While reading an article on the subject, I realised that I hadn't ever given much thought as to why writers ought to try a few different editors before sticking to the one that was right for them. The editor I have has been with me since I first started writing novels. For me, she is perfect but her style of editing is extremely difficult to the editor I run blogposts through, who, in turn, edits in a completely different way than I do. I decided to run a small experiment. At the start of the year I approached a group of writers and asked them each to edit the opening chapter of an unpublished, first draft Young Adult novel. Although they all had the exact same extract, they each had their own different methods of editing and picked up on different things. To show you, I decided to publish their critiques as monthly blog posts.
To view the extract the editors are working from, click here.
Editor 3: Angela Bergmann
Opening Thoughts: It’s difficult to edit a novel without knowing the back story and talking to the author. And yet, since I’m reading it as any reader who would buy a book just like this from a bookstore, maybe that’s a good thing! Nevertheless, let me assure you that despite the very harsh, black and white way my words appear on this paper, I like to think I’m a kind person who would never intentionally hurt another person - or writer’s - feelings. As much as I’d love to get the whole story in my hands, I’ve been handed only the first chapter, so without further ado, here are my initial thoughts.
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The first sentence can tell us a lot about a story. It should grab our attentions and give us at least two important details that make us want to read on.
This first sentence is too long. It would be better if you took “Mum’s long back nails digging dangerously into it like a bird of prey’s talons,” out and put into the second sentence.
What does the first sentence tell us? We know there’s a letter, Mum is angry, and her child, the main character told in first person POV, is thinking s/he’s in big trouble.
The third paragraph is a little run on as well. I’d like to hear more about how nonchalant Amelia is trying to portray herself. Show, don’t tell. Give me more than the one raised eyebrow. I bet she’s rolling her eyes.
Questions that arise:
- Who is the main character? Is he/she typically in trouble?
- Where is the letter from and what is it about?
- What about this Mum - does she have long black hair to match her nails? Is she into goth? Is the main character?
- I’d like to find out most of these answers - or least get a hint at their answers - within the first page.
- I’d also like to get an idea of what time of the year this is. It sounds like it’s relatively early in the school year, but I’m unsure.
Let’s keep going.
Very quickly, we find out that our main character is Amelia Conway and she goes to Eastford High School. She’s been expelled, but why? As I read the rest of the chapter, I’m not given much hope of ever finding out why. Please give me a hint! And why did the principal take so much time to consider expelling this girl? There is a history here; this is clearly not a one time mistake.
I’m intrigued by the mother. She begins the scene angry and lethal.
Then suddenly she’s collapsing and defeated. She’s clearly been crying.
Then she asks the most needy question a parent could ask a child. “Why have I done?” Is she emotionally unstable?
She’s meek, then she’s yelling again. I’m very confused by the mother.
As I read further on, it sounds like Amelia and her mom have had a fairly good relationship thus far. “She was the only one that ever seemed to be on my side. I just wish I could have said it more often.” What exactly would she like to say to her mom?
Amelia has a boyfriend and that’s what I’d typically think of a teenager who’s just been expelled. Devon seems like a name of such a sweet boy. Does Amelia really have a sweet, well mannered boyfriend who doesn’t get angry when Amelia’s mom explains to him that Amelia’s phone will be disconnected and she’s moving? I’d like to see more fight from Devon.
And suddenly we find out that Amelia’s Mum has in fact made arrangements, presumably with her own mother (Nana Phyllis). She appeared to be so discombobulated initially but was it all a ruse? Seriously, what is going on with Amelia’s Mum?!
In the next scene, we suddenly have a pulled together Mrs. Conway. She is cool as a cucumber. What happened to make her so confident? As a mother, I would have been questioning my decision to send her away to my mother. I wouldn’t be calmly cutting her off of social media. Personally, my daughter would have been taken off social media at the first hint there was trouble at school.
I’m also curious to know how much time has passed between these two scenes. Was it the same day? The same weekend? It almost sounds like it’s a couple days later (“Not long after I was told I was moving, I had tried to access my iPhone messages…”) I’m looking for the believability factor in the second scene. Why hadn’t Amelia run off to her boyfriend’s house if she’s such a little rebel?
Finally, a little nit-picking:
There are several examples of a character talking, followed by, “she asked, looking up at me,” and “she explained, sitting up straight.” Take out the “asked” and “said” and skip straight to the verbs and adjust them to past tense. There are a few other examples of mixing tenses from current to past tense. Another example, “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…”
“Washing your hands off me” should be “of me”.
So to close, reading this first chapter makes me very curious. This is a good start. The author has set us up nicely in a clear direction of where Amelia is headed along with plenty of questions to fill in as we go along.
I think the author should take more time to develop Amelia’s Mum. Although it sounds like she doesn’t play a huge role in the book as a major character, her influence on her daughter is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. For now, Mrs. Conway is emotionally all over the place in the first scene.
Amelia is also a bit of a conundrum. Then again, she is a teenager. It would be interesting to see how the author chooses to develop this character throughout the story line.