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 At the start of the year I approached a group of writers and asked them each to edit the opening chapter of an unpublished, first draft Young Adult novel.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 2: Jodi Gallegos
Opening Thoughts: First, congratulations on having written a novel. What an exciting and fulfilling accomplishment (one that many people never see to completion). All feedback is given with the best of intentions, to help you put forth the very best book you can, which increases your chances of publication! Best of luck in your writing endeavors.
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Impressions/thoughts as I read:
In the opening paragraph there is quite a bit of filtering and passivity that removes the readers from the intensity of the action:
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.
Consider: “Mom slammed the letter in front of me. Her black-lacquered talons dug into the paper, pinning it in place.
I wasn’t talking my way out of it this time.”
I don’t think it’s necessary to have Amy read the letter out loud. The details of the letter aren’t as important as the information. Reading it slows the pace for your reader. You have a very short period of time in which to get your reader’s attention, it’s critical to determine what information can be deleted and what is a necessity. Mention that Amy reads the letter out loud, but don’t include that in the text. Consider something shorter, such as her saying, “I read it even though we both knew the punchline: I’d been expelled. Again.”
When Amy’s mother mentions it’s the third school she’s been expelled from—this is the first point I felt I knew something about Amelia, and was interested in her as a character.
The first chapter isn’t the best place for background information (ie-the previous two times Amy had been expelled and who she blamed). Again, you need to use your first pages to engage your readers. Grab them and hook them with the essentials before giving background information. At this point, I’m still not sure what the book is about, or where it’s heading, so how do I know if I want to stay on for this ride? You risk losing readers when you go back too soon. Keep the forward momentum going.
This chapter has a lot of dialogue. I’d like a better balance with sensory information to help anchor me into the world/setting, as well as helping tell the story. Can any of this information be conveyed to the reader without dialogue?
For example: Devon’s name glowed on the screen as Mum snatched the mobile from my hands.
She wrinkled her brow and pursed her lips tightly as she flipped the phone open. She didn’t bother holding it to her ear. “Devon, stop wasting your credit calling this number – it’s being disconnected and Amy’s leaving London
Too much dialogue doesn’t feel natural and is hard for readers to stay with. It’s a solitary focus. In order to engage readers you need to balance sensory input from several sources: auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, taste (when it applies). You don’t need all at once, but a balance of the senses helps to plant your reader firmly in the world and help them experience the action, not just be told what’s happening.
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Thoughts after reading:
As I mentioned earlier, as a reader, I’m not sure what this story is about, so it’s hard for me to determine if I’m interested in continuing. It isn’t that the writing is bad—it isn’t—I’m just not sure you’ve effectively presented your novel in the most attention-grabbing manner.
I wonder if you’ve started this novel in the most effective place. I’m intrigued at the thought of Amy being shipped off to a remote location—with little to no access to technology and some distant family member—and I’m inclined to think that is where your story might begin. I can imagine her on a train, thinking about the last fight with her mom, the fact that she’d been kicked out of school—again!—and what fate lies ahead.
I don’t know the genre of this novel, either way though it could use with some grounding by introducing the reader to the world. Build up the normal world, even if it’s simply a description of the scenery passing by through the window, or London disappearing on the horizon and her feelings/emotions. This will be especially important when she arrives at the new place, to set up the juxtaposition of her new and old worlds (which also helps with the emotional element of how she’ll be lost/lonely/sad in her new/strange location).
Review your work with brevity in mind. As I read I noticed a lot of areas that could be condensed for fluidity. As you read ask yourself how you can reduce the word count. I treat this round of revisions as a challenge between me and my first-draft self: “This is all good—brilliant, in fact—but I’ll bet I can make it smoother and shorter.” The more words I can cut, the higher my “score” (yes, I am oddly competitive—even with myself!).
Review for filtering words and passive phrasing/active avoidance. This is a thing I’m really working on right now as well. With filtering words (ie- saw, thought, knew, felt, watched…) you remove the reader from the action, thereby reducing their emotional reaction to it.
I watched the elephant sing vs The elephant sang
In the second example you can imagine, and even feel, what it’s like, first hand, when that elephant sings.
Passive neutrality (words such as started, am, was, had, begin, etc) is to start to do a thing, without actually doing it.
Sam started to herd the goats vs Sam herded the goats