Every writer has a unique approach to their craft. As it turns out, so does every editor. In this series Bear and Black Dog share their approaches, which may provide some context for edits you’ve gotten in the past and the ideal edit you’re looking for.
I use Microsoft Word, with either .doc or .docx files. Microsoft Word has two functions that are indispensable editing tools: Track Changes and Inline Comments.
Track Changes is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than printing out a physical copy of a manuscript and marking it up by hand, I edit the digital file and Word records the changes. Any changes I make are shown by a black vertical line along the margin, parallel to the lines that were edited, and in the paragraph itself through red text/underline/a cross out of what was changed. All the changes are obvious, though they can look messy too.
In-line comments are text bubbles that show up in the margins next to whatever piece of text I highlight and make a comment on. This is actually where a lot of the work of editing happens. I can’t just make a change and expect the writer to read my mind. In-line comments are where I explain myself and share responses to the text, ideas, and advice.
So that’s how an edited page looks. Sometimes there’s a lot more on the page; sometimes there’s nothing. This is actually a page from one of Cait’s manuscripts. As you can see, some manuscripts are so clean that editors are reduced to asinine comments about how “worldish” a word choice is!
I usually make the most comments at the beginning, when I’m explaining ideas or pointing something out for the first time. The further into the manuscript I am, the less likely it is that I will need to explain something, and it’s more likely that the writer has found their rhythm. In-line edits do tend to lighten up a little as well, but not as much.
I cut words. I am a word trimmer; a lean meat hunter. I look for simplicity, efficiency, and unity in writing. That doesn’t mean I reject flowery or poetical styles (actually I tend to write that way!). I mean that I try to make “awesome” the bulk of what can be found in a manuscript versus a bunch of “pretty good” and “acceptable.” Unnecessary passages, weak plot points, using two words where one will do…those are always on my target list.
In other words: the fastest way to elevate your story is by cutting the crap. I will question story choices and suggest substantial cuts/rewrites if I think it will open the door for something great. Cutting passages is painful, but excellent for growing.
I have weaknesses. It’s true, here is the chink in my armor! *points to heart* That means I’m likely to drop big-red-heart comments next to these things in manuscripts.
Humor! I’m convinced it’s the hardest thing to write. If you can make a reader laugh, *snaps* to you.
Strong characters. Not as in a character who is strong, but a character who is so well portrayed and their image is so strong in the reader’s mind that they become their own type. Sherlock Holmes. Scarlett O’Hara. Ron Weasley. Marmee March. There’s no mistaking who these people are; Ron’s private eye business would last about .2 seconds, and Scarlett’s parenting philosophies would result in four a** kicking hooligans for daughters.
More great elements that always, always earn my respect: diversity of relationships, tightly woven plots, and immersive (believable!) worldbuilding.
That is to say, Great Writing.
Definitely Doesn’t Love
I have preferences and quirks like any person, so keep in mind that I’m more likely to be critical/tough about the following:
Unbelievable romances. They’re no fun! More on this in a future post.
Gratuitous violence. For example, I sometimes have trouble appreciating dystopian fic. I have a very unpopular opinion about Mockingjay. Maybe this is a side effect of editing MG? Violence just doesn’t suit my tastes on its intrinsic value alone, so I tend to challenge writers to make sure it’s performing some other service to the story beyond shock value.
OK, and I can’t resist mentioned one almost silly, minor thing. I’m really forgiving of tropes, but there is one that drives me nuts. It’s the “woman died in childbirth” trope. I see that chestnut tossed in a story all. the. time. It’s used as a romantic, noble, and convenient way to kill a female character. Which is dumb, because death and labor are none of those things. And it points back to a female stereotyping that I’ll feel obligated to challenge if it crops up in a manuscript.
That sums up where I am right now in my editing life. These things change as I change, as life is wont to do to a person. And editors are people. Not just hats with teeth that live in colonies in dark abandoned paper factories. Though I hear that those exist, and they will sometimes attack unwary writers…
Up next in the series: Black Dog shares her style, and it’s more different Bear’s than you would think!