Editors Editing: E. A. Comiskey

by Gurpreet Sihat

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 At the start of the year I approached a group of writers and asked them each to edit the opening chapter of an unpublished, first draft Young Adult novel.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 1: E. A. Comiskey

Opening Thoughts: It’s always a little scary to offer to look at another writer’s work. For one thing, you never quite know what you’re getting in to. For another, writing is art and art is subjective. As for my first worry, in this case it was unfounded. This piece was charming and engaging. By the end of it I was very fond of Amelia and her mother and beginning to feel like I knew them. If the book was in my hands, I would absolutely keep reading to find out what comes next. As for the second – please keep that in mind. I’ve made some suggestions below, but they’re just that. Suggestions. This is your writing and it should have your unique voice, not mine. I hope that what I’ve offered if helpful, but in the end, you need to take what works for you and use it to fulfill your own personal artistic vision. That said, here are my thoughts…

» – – – «

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.

There is a lot of great imagery here, and I love that you started in a place of fast, hard-hitting action. However, the first sentence is quite long and presents SO much powerful imagery that I had to go back and read it more than once… probably not what you want as a “hook.” There is a time and place for long sentences but, in my opinion, the first paragraph isn’t it. You want to be quick and impactful in this space. I’d suggest keeping the spirit of what you have, but breaking it up a bit. Something like:

Mum’s long black nails dug into the crumpled paper like the talons of a bird of prey. She slammed the letter onto the table in front of me.

“Read it,” she demanded.

No talking your way out of this now, kid. I swallowed the lump in my throat and picked up the letter, glanced at it with a raised eyebrow.

Beware of telling your readers how your characters feel or what their motivations are. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but weave those details into their actions as often as possible.

For example: Attempting to look as nonchalant as possible… as though it was the most tiresome task I could have been given.

When I made the suggestion, above, you’ll see that I gave her a bit of internal dialogue so the reader knows that, inside, she’s freaking out. Then I kept her nonchalant actions (the perfunctory glance and raised eyebrow) as a contrast so it’s plain that she’s trying to play it cool, even though she clearly knows she’s in trouble.

» – – – «

I tossed the sheet of paper back on the table and looked Mum in the eyes. “Bit of a pointless exercise that, wasn’t it?”

I love this line! THIS is great showing. I can see it. I can hear it. I can FEEL the snark dripping off her words.

» – – – «

Mum’s eyes opened wide. She’d never looked so lethal in all the years I had been born – or at least, not that I could recall. A vein had even appeared in her forehead, pounding so fast that it looked as if it were threatening to burst.

Flow is vital! In order to keep your reader’s eyes constantly moving forward to the next thing, never use more words than you absolutely need. You could cut some “telling” and some implied information from this paragraph and end up with something like this:

Mum’s eyes widened. The vein on her forehead throbbed as if threatening to burst. In all my life, she’d never looked so lethal.

» – – – «

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.

The first part of this is perfection. I see her defeat in every line of her crumpled posture. I’d suggest cutting the second line altogether. You’ve already shown that she’s defeated. I love the third sentence. Her sad eyes give her a hint of realism… as a parent I can completely relate to her vacillation between fury and defeat.

However, I would suggest tightening that last sentence. Something like: “She gazed at me with eyes red from crying.”

» – – – «

“What have I done?” she asked, looking up at me.


“I must have done something, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened,” she explained, sitting up straight. “The first time was about your father, I know that,” again, I winced. “The second was because of plagiarism -”

“I did not plagiarize!” I yelled.

“You still got kicked out for it,” Mum yelled right back. “So this time… this time it must have been my fault, right? I’m due the blame for something.”

I liked this bit a lot. It gives me a lot of information about the history of what’s going on and it flows naturally and feels so believable from both of them. I especially love that she’s back to yelling at the end. You’re doing a great job of depicting a mom at the end of her rope!

» – – – «

It hurt that Mum thought she could ever be to blame for anything I did.

Don’t tell me it hurts. Make me feel it.

“My gut twisted. How could Mum think she’s to blame for my actions?”


“Cutting bands squeezed my heart. It wasn’t her fault!”

» – – – «

But before I could say it this time, my phone rang and the sounds of Britney Spears’ Work Bitch filled the air.

Haha! I love the absurd ringtone cutting the tension of the moment.

» – – – «

Mum snapped straight back into angry mother mode. She snatched the mobile straight from my hands as I took it out of my pocket.

“Oh surprise, surprise,” she said, looking at the caller ID. Shooting me a quick look, she answered the phone. “Devon, this is Mrs. Conway. Yes, Amy’s mum. I suggest you stop wasting your credit calling this number – it’s being disconnected.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and, by the sound of it, neither could Devon. “Yes, way! Amy’s leaving London. She won’t be speaking to you again. Goodbye.”

Cut the first sentence of this. She never left angry mother mode. Mum is hanging on by a thread. The rest of this paragraph paints a glorious picture of a woman that is completely, totally fed up and taking zero additional crap.

» – – – «

My eyes opened wide. I couldn’t possibly have heard her right. Disconnected phone? Leaving London? She couldn’t be serious.

“I am 100% serious,” she said, reading my mind.

Haha! My teenager calls this “Mom psychic.” Freaks her out when I do it.

Be careful of repetition—Mum’s eyes “opened wide” just a few paragraphs earlier.

» – – – «

“I can’t do this anymore, Amelia. You’ve been spoilt by this London lifestyle,” she shook her head, not even looking at me.

Great job showing emotion, here!

» – – – «

Mum shook her head. “No, not boarding school,” she said. “You’ve left me no choice, Amelia. I can’t deal with this anymore. I can’t cope. The only choice I have left is to send you to your grandmother. She’ll snap whatever this is right out of you.”

Nothing wrong with what you’ve got here. I just thought I’d mention that this comes across as Mum making it all about her. “I can’t deal. I can’t cope. The only choice I have…” That’s a lot of “I.” Earlier, she seemed super concerned about Amelia, so I don’t think she’s the selfish parenting type. Maybe you could change “I can’t cope,” to “I don’t know how to help you.” Not sure… just sharing my thoughts for you to consider.

» – – – «

She was out of her mind, surely.

Again – not a thing wrong with this so if you love it, by all means, keep it. But perhaps you’d increase the power of it if you changed it to italics to indicate internal dialogue and show us her thought: She’s lost her damn mind!

» – – – «

Oh my God, I thought to myself. She’s thought this through. She’s put a lot of thought into this; into what she’ll actually need to do to ship me off to the middle of nowhere.

I love this! The moment Amelia realizes Mum’s not playing games!

My only suggestion would be to tighten it up – you say she’s thought it through and then you say she’s put a lot of thought into it. You don’t need both of those statements.

» – – – «

“So you’re washing your hands off me,” I said, tears of anger suddenly filling my eyes. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.

“You’ve left me no choice.”

Nice emotion here! And very realistic dialogue.

» – – – «

“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.”

I laughed out loud at this. Dial up! The struggle is real!

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