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 At the start of the year I approached a group of writers and asked them each to edit the opening chapter of an unpublished, first draft Young Adult novel.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 4: Darya Danesh
This is a story I definitely can’t get enough of, and you’ve only given me the opening chapter! You have me reeling to find out what could have possibly happened at Eastford High to seal Amelia’s fate. Without giving too much away, you bring in a whole bunch of detail and backstory that I can’t wait to learn more about in the coming chapters. I’m absolutely hooked.
I adore the character you’ve created in Amelia. You have me absolutely in love with her. She is exactly the badass girl I always wished I was when I was a teenager, or at least the girl I wished was my best friend. She’s witty, sarcastic, and – despite what I can tell is an immense love for her mother – rebellious. She gives me My So-Called Life vibes, with Rhiannon’s attitude and a hint of Angela’s innocence. Her relationship with her Mum, as far as we can see, reminds me much of my own: she acts out more than a mother would like from their daughter. Mum thinks it’s a reflection of herself but what she doesn’t know is how much Amelia loves and respects her – she’s just trying to find her own way, and it’s not what Mum had expected from her (seemingly) only daughter.
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I really enjoy your writing style in this. It gives me the feeling that I am in Amelia’s head, reminds me of My Mad Fat Diary by Rae Earl.
My first overarching suggestion is for shorter sentences. I want a more contemporary, diary-like feel when I’m getting a teenage girl’s perspective and there are a few places where I feel the sentences run-on for a bit too long. Right from the beginning, I feel like shorter sentences could contribute to a more stimulating build-up. The following two examples, specifically.
As soon as the letter was slammed in front of me, Mum’s long black nails digging dangerously into it like a bird of prey’s talons, I knew I was in for it. And this time I didn’t think I was going to be able to talk my way out of it.
Attempting to look as nonchalant as possible, I picked up the letter and tried to look as though I was reading it, a single eyebrow raised as though it was the most tiresome task I could have been given.
I like the thought behind this but, again, I feel like the picture could be painted even more precisely.
Suggested rewrite:I picked up the letter and pretended to read it, a single eyebrow raised as a gesture of struggle, as thought it was the most tiresome task I could have been given.
Next is the language you use for the letter from the school. I’ve amended the language to be a bit more cohesive to what I believe a letter like this might look like. My amendments are underlined.
“Dear Mrs. Conway,” I read, knowing immediately what was coming. “This is to inform you that after much consideration I have decided to expel your daughter, Amelia Conway, from Eastford High School, effective immediately. Please contact me within the next ten days to arrange aconsultation with you and regional office staff to coordinatean appropriate alternative education setting… blah, blah, blah… If you believethat correct procedures have not been followed in this case or that an unfair decision has been made, you may petition the decisionin accordance with the Department of Education and Training’s procedures. You may wish to contact the regional office on… blah, blah, blah.”
There are a lot of instances where Amelia and her mom look at each other or make eyes at each other in some way or another. I love the use of these looks because I can absolutely envision the scene. I would love to see a bit more variety in the way you offer these images.
I tossed the sheet of paper back on the table and looked Mum deadin the eyes. “Bit of a pointless exercise that, wasn’t it?”– here I added the word “dead” to give it some more umph.
I watched as she collapsed onto one of the dining room chairs, her head in her hands. She looked as if she had been completely and utterly defeated. She looked up at me, her eyes red as if she had just spent the last few hours crying.
In this excerpt, I really like the image of Mum you’ve created. However, you’ve used“looked”twice in two sentences.
Suggested rewrite:I watched as she collapsed onto one of the dining room chairs, her head in her hands as though she was completely and utterly defeated. She looked up at me, and I noticed that her eyes were bloodshot, as if she had just spent the last few hours crying.
My eyes opened wide. I couldn’t possibly have heard her right. Disconnected phone? Leaving London? She couldn’t be serious.
I really really love the disbelief here. But I think it would be even more hard hitting if you switched it up just a bit.
Suggested rewrite:She couldn’t be serious. Disconnected phone? Leaving London? I couldn’t possibly have heard her right. My jaw dropped. But before I could muster up a sound…
“Not without Internet access you can’t.”
My eyes opened wide. “What?”
Again with the wide eyes! I would prefer to see something a bit more telling. Perhaps: I shot her a piercing look and nearly shouted,
Sending Amelia off to Nanis BRILLIANT. I really love this idea that she lives in a village in the middle of nowhere with little to no access to the outside world. A couple of ways I think you could make this even stronger.
Despite their decision to expel you, they’ve agreed to set up a program where you can finish your assignments from [wherever Nana lives] andsubmit via themail.”
Since we know that Amelia is a Londoner, I think it would be nice to know right away where she is being sent off to. For fellow Brits, it should bring a cringy thought, and for the rest of the world, we should be able to Google it and see that it’s in the middle of nowhere, near no mid- to large sized cities.
Now the end of the chapter is exactly what I had hoped for. It keeps me on the edge of my seat – definitely the kind of Three-AM-Just-One-More-Chapter feeling. But I want more from it. Let me demonstrate what I mean.
“Did I forget to mention that your grandmother doesn’t have Internet access?” she asked. “There’s a little Internet café with three or four computers you might like to try getting access to, but you have to pay to use their network and it’s all still dial up. Should be quite an experience for you.”
Here, Mum is implying that Amelia wonbe taking her laptop to Nanwith her. But since we know that she will be doing her schoolwork from there, this doesnmake sense. Ior where, but I need to know if this is true – perhaps Nan has an old desktop for her to work from, or perhaps there is a community library rather than an internet café?
She disconnected the Wi-Fi from my laptop so I wouldn’t be able to use it while I was still at home and smiled sweetly at me.
I like this, but now that Mum has made the decision to exile Amelia, and that she’s gone through the trouble of doing all she’s done to disconnect her. I want a bit of pushback/attitude from her.
Suggested rewrite:I looked back down at the screen as she disconnected the Wi-Fi. “Don’t bother trying to reconnect, I’ve changed the password” she said sweetly, with a devilish smile.
“You really ought to be packing now, Amelia. You’ll be going soon.”
Again, I need to see a bit of attitude from Mum here.
Suggested rewrite:“You really ought to be packing now, Amelia, darling. We’ll be leaving within the hour.”