How Do I Edit Thee? Let Me Count The Ways ...

Our mentor wishlist posts are supposed to have a lot of information, but I'm trying (no, really) to keep that post short. So I'm going to split off the "how do you edit" part and share that here.

Edith Wharton's house. What do you mean that has nothing to do with this post? Phef.

Edith Wharton's house. What do you mean that has nothing to do with this post? Phef.

By now you've probably read all the books I recommended previously, so let's add a few more to the list! These ones are more oriented towards the nuts-and-bolts, and are very useful:

  • Technique in Fiction by Robie Macauley and George Lanning (I have the 2nd edition)
  • A Short Story Writer's Companion by Tom Bailey

These are the ones I might turn to if my mentee needs help with, say, characterization or the use of time. In case you couldn't tell, I'm always eager to pass along recommended reading. 

For example, Technique has a chapter on characterization that explores the various methods writers use to bring their characters to breathing, sweating, bleeding life. Novelists can present an introductory portrait of a character as soon as he steps on the stage, or they can intersperse details like physical appearance, speech, attitude toward self and others, and the physical surroundings throughout the narrative. Macauley and Lanning give eloquent examples for various methods. 

So if my mentee is struggling with bringing her characters to life, I'm probably going to scan a copy of this chapter and send it over. (If I can figure out my scanner. Ha.)

Hopefully this and some of my other posts on editing will give a better sense of my style. To sum it up:

I don't have a didactic, rules-oriented approach. Writers develop best by reading other books and learning about craft, and I want to help my mentee grow as a writer. I'll ask a lot of questions about the manuscript and suggest places for improvement. I'm happy to brainstorm possibilities in a phone call or something, but I'm a firm believer in an author needing to find his own solutions. Editors can highlight the problems and even make suggestions, but writers need to resolve them. I don't have all the answers, and I want to learn from you too.

However, we'll have to move fast in order to make the most of our very brief two months, so I'm going to try to throw as much at my mentee as possible in the beginning. That means a long checklist of things to fix and a tight timeline to work with.

Let's do a little distance mentoring now. One thing I'd like to ask my mentee to do but might not have time for is to rewrite the first chapter in a different point-of-view. Is your chapter written in close third? Try first. Or swap that. Or try omniscient third, and experiment with adding in an authorial voice (comments from the invisible storyteller). Anything, so long as it's different. Then see how that feels. Sometimes we've written a novel in the wrong POV. Or sometimes it's just helpful to learn something new about your story by getting outside of the car, walking around, and checking out the bumper.

Happy writing and editing!

Lugo, Spain. Because I love Spain, that's why.

Lugo, Spain. Because I love Spain, that's why.