Monday, February 25, 2013

Working With An Editor: Details, Details

This is a longer post, but it's a topic which has been on my mind the past few weeks, and it's a recent lesson I've learned while working on my current book.
©MK McClintock
What do you feel when you look at this photograph? What do see? Hear? Who do you imagine has walked across those mountains? How long did it take them? What obstacles did they overcome? 
Too much detail and description can weigh down a storyline, but too little and the story reads too quickly, leaving the reader wanting. Great writers know how to find the balance. A select few writers start out great, where the rest of us have to work toward great writing. We have to learn as we go to make the next book better than the last. Recently, I've learned the lesson of how to better balance out the dialogue with the narrative and description. 

So what part does the author play and what part does the editor play? Understanding roles is the first step to acquiring this balance. The writer writes, and the editor edits--simple! One would think so, but too often a writer sends their "completed" work to an editor believing it's the editor's job to make the book better. That's only partly true. The whole truth is that the editor works with what the writer gives them. They proof, they edit, they make suggestions and recommendations, all of which will improve the book. However, it all begins and ends with the writer. The first draft to the final decision on what to leave in, what to add, and what to remove--all rests with the writer. 

How do we find the balance? The best advice I've been given--read it aloud. Yes, read the full manuscript out loud. How does one section flow into the next? Is the transition between dialogue and narrative choppy or does it make sense? 

Some readers, editors, publishers, etc. will tell a writer they have too much detail in their book. This is likely a result of publishers wishing to lower the word count thereby making the book less expensive to print. Others may want an author to add more, show us more, give us more! Which direction to take can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be.

Some readers prefer more dialogue, others more narrative. Since an author cannot possibly please every reader, what are they to do? There are some online editing softwares a writer can utilize in order to help identify the balance between their dialogue and narration, such as AutoCrit. Unfortunately the software is a machine and cannot experience the story the way a human reader can. The solution? Make sure the book is beta-read, and not necessarily by friends. I find that they don't make the best beta-readers--unless they aren't afraid of being completely honest. I'm moving away from my former beta-readers to my mother (yes, my mother). Why? Because she's honest. Not brutal, but she doesn't use kid-gloves either. If a section of my new book is lacking in the detail, she tells me. If another section is weighed down by too much, she lets me know that too. Make sure your beta-readers not only know what they're doing, but find a few who aren't writers, and who are willing to give their honest opinion.

What might all of this have to do with working with an editor? Communication between a writer and their editor is essential to making the book a success. If the writer wants to include more detail/description/narrative in the story, it's their job to let the editor know what they want. This is important, because without that communication, the editor may suggest cutting detail you feel is necessary. If the editor knows the direction you wish to take, they can then make suggestions for better incorporating the detail, rather than cutting it. 
I'm a layman, still learning the craft, but new writers like myself are starting out in a digital age where reviews and opinions are posted online--forever--for the world to see. Mistakes are posted on forums or book blogs. We don't have the luxury of learning as we go, privately. If we don't do something the readers like, they don't only let us know, they let everyone know. If we simplify a book too much, or make it too complicated, everyone knows that too. That's not necessarily a bad thing, so long as the criticism is constructive and useful to the author. Big-name authors, who began publishing before the internet became a mainstream form of communication and information gathering, were lucky. By the time they reached today's popularity and success, they had learned their lessons and made their mistakes (for the most part). Many of those authors are now rewriting their first books . . . chances are the day will come when I rewrite my firsts.  

Do I have a point? Details! What's too much and what's too little? There's no hard and fast rule for this. This is simply a lesson learned--detail and description shouldn't be excluded from a book because it "might" be too much. If you're uncertain, add it in--add it all in. When you pass it off to the editor, communicate what you're doing with the story and that you want to keep as much detail as possible. A great editor will then only remove unnecessary redundancies. Those extra ten or twenty thousand words will still end up in the book, but will be incorporated more efficiently.

Communication with your editor is as necessary to a story as well-placed details.  

Readers--do you feel authors include enough detail, or too much? Do you prefer more dialogue, more narrative, or do you notice?  

Disclaimer: My editor does not edit my blog posts. I take full responsibility for any errors, as I'm certain there are a few.

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