editing

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If anyone ever says "romance books are never edited," I would like to reply to them with two very succinct and inappropriate words, possibly followed by a rude gesture.

Instead, I am countering with the first two pages of my line edit from Harlequin Superromance editor Victoria Curran.

At Harlequin, this is usually the first time an author gets to see their work after their revisions and submissions. It's at this stage that the editor has gone through the book line by line, judging every single sentence, cutting out the fat, questioning the plot, clearing up the language, and so forth, making notes along the way.

Not all line edits are as extensive as mine, but what I learned from it will ultimately make me a better Superromance writer.

Copyright © 2011 by Vicki So. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

Note the original title: Fighting for Her Love. It has now been changed to Her Son's Hero. Lesson the first: Don't get married to your title, because it will likely change. The editors usually sit down with lists the authors came up with, and then come up with other suggestions and ideas. (I really liked one suggestion by my co-worker: Martial Hearts. Too bad--guess I'll have to save it for another book.)

Over the next little while, I'm going to share the gems I learned from going through this excruciating process. Because there's nothing quite like rehashing your own mistakes to make you learn from them. Hopefully, you'll learn from my mistakes, too.

Note: not everything I say here applies across the board. Every genre, sub-genre and series has their own unique style. Superromance deals with contemporary category series romance with a strict focus on the romantic conflict. On top of that, everyone has their own voice and style, so nothing is either right or wrong--it's just what I learned.

1. Resist the Urge to Explain

I apparently went a little too far in explaining the hows and whys of a lot of actions, instead of letting the actions tell the story. Essentially, this is what "show, don't tell" is supposed to achieve. In the above pages, I went too far to explain why bigger boys were chasing a littler boy, hooting and laughing all the way. If you're watching this scene unfold, you can make your own conjectures pretty quickly. The book was peppered with RUE remarks.

So, now when I start describing a scene and add on a clause that begins with "because" or "to do this" or "in this way," I stop and ask myself: Is this really necessary? Can the reader make that conjecture from what happens next?

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I discovered a habit of mine that's really started to drive me crazy. It seems like I do it a lot. I feel like I do it without even knowing it.

I'm going to call it Seeming and Feeling.

Ever write a sentence like this:

He felt the dagger slide into his flesh. It seemed like time slowed as he felt his life bleed from him.

This is a graphic, powerful scene. But when things only seem and feel like something, they cease to engage the reader in the moment, and it jars the reader's suspension of disbelief.
What if we changed the description so that things aren't just seeming or feeling a certain way, but simply are?

The dagger slid into his flesh, inch by agonizing inch. Time slowed as he watched his lifeblood pour from the gaping wound, soaking through his shirt, wetting the dusty ground.

Removing the feeling and seeming from the sentence gives the reader immediacy and closes up the distance between what the character is experiencing and what the reader is witnessing.

Of course, there are places for feelings: in similes and metaphors, they work all right.
He felt as though his hands were on fire.
She felt like her head was about to explode.
But often, it's better to find a strong way to describe a strong experience.
Your homework:
Can you think of a way to rewrite the above sentences to make them stand out without seeming or feeling? (You can make up any situation you like around these sentences.)