In The Edit: Ane Mulligan

I’m on vacation this week and re-running a couple of my favorite posts. Today Southern Fried Fiction author Ane Mulligan visits In The Edit. Enjoy!



In these posts, with the author’s permission, I look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece. The idea is to catch a glimpse into not only the editing process, but the relationship between editor and author.

Ane Mulligan

Ane Mulligan

I’ve known Ane Mulligan, the author of Southern Fried Fiction, since 2004 when we both attended our first American Christian Fiction Writers conference. I had arrived a day early and was bored. We met when I followed the sound of her laughter to where she was volunteering. Yes, she roped me into volunteering as well. We’ve been friends since.

She is now the humor columnist for the ACFW Journal (The Nutty Novelist) and I have the pleasure of editing her columns each issue. Today’s post looks at her first ACFW Journal contribution, “A 12-Step Program for Writers.”

Ane’s edit

My prime directive as an editor is: “First, do no harm.” That means whenever possible, allow the writer his or her voice. But it is also my job to make the writer look good, to enhance the reader’s experience, and to fix errors.

In Ane’s column (see the unedited version), my main objectives were to:

  • Increase the connection to her main theme of writing as an addiction
  • Smooth out some areas by providing transition language
  • Since the ACFW Journal is primarily a teaching magazine, provide a clear break between the humor and reader application

Enhance theme

I took the approach that the column was an introduction Ane would give if she were at her proposed recovery program. So I changed the intro slightly to reflect that. Then, in the fourth paragraph, I added some language that seemed both funnier and more in line with the addiction theme.

In the fourth through sixth paragraphs, I wanted just a touch of desperation as Ane recounted how her addiction worsened. Up to this point, it’s all told in Ane’s first person voice. In the eighth paragraph, I enhanced her natural turn toward reader application. And in the 12 steps themselves, shifted completely to a “you,” or instructional, focus.

See the track changes version.

See the final version.

Ane, thanks for letting me use you as an example!

If you would like to see your writing in a future In The Edit post, send a maximum of 350 words to opusmle (at) gmail (dot) com. Please send in Word format (.doc). If I use it, you are eligible for a 25 percent discount on any editing services.


Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Ruth Logan Herne

In these posts, with the author’s permission, I look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece.

Ruth Logan Herne
Love Inspired author

Ruth Logan Herne and I go way back. I won’t say how far because she might kill me. You think I jest? Well, maybe so, but let’s just say I’m not willing to take that chance.

Ruthy is the author of a slew of Love Inspired titles, such as Yuletide Hearts, Mended Hearts, and Small-Town Hearts. She is also the doyenne of The Seekers and Ms. Bossy-Pants on the popular blog, Seekerville.

The sample she provided for this post is from an unpublished contemporary manuscript tentatively titled Call Of The Old Guard and seems to toy with a rural area still bound by legends of days when wolf/humans ruled viciously. Interesting!

Ruthy’s edit

Read Ruthy’s original.

I’m not a fan of prologues. Too often they feel self-indulgent. The author wants to set the stage for the reader, but not give too much away. I say, just bring me the story. So I would elect to cut this entirely. I understand not everyone feels the same.

That said, this prologue does have a nice feel. If Ruth elects to keep it, I’ve provided some suggestions to strengthen it.

In addition, I found three main places of attack:

  • Extra words
  • Unnecessary, or untimely, information that slows the narrative
  • A few changes to heighten the tension

Read my edit in track changes.

Ferociously self-edit

Some changes are simple.

  1. Mental protests rose within, but Gideon had been a cop a long time. Mental protests are not going to arise from anywhere but within.
  2. Wary, She hesitated. Wary and hesitated are redundant in this context.
  3. Incredulity deepened her voice. Her arched brow said she wasn’t buying it his declaration. These two sentences said much the same thing and we know what she’s not buying because of context, so no need for “his declaration”.

Don’t slow things down

In the middle of the sample, Gideon has the woman seated—but she’s on the edge of the chair, clearly not yet trusting him. And then instead of moving the characters forward, there’s a paragraph of backstory. If that information is important, bring it back in as part of the questioning, not in an info dump.

Later in the same scene, there is unnecessary (or misplaced) information, some of it with the potential to offend readers, i.e., the lines about “tree-huggers.” I realize this is a characterization line for Gideon, but I suggest staying with Gideon and the interrogation and bring in his character in other ways.

Gimme that old-time tension

In the opening graf of Chapter 1, it felt too early for the “Her eyes beseeched him…” line. Instead, I moved that line down and tied it to Gideon’s examination of the woman. In the process, we get a better look at the character of Gideon and his empathy.

I like the repeat then of “Wolf’s eyes,” but separating those one- or two-word sentences into four separate lines felt like overkill, especially since we’re in Gideon’s point of view. But I also thought it too early to resolve the issue with that declarative “No” at the end of the series, so I added a hint of doubt.

I loved the way Ruth turned the tables on Gideon (and our expectations) with the woman’s indignation near the end. But in places, the turn seemed overdone. I modified that by keeping the stronger sentences.

Then, by giving the woman a bit more of an even playing field in the interrogation, the stage is better set for the future. One way of doing that is to have her use the accusation from Gideon (of having a Wiccan cape) as a way to turn the power a bit in her favor.

Ruth already is headed this direction by having her lean in closer for the first part of her line. But if we then have her lean back into the chair–no longer nervously sitting on the edge–it completely tips the power to her for her line, “But weave the story as you choose.” She is not going to participate in Gideon’s delusion.

Read my edited version in clean form.


Ruthy, thanks for coming Into The Edit with me! I like the possibilities in this story and would love to read more.


If you would like to see your writing in a future In The Edit post, send a maximum of 350 words to opusmle (at) gmail (dot) com. Please send in Word format (.doc). If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a 25-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.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Mary Connealy

In these posts, with the author’s permission, I look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece.

Mary Connealy, author of
In Too Deep

Oh my! Are you in for a surprise.

Today Mary Connealy is In The Edit. You know Mary “Romantic comedies with cowboys” Connealy. Her latest book, In Too Deep, takes place in Colorado in 1866 and involves a marriage of convenience. Isn’t that sweet? That Mary, she’s a sweet gal. I’ve known—and read—Mary for a long time, but I’ve never read anything she’s done like today’s sample.

And you know what? It’s good! Not sweet, no. As a sample, it’s twice as long as I asked for. As a read, it’s far too short.

Mary’s edit

Read Mary’s original.

Mary’s sample arrested my attention. After reading through it several times, I found these main things I would address as an editor:

  • As always, extra words/repetitions
  • Ways to heighten the tension
  • Subtle hints that things aren’t as they appear—to the reader or to this character.

Read my edit in track changes.

Joy in repetition

Writers—and I’m talking to myself as well—get so enthralled with what we’re writing. We often latch on to a particular phrase because it sounds so cool, but then we fail to let go of that phrase.

In Mary’s sample there is lots of thunder and lightning that is important to the set-up. So the challenge becomes saying the same thing, but in new ways. There were too many times when “lightning lit up the sky” or “thunder streaked across the sky.”

I also thought there were opportunities to make the setting a malevolent character in this piece. So you’ll see in the edit some tweaking from me to address those issues.

In the first couple grafs there are places where extra words slow the reader just when you don’t want that to happen:

  • Thunder streaked across the sky growing in speed like an incoming missile.
  • The thunder exploded again, tearing a A scream tore from her throat.

In the first bullet point, “growing in speed” seemed redundant to both “thunder streaked” and “like an incoming missile” so I cut it. The result is a faster, leaner sentence that gives a strong word picture.

In the second bullet, I took two short sentences, which normally picks up the pace, and instead used them to give the storm a sinister personality. Rather than the ambiguous “a scream tore from her throat” we now have the thunder tearing that scream from her—and we don’t mention the throat (where else would a scream come from?) because less specific at this point is more frightening.

