Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Case for the Independent Editor

Does there come a point when, as an author, you see more in your story than is actually there?

By this I mean can you become so absorbed by what you're writing that you see more than is written?  Having lived with a character for months (or even years) there's a risk, when you read back through a certain passage, that your mind fills in the back story and character traits around the words on the page or screen.

That's great.  You probably have a fully developed character and a story with plenty of depth to it.  The only problem is that half or more of all this is still inside your head.  Will a reader, picking your book up for the first time, be able to fill in all of the unwritten parts of the story from what you have actually committed to paper?

There's a lot of advice out there that says part of the strength of a good story is in allowing the reader to use the own imagination to complete the picture that the author has started to paint (apologies for the mixed metaphor here).  The idea is that you give the reader enough of the story to allow them to visualise each scene and character however they wish.  That way, in theory, one book can be read in thousands of ways.

So, how much of the story is enough and how much is too little.  We can find ourselves in a bit of a baby bear's porridge situation here.  Some readers like to know more than others.

This is where an independent editor can be invaluable.  They are a cold reader.  They've never seen your book before and know nothing about the storyline or the characters.  Any decent editor will quickly pick up the holes in your manuscript.
The problem is, a good editor will cost you a fair amount of money.  Mind you, a bad editor could cost you a lot more.

So, can those authors on a restricted budget be an effective self-editor.
Yes, they can.
The key thing here is for the author to ask themselves, "how do I know this?" about a situation or character.  If you know, "because you know" and there is nothing in the preceding pages that at least signals what you're querying, then there's probably something missing from the story.

If someone acts out of character ask yourself if you've given earlier indications that they could or might behave this way.  This is more credible that having to go to explain why they did what they did and your reader is less likely to feel duped.

When I can finally afford an independent editor I'll use one (probably).  Until then I'll keep using the "how do I know that?" approach to my editing.

1 comment:

  1. That's a good approach, Chris, and one I shall use myself. I'd also suggest writing groups as invaluable "cold readers".