In these posts, with the author’s permission, we look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece.
The second book is tentatively titled To Find A Life and not, Jim assures me, Mo’2Moe.
Jim has a great character in Moe, as you know if you’ve read the book. This is a character who could live on in book after book. You care about him—and not just because he’s a dwarf (of the medical kind, not the Tolkien kind).
In this short 350-word sample it’s hard to get a sense of where the story is going, but the opening interested me enough that I’d want to read more. In my edit, I addressed three issues:
- Repeated information
- Sentence construction, and
- Unnecessary details/Backstory
See my edit with Track Changes.
I get it, I get it
Sometimes writers worry the reader won’t get it—so they explain. There’s a little of that here. Since it occurs in the first graf, which you want to be a grabber, I trimmed it.
In the opening, Jim starts out great: A rumbling cannonade of thunder reached through Moses Mackenzie’s open window and snatched him from his dream. Great word picture! But then right after, he writes: With a jerk, Moe awoke. Really? Isn’t that what “snatched him from his dream” tells us, only with better words? Later at the end of the graf, Jim repeats the information that the window was open.
Best, which way is?
The construction of a sentence has much to do with a writer’s voice, so I tend to tread lightly here. But things do happen chronologically, unless you’re writing time travel. That’s why in the first graf I suggest rearranging the second sentence.
But sentence placement is often just as important, if not more so, than sentence construction. Your strongest sentences, as a guideline, should appear at either the beginning or the end of a paragraph. In Jim’s third paragraph, I thought the sentence “Few people understood how soothing a storm could be” was better used at the end of the graf than buried near the beginning. Why? Because it provides insight into who Moe is and I don’t want the reader to skip it.
Do I need to know that?
It’s a fine line. When do the details add to the story rather than distract? It’s fair to say this varies with the reader, but some things to bear in mind are the context, how obvious the information is, and whether it’s truly extraneous. Let’s look at one sentence to illustrate all three: Moe glanced at his bedside clock and read 4:07 in pale green digits.
- Context: The setting for this scene is Moe’s bedroom. Therefore, we can do away with saying his clock is “bedside.”
- Obviousness: If a character glances at a clock it’s a fair bet that character is going to read it.
- Extraneous: Knowing that the clock has pale green numbers rather than amber or blue adds nothing critical either to the story or the setting.
A word about backstory: Paragraph three seemed out of place as written. It fit with what was happening just fine, but it read like backstory—which, of course, you want to avoid early in a novel. So I reworked it to try and get it more into Moe’s POV.
See my edited version without Track Changes.
Jim, thanks for coming Into The Edit with me! (Learn about Moe.)
If you would like to see your writing in a future In The Edit post, send a maximum of 350 words to michael.ehret (at) inbox (dot) com. Please send in Word format (.doc). If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a 10-percent discount on any editing services.
On Thursday, we’ll look at another self-editing writing tip. See you then! Then on Saturday, drop by for a quick writer’s quote and to share what that quote means to you.
Really appreciate this, Michael and Jim. Moe interests me, and I find the edited page easier to visualize. Very helpful post.
I’m so glad, Mary Kay! It always helps me to see an editor’s changes AND to hear the reason why. I’m glad it helps you, too.
Clean, sharp edits, Michael. Makes me wish I’d gone over the excerpt I submitted to you one more time. 🙂
No worries. I have my pink pen at the ready.
Great points. When I’m writing, I often find myself moving the last sentence in a paragraph to the top. When I do, it helps me eliminate the over-explaining and fumbling that happens when I’m working to get my original thoughts on paper. I noticed that you did a lot less editing toward the end of Jim’s paragraphs. Look what happens in paragraph 2 if you start with “Rain swept through the trees…” Just a thought. Thanks, Jim and Michael!
Hmmm…will definitely take a look at that. That’s a good self-editing tip, Kimberley. Thanks!
Kimberley, I like that suggested change to graf 2! You have to adjust a few other things, but nothing huge. But I will note doing so, for me, is another nibble into Jim’s voice. Not saying I don’t think it would be worth it, but just pointing that out.
Thanks, Michael, for the great input. Some writers would open an edit like that and be tempted to quit or pull the ol’ Louisville Slugger from the closet and smack the monitor into left field. Either response is wrong.
We’ve already chatted, but the for sake of the audience, I’ll repeat something: While I’d debate some of the edits (because the result sounds more like something you’d write rather than me), I’d accept the majority of them, either “as is” or in another way prompted by your suggestion.
The greatest benefit of a critique group (or editor) is the different perspective that’s brought to the writing. We grow as writers when we can “see” things from other points of view, and then synthesize them into new sentences that connect better with readers.
Thanks for letting me be “In The Frying Pan.” 🙂
And that brings up a great point, Jim. In most cases, the author always sees the edits and has the opportunity to approve them–or not. If the editor is adamant about a change, but the author is just as adamant not to make the change, then the editor might say “Fine, but here’s what I was addressing with that change. Give me something that addresses the same thing, but in a way you’re happy with.”
That’s a great back-and-forth between editor and author.
My hat’s off to Jim H for letting us look over his shoulder at the swirling mass of pink and blue “ink” on his opening. I notice that the edited, improved version lost 77 words, or 22% of the original. My mind is now jumping wildly, trying to guess whether my first edit will need even more pruning!
Intriguing first page, Jim. I would want to read more.
I’m enjoying the discussion, too.
Twenty-two percent is not an unusual amount to trim. I actually did less trimming on Jim’s sample than I would on another. Of course, each one is a different animal and each writer has his or her own voice the editor needs to protect. But because of voice considerations, I cut fewer words from Jim’s sample than I would normally.
And, as Jim said, he’d reject some of the changes I did make (his prerogative).
Glad you are enjoying the exercise. We do a different In The Edit each week on Tuesdays. I hope you’ll come back–and feel free to join in the discussion.
I liked the edits because I read fast and stumble at words that require too much “peripheral vision.” But you sold me on the book–I just ordered it. 🙂
Great! I hope you like it. My wife’s a fast reader as well. If she gets bogged down in too much text, no matter how good the book is, it gets put down. Most of the time.