Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I have the pleasure of having as a guest poster the author of A Cinder’s Tale, The Cendrillon Cycle, as well as various pieces of fiction in magazines. Please welcome Stephanie Ricker!
Hello, everyone, and thank you to Athelas for hosting me!
Somewhere in some idyllic land, writers may well exist who are able to craft a flawless first draft, requiring no revisions, editing, or improvements of any kind—but I have yet to meet one. For us mere mortals, our first drafts require seemingly interminable polishing, and we all have blind spots when it comes to the flaws in our manuscripts. (What possessed me to use the word “sheepish” five times in as many pages? Did I really reuse the same line twice in two different chapters? How did I manage to forget that character was even in the scene?)
As both a writer and an editor, I have the privilege of looking at editing from both sides.
As an editor confronted with a new manuscript, I may be looking for vastly different things, depending on what type of edit I’ve been asked to perform. Some clients are looking for help with large, overarching issues. Their manuscripts are still in rough draft form and have been minimally revised, and the authors are seeking assistance with structure, plot, character, etc. In such cases, I make suggestions like these:
- Your premise is good, but the plot loses coherency around chapter 5, and by chapter 7, I was completely lost. Here are some ways to clarify the sequence of events for your readers.
- I loved your heroine, but she acts inconsistently when comparing her behavior in chapter 2 with her behavior in chapter 4. Here are some ways to make sure she retains her unique voice throughout and doesn’t morph unintentionally.
Harping on typos or minor grammatical issues at this stage is unhelpful; the author will likely be doing major revisions and rewriting, so the manuscript is still in flux.
Other manuscripts have solid bones, but need some help fleshing out the details and finding just the right word. For these clients, I’ll actually reword awkward phrases, insert suggested language, and make comments like these:
- I had to read this line three times before I understood what you meant. Consider rephrasing to something like this.
- “Obsequious” doesn’t seem like quite the word you’re looking for in this context. How about “sycophantic” instead?
Manuscripts at this stage are closer to their final form, but typically not close enough to where it would be beneficial to copyedit the material, as rewording is still going on and errors may still creep in after this point.
When an author has rewritten, revised, and polished her manuscript as much as possible, then it’s finally time for a copy edit. This edit catches all of the little stuff: typos, punctuation errors, grammatical errors, etc. Even grammatically perfect authors tend to have the occasional missing word (“I went the store,” etc.) because our brains helpfully fill in missing words for us, particularly when we’re reading our own writing. “Oh,” the brain says, “You obviously meant, ‘I went to the store.’ I’ll just fix that for you while you read so you don’t even notice you left it out.”
Editors are not immune to this fill-in effect either, so typically I read a manuscript three times during copy edit. On the first read, I start at the beginning and read to the end (shocking, I know), catching the worst of the errors. On the second read, I start at the end of the manuscript and work my way to the beginning, reading each sentence carefully before moving to the sentence above it. This helps me catch missing words and other brain fill-ins since I’m less wrapped up in the story. Then, on my third read, I read through from beginning to end again, looking for the last few errors hiding in the manuscript.
So since I can catch the flaws in other people’s manuscripts, does that mean I can catch all of the flaws in my own work? HA! No. The thing about constructive criticism of literature, as with so many things in life, is that it is infinitely easier to see the flaws in someone else than to see them in yourself. I am frequently busted by my editors for the very same mistakes for which I (politely) scold my clients. While being an editor has made me more aware of the shortcomings in my own work, it has certainly not enabled me to be aware of all (or even most) of them.
As a writer, I have several trusted beta readers who kindly read my rough manuscripts and give me useful suggestions on character, plot, and the like. Once I make revisions based on these, I often purchase a professional edit for more detailed suggestions. Typically this edit exposes a LOT of my blind spots. I do sometimes do my own copyediting, but I’m well aware I’m playing with fire there, as it’s easy to miss my brain’s fill-in spots.
Whether I’m editing my own work or someone else’s work, the goal is the same: to produce a manuscript that is as clear, correct, and consistent as it can possibly be. When writers and editors work together as a team, we create the best possible versions of our story: one that readers will love to read!
Stephanie’s first novella, A Cinder’s Tale, was published in Five Glass Slippers, an anthology of Cinderella-themed stories. The first volume of The Cendrillon Cycle, a follow-up series of novellas, will release on December 21st. Stephanie’s fiction has also been published in Bull-Spec, a magazine of speculative fiction, and in four consecutive editions of The Lyricist, Campbell University’s annual literary magazine.
Connect with Stephanie here: