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Since I’ve been writing a column for Fab 40, I’ve talked to many of you who are, or aspire to be, writers. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback for an article I recently had published in “Fox and Quill“, the E-zine founded by one of Fab 40’s gentleman members, John “Wolfman” Wolf. Since everyone has heard mostly politics from me and to thank you all for your support here, I thought I’d share it. Hope it helps those interested in the craft of writing, even the activity of blogging.  

Through The Eyes of an Editor  

When we use the written word as a means of communication with others, we expect to have it read. Whether we are writing to share information, philosophy, experiences, creating a story to inspire or entertain, or simply a personal note, we need a reader. We want that reader to feel and understand what we're saying. If fiction, we want to take them on a journey into the world of our story. We don't want to simply tell them; we want to take them into the experience with us.
How often has a book carried you to another place or time, allowed you to feel a new experience? Has it introduced you to a whole new group of people? Maybe to a new hero, role model or friend? You laughed or cried, loved or loathed, felt joy or rage, but you felt the characters. You experienced the story and shared in the adventure! For a while, you left your own world and ventured into another between the covers of a book. This is the power of good writing. This result is what every writer dreams of achieving. And, it simply cannot be done alone. Enter the editor.
Having some form of editing is especially vital in these days of huge changes in the Publishing industry and the ever-increasing number of authors choosing the POD or Independent publishing route. My focus here is to share some basic tips and ideas stemming from what I've observed as copy editor for a small press and independent contracts.

Rarely, do we open a book and not see an acknowledgement to those who helped make the book possible. In most instances, we'll see credit given to an editor. So, just what is an editor's role and when do you need one?
There are three types of editing:
1. Content Editing – Actually guides the creation itself.
2. Copy Editing – Structure and Grammar check of a completed manuscript.
3. Proof Reading – Typographical errors - Final set of eyes before submission to an agent or approving a galley for a publisher or a printer.

But first, the writer must have something of quality and potential to present to the editor. Possibly, the most crucial editor of all is the writer. The writer must take care and pride in their work. No one wants to pay for, nor is it the job of the editor to clean up an ill-prepared or sloppy manuscript.
Regardless the genre, all writers hope to end up with a book that's a page turner, a book that will teach, touch, inspire, or entertain a reader. In successful novel writing, it's downright imperative.

We could spend an entire day in a workshop on only one element of fiction writing. Voice, point of view, and dialogue come to mind instantly. Yet, there are many more questions we must ask ourselves. Does fiction require research and authenticity, an element of believability? What's required in era and setting? Character and plot development? In non-fiction, what is the best way to present facts, figures, philosophy or experiences? The list goes on. In this article, however, I'd like to introduce the need for editing more as an ATTITUDE about how we must look at writing.

Having basic skills in grammar and expression is an obvious requirement, but as important, and what I've seen sorely lacking in most new authors' work, is a basic knowledge of the elements of their genre. This is especially true in the case of fiction novel writing.

No matter your past experience or profession, no matter your mastery of language skills, there must be an effort to learn the elements required in your chosen genre - fiction or nonfiction. I've literally had to labor my way through novels written by accomplished journalists or teachers simply because they didn't know the elements required in fiction writing. Regardless how knowledgeable they are in their content or the nonfiction story they wish to tell, I've noticed that few new writers are aware of how to best present it.

We've all heard the motivator "Practice Makes Perfect" or the more you do it, the better you'll become. True, but first you must know what is required in the mastering of your specific skill. All the practice in the world won't make a champion speed skater a figure skater if they don't know the elements of figure skating. The same is true in writing. An award-winning essayist can write ten novels but the tenth will be no better than the first if the elements required in good fiction are still missing.


Once you've chosen the type of book you want to write, the easiest and best way to sharpen skills is to read a lot of genre-related books by various authors. Get a feel for it. In the role of reader, what moves you and what doesn't?

Before you start seriously putting a manuscript together, invest in a few “How To” books relative to your genre. Get a pocket copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style, a dictionary, and a Thesaurus. Research the wealth of information available on the Internet and in your library. A subscription to Writers Digest or The Writer magazine is another valuable and affordable asset to all novice writers. Know how to set up a basic Word Document file that is manuscript specific.

There are basic and powerful rules that do apply to all genres. More is not necessarily better. Every single word must move the content forward. Redundancy, repetition and long boring dissertations can be death for a book. In fiction, the hue and cry is "cut, cut, and cut!" I've copy edited novels that could be improved simply by cutting a hundred pages or more.

Stay focused on the plot, the subject, or the message. The reader doesn't want to go off on an irrelevant side trail just when you've captured their attention or moved them to the edge of their seat. If it happens too much, you've lost them.
Never subtly intrude on your character's personality by inserting author-driven opinions or assumptions. This is called author intrusion and it robs your characters of their own voice and impact.
Never write with a condescending tone, assuming you have to over describe, explain and reiterate. If the reader isn't getting your message or visualizing your scene, maybe it's because you aren't presenting it with clarity and active tense.

In fiction novels, good dialogue is crucial. There are entire books devoted to mastering dialogue. Invest in one. Know how to do it and do it well. Know how to punctuate it. A successful novel depends on it.
Avoid 'ly' adverbs describing tone. If your character is angry, make the comment itself show the anger rather than the continual 'he said, angrily'. Or 'she said, thoughtfully'. Avoid speaker attribution when it's obvious who's speaking. He said/she said after every line of utterance is the first indicator of bad dialogue.
Write it like you'd speak it. Make use of contractions frequently. That is how we speak as a norm and it brings the character to life.
Be consistent. If you choose to attempt a dialect, slang, or accent, be familiar with it and be consistent. If you want to drop g's, that's fine, just make sure you are consistent throughout. It's most helpful to read your dialogue out loud, perhaps with a family member taking another speaking part. Feel the sound of it.
It is also imperative to remain consistent in verb tense. Don't start a sentence in past tense and end it in the present. The one exception may be found in dialogue.

Punctuation is probably the most generally abused element in book writing. In most cases, the hard and fast rules we all learned in high school English apply. But due to the volume and length in book writing, we are given a bit of leeway to facilitate the flow of reading, accentuate a style, and avoid having our book appear like someone dropped bird seed on it.
Over and above the standard rules of prepositional phrases and dependent clauses, think of a comma as taking a breath. Again, read your work out loud and make note of your breathing. The words and, or, and but don't automatically call for a comma if the statement is one fluid thought.
Learn the proper use of a semi-colon and quotation marks. These are quite likely the most errantly used articles of punctuation. A semi-colon is used when both elements of the sentence can stand alone. Basically, it's a softer rendition of a period. Many use it as replacement for a comma. Often two short, crisp sentences are more powerful. Nothing is harder to read than long, seemingly endless sentences peppered with commas, emphasis quotes and semi-colons.
Too many quotation marks are distracting for the reader. I call it the picket fence effect. If you want to call attention or add emphasis, use italics. Book titles and proper names are now seen italicized in lieu of quote marks. Single quotes are used only when quoting within a quote. Don't continually use them for achieving emphasis. Limit overuse of exclamation marks. Doing so lessens the effect when you really want to show intense emotion.

These are just a few of the things to consider when beginning the creation of a book. Writing is a lot of hard work and a continual learning process. The author is their own first editor by becoming knowledgeable in the elements of good writing and reading out loud, but we are too close to our own work to be the only editor. Close family and friends can offer input and support but, in most cases, shy away from honest critique in deference to author feelings. Writers need impartial and fresh eyes and honest critique. I'm an editor, but I'm an author first and my most valuable asset is my editor.

Susan Haley, Author


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