Delicious tension

Those who aren’t members of the Big Honkin’ Chicken Club love tension. We love the adrenaline rush of the unknown.

In paragraph seven, there’s an opportunity to amp it up. Mary’s original started this graf with more pain description I thought belonged better with the graf before it. With that move done, we’re free to increase the threat to this character.

To do that, I suggest once again using the setting as a malevolent, active force. Since Mary had already used “the thunder streaked,” I changed that to “rumbled.” Then I set off with em dashes the phrase “built force” (more immediate and active than “building force”) and included the concept of the thunder as a predator in that sentence thereby tying it to “the thunder” as a character rather than using it as narrative.

Those aren’t tears?

Mary did a great job of hiding the true nature of this character’s tears. But once I got to the end and realized what she’d done, I saw more opportunities for this kind of misdirection.

The main suggestion I have is to hide it even better. I think Mary includes a few too many hints that things aren’t as they appear. Providing enough hints without giving it away is a fine line to walk. What you have to be careful of is spoiling the big reveal.

In my edit I highlighted in yellow all the times tears were mentioned or alluded to. Made me think of my Shakespeare: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” (Hamlet) The more Mary mentioned tears the more I started to think “those aren’t tears.” You want to be subtle so that when the truth is revealed the reader is surprised, realizing the truth at the same time the character does. So I eliminated a couple of them to mitigate the problem.

Read my edited version, clean.

If you like this style of writing from Mary, you may be interested to know that she writes suspense under the pen name Mary Nealy. I did not know this. Last year she released Ten Plagues, from Barbour Books. Find it here. I know I will.

Mary, thanks for coming Into The Edit with me!


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 25-percent discount on any editing services (link).

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.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Jim Hamlett

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.


Jim Hamlett,
author of Moe

This week we get a first glimpse at Jim Hamlett’s follow up to his novel, Moe. Moe was a finalist in the 2011 Operation First Novel contest, which is run by the Christian Writers Guild.

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).

Jim’s edit

Read Jim’s original.

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.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Terrie Todd

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.

Terrie Todd

This week’s In The Edit is a little different. For one thing, Terrie Todd submitted a piece I hadn’t seen before. Exciting!

Previous posts in this series (Ane Mulligan, Larry Timm, Linda Rohrbough) featured writers who submitted articles I’d already edited for the American Christian Fiction Writers magazine ACFW Journal.

But this week I’m also going to include some comments from Terrie on the edit job I did of her piece. Not because she said really nice things—though she did—but because her comments illustrate some key points about the editor/writer relationship. Another note: Because I asked for a short submission, Terrie reworked a longer blog post of her own to fit my request. There’s a link at the end of my post to her full article.

I first came to know Terrie through The Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel Contest, where her manuscript, The Silver Suitcase, semi-finaled in 2010 (that’s Top 10) and finaled (that’s Top 5) in 2011. That’s a pretty good upward progression.

Terrie’s edit

View Terrie’s original.

Terrie has an engaging sense of humor. While this piece is not a laugh riot, it does have her trademark “snicker-out-of-the-side-of-your-mouth” feel. You get that from the beginning. So one goal, obviously, was to keep that intact—and even enhance it, if possible.

Secondly—and this is a goal of any piece an editor works on—reduce the excess verbiage. I wanted to do this, one, because it’s a good thing to do and, two, to bring a little more focus to the piece.

Finally—and this is where Terrie will comment—I felt like something was missing in the piece that, to me, was so obvious I was surprised she hadn’t included it. More on that later.

View my track changes edit of Terrie’s article..

Funny girl

Before Terrie starts singing, “Don’t tell me not to live (write), just sit and putter. Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter,” I’m not talking about the Barbra Streisand movie from (gasp!) 1968. In person, and in writing, Terrie is a hoot.

Take a look at the opening. She is right there in her voice’s sweet spot, but then lets the gag go. We can’t have that. She went from Terrie to some Mary Poppins-ey voice and a “delightful education.”

If you start a gag, finish it. That’s why I added, “So, I’m still cooking, but I’m also learning…” to better segue from the quirky opening to the life lesson that follows.

Trim, trim, trim

Note the unnecessary details in that opening graf. We don’t need to know it’s a venetian blind or that it’s between Terrie and the nest—where else would a window blind be?

In paragraphs three and four, there’s a lot to trim. Some principles:

  • Don’t hedge: Even then, it would be shaped all wrong and probably fall apart in the first wind. When you hedge, you actually weaken your comparison point.
  • Me, me, me: In writing personal opinion pieces, there’s no need to write “I believe” or “in my opinion.” Anything not attributed to someone else is assumed (though one does hate to assume) to come from the author.
  • Echo, echo: The point about being hard-wired to do something is great, but I thought it was stronger to save the phrase for the human.
  • Vive la différences!: Terrie’s original said “the difference between robins and humans,” but the list of differences between the two species is long, so a rephrase kept the idea without ruffling Terrie’s feathers.

Audience considerations

As I said earlier, I know Terrie a little. We hang out in the same cyber-writer places. Because of this, I made an assumption about the audience of this piece that I shouldn’t have. I assumed the audience was Christian, when—well, let’s have Terrie tell it:

I like all your edits. I realize we didn’t discuss target market. Adding in the Job reference is okay if this is a devotional. Since it’s for my column in a mainstream newspaper, I think it’s a) too much “religious stuff” – many readers wouldn’t know about Job; and b) creating a whole new metaphor that seems to come out of left field. I’d rather end with a reference to the robins.

When I edit, I normally talk about audience with the writer before I start—it’s a critical consideration. But I didn’t this time. As a result, I made an addition to the piece that seemed a natural enhancement—and in the right situation, would be—but actually worked against the author’s intent.

What I love about this example is that not only do I get to use it to remind editors and writers to talk together about audience, but I also get to illustrate a vital part of my editing style.

Regardless of how well I know an author, I never make substantial changes without running them past the author. I hold my Prime Directive—first, do no harm—in mind. Because that’s true, even though just for my blog, I ran my edit by Terrie. And I’m glad I did. Given the market/audience, and her heart, her idea for the ending is the best.

See my edited version of Terrie’s article.

Finally, check out Terrie’s full post at her blog, Out Of My Mind.

Terrie, thanks for coming Into The Edit with me!



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.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Linda Rohrbough

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.

Linda Rohrbough

This is probably breaking a point or two of some unpublished Editor’s Creed, but today’s volunteer for In The Edit (Linda Rohrbough) is a good friend, so I will just swallow hard, bite the inside of my cheek, and admit it: Editor’s don’t always communicate perfectly.

Pardon me, but I need a moment to catch my breath.

You’ll notice when you look at the various versions of Linda’s “Market News” article that I wholesale cut out a huge chunk at the end. This is not because Linda wrote it poorly or that the information was not of value. This is because (The inside of my cheek is already bleeding, so why not? Chomp!) I failed to let her know that the word count for the article had changed.

See Linda’s original article

Linda’s edit

Linda is a tight writer. She knows well the less = more economy of words. My main focus when editing this piece was:

  • Tightening: There are almost always words to remove, whether because of redundancy or because they aren’t needed.
  • Style: For the ACFW Journal we default to AP style.
  • Tone: Linda’s column is one that is read by all levels of ACFW membership so we strive for a professional tone, while still encouraging Linda’s voice.

See my edit of Linda’s article with Track Changes

Tightening

Remember, Linda already writes tight. But, in the second paragraph I was able to reduce the word count by seven words (60 to 53) and eliminate some passivity (Bowker manages and publishes rather than Bowker is known for managing and publishing).

