In 2005, a newbie fiction writer (though well into a communications career as a corporate editor) wrote to the e-mail loop of American Christian Fiction Writers seeking a freelance editor to look at his manuscript, pat him on the back, and provide an immediate connection to the perfect editor for his perfect manuscript—the first step toward fame and fortune.
That writer was me and Janice Hanna Thompson was among the freelance editors to respond. After corresponding and agreeing on a price, I sent her my manuscript.She read it, liked it, said it was good, and proceeded to Track Changes me upside the head over and over and over again. I distinctly remember thinking, “I thought you said it was good.” Fortunately, I already had rhinoceros skin from my years as a newspaper reporter.
In the intervening years, I’ve grown to appreciate not only Janice’s writing and editing skills, but also her people skills that enabled her to both encourage and challenge me.
Now, as the editor of ACFW Journal, I had the pleasure of editing an article Janice queried and submitted on how to merge comedy and drama in a Christian novel. She has graciously allowed me to share the process of editing that article here.
I focused on three issues with this article:
- Extra words
- Word choices
- Judicious shortening, particularly in the sidebar
Don’t over make your point
Writers like to write in a series of points. We want to make sure the reader gets it. We need to be clear in communicating our knowledge. (See how I did that there? We love this!) But it can be overdone.
There’s a little of this here. See the first graf.
Janice, rightly, began her article by making a case for using humor to communicate about our angst-ridden lives. But I thought the lead was too heavy on that and preferred the specific instances, rather than the generic. The elimination of the one-word sentence Suffering. smoothed it out for me.
There were other instances in the second and sixth steps of the article, where I eliminated just one point in each (different lifestyles in the second and Pick up the pace in the sixth) to give the reader credit for understanding and move the article on.
Say what you mean
Using exact words turns your sentences from OK to great in a matter of moments. While one word may be technically correct, another choice can imbue your prose with clarity. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- Wondering if they should leave their marriages.
- Wondering if they should leave their spouses
Marriage is an institution, and an important one, but a spouse is a person. Using spouse gave it more emotional impact.
- There’s a certain cadence to repeating something three times for effect…
- There’s a natural cadence to repeating something three times for effect…
Using natural gives the sentence a different dimension. Certain was not wrong, but natural tells the reader more.
Make it fit
This can be the hardest thing for an editor. How can I shorten this piece without losing anything critical? Janice hit the word count I asked her for, but in laying out the magazine we determined we needed to put an ad on the same page.
Something had to go. But whatever left had to leave no discernible hole behind. In other words, Janice’s article still needed to make sense. What I did was pick the phrases (particularly in the sidebar) that offered unnecessary explanation or which, if eliminated, weren’t missed. Some examples:
- The cliché (a smile is a frown…).
- The explanatory note in point 3.
- Phrases in the sidebar.
Janice, thanks—for the advice and encouragement long ago and for letting me use your article on my blog.
By the way, I also offer freelance editing services. See my information.
Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line