped in the first scenes, because you’re busy telling us the story from wifey’s POV. No exposition (unless you are talking about x-position, and the exposure). We need to see the plane shot down.
5) Really there is such a thing as orchestration in writing too. Only an editor who can stand outside the story can tell you which bits are too fast or too slow… and if you need to move them around (Eric swapped a few chapters – all happening at the same time with different character threads – and made the entire book work. Now THAT is editing.
Line edits are great. But structural edit… that adds a lot.
So let’s have a few choice insults
* from the UK Telegraph a few writerly insults to sharpen you up.
“That’s not writing, it’s typing”
Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac
“Literary awards are like haemorrhoids. Sooner or later, every —-hole gets one”
“He chews more than he bites off”
Clover Adams on Henry James
“So boring, you fall asleep halfway through her name”
Alan Bennett on Arianna Stassinopoulos (now Huffington)