In the next graf, I was able to do even better! (Yes, editors often pat themselves on the back for reducing words. Live with it.) Eliminating “I spoke with” as unnecessary—Linda wrote the piece, we know who spoke with Colleen Coble—and taking out where they spoke (not pertinent to the point) accomplished most of the reduction from 65 to 43 words.

Style

AP style is among the most fluid. I refer to the Associated Press Stylebook so often, that I’ve subscribed to the e-version. Because I’m always looking, I know that AP approves of email (no hyphen) but not ebook. So, where Linda used ebook I changed it to e-book and changed internet to Internet.

Tone

One of the things I love about Linda’s writing is the accessibility of her word choices and her conversational tone. When editing the “Market News” column, however, I keep the audience (professional writers and editors, or those aspiring to professional status) in mind and tend to tone down some of that.

You can see this in my edits of her subheads, but also, as an example, in paragraph 4, where I took out some hedging and redundancies, i.e., would a publisher attempt to shore up a bottom line if it wasn’t sagging?

See Linda’s article as edited

Linda, thanks for letting me use you as an example!

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 passive vs. active writing, so be sure to visit. Then on Saturday, drop by for a quick writer’s quote and to share what that quote means to you.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Larry Timm

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.

Larry Timm

This week’s edit comes to you courtesy of Larry Timm. Larry is fairly new to writing, but certainly not to communicating. He’s been a pastor for many years and, in addition to his pastoring duties, is now turning his hand to fiction.

Larry contributed this piece to the April issue of ACFW Journal for our “This Writer’s Journey” feature. I could not have been more pleased with it. It perfectly set the tone for that feature.

Today we’ll look at the just the first 350 words or so of his 900+ piece. If you want to read the rest of it, download the sample issue of ACFW Journal.

Larry’s edit

Some issues I addressed with this piece were:

  • Unnecessary details
  • Slight rearrangements to add to the emotion/humor
  • Upping the angst caused by hitting Send

See Larry’s unedited article.

See Larry’s article with track changes.

There’s a fine line between adding enough details that the reader can visualize the scene and adding so many details that they distract from the experience. In Larry’s piece, for instance, did the reader need to know in the lead graf that Larry raised his “left index finger” and his “quivering right hand”?

I didn’t think so. For me, it was enough to know that it was his finger and his quivering hand. The quivering was important, because it added to the tone and the emotional buy-in.

Tie in the reader

One thing Larry did well in this piece was engage his reader. There were a few places I thought he could do this better through some pacing shifts and some language enhancements.

In paragraphs 2-4, he had the right stuff, but some judicious editing gave it a bit more oomph.

In the third graf, I thought it would be good to stress the instantaneous nature of sending a proposal through email. So, bookended with em-dashes, I added, “is probably already there.” These four words plant in the reader’s mind the fear Larry was feeling. What’s done is done and can’t be undone.

Then I added a quick reminder of the need for extra oxygen. “A couple more quick breaths” reminds the reader that Larry’s breathing heavily—hyperventilating, even.

More angst, please

Before Larry moves into his daydream about being arrested by the FBI for impersonating a writer, I created some room—and a subhead—to allow those paragraphs to have more impact.

And I made the language more consistent with the FBI—which likely wouldn’t use sledgehammers to break into his home.

I don’t want Larry merely imagining and visualizing these things, I want him seeing them and living them in his overactive writer’s imagination. So I made changes in paragraph six to reflect that.

One last thing: I loved Larry’s joke line, delivered by his wife on Oprah’s TV show, “No, they won’t let him write.” Hilarious! But I felt he gave away the impact with his “nudge, wink” line that followed, “Oooooof course not.” In humor, it’s best not to explain the joke, and always avoid what I call over-spelling.

See Larry’s article clean and edited.

Larry, thanks for joining me In The Edit today.

Would you like to see your writing in a future In The Edit? Submit a short writing sample as a Word document. If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a 10-percent discount on any editing services.

See you Thursday for a new self-editing tip: Making the best word choice.


Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line.