Advice, tips, and info from a freelance editor for fiction writers and aspiring authors. Jodie's craft-of-fiction articles also appear regularly on these blogs: Crime Fiction Collective, Blood-Red Pencil, The Thrill Begins, and Writer's Forensics Blog, as well as others.
succeed as a writer? There’s only one sure way: Roll up your sleeves, hone
your fiction-writing skills, and start rereading and revising!
successful writer, and they’ll tell you that the first drafts of their novels
were just the beginning, and that it was only after many revisions that the
story and characters took shape to their satisfaction and they polished their
writing style to a point where they could submit it to their agent or an
editor, who then put them through several more rounds of editing before the
story was ready for publication.
Rewriting.” ~ Stephen King
I’ve been helping writers become authors, offering concrete advice and guidance
to take manuscripts up a level or three. I’m always amazed when occasionally someone
contacts me about editing their novel, then gets offended when I suggest ways
in which it can be improved. (Fortunately, the vast majority of my clients want
to succeed and sell their books, so they welcome my suggestions.)
“Amateurs fall in
love with every word they write.” ~ William Bernhardt
looking for someone to tell you your novel manuscript is perfect as it is, save
your money and just ask your mom! (Or your spouse or best friend.) Authors of
best-sellers aren’t afraid to admit that they revised their novel numerous
times, often going through it and making changes thirty or forty times, then
had agents’ and editors’ input and revised it again.
“Manuscript: something submitted in haste and
returned at leisure.” ~ Oliver Herford
you’ve got a story you’re itching to tell and you think nobody should mess with
it or tell you how to write it. That’s okay – get your story down first. But
then, if you want to get it published, it’s important to be open to input and
ideas on how to make it more compelling so it grabs the readers – and agents
and acquiring editors, if you’re going that route. As you’re revising and learning,
you’re honing your craft and getting closer to producing a best-seller. And you
can always keep your early drafts, in case you want to go back to them, or pick
out bits here and there to use.
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it
right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ~ Michael Crichton
are hundreds of effective, compelling ways to tell a story, and thousands of
ineffective / boring / confusing ways to tell that same story.
“There is no way of writing
well and also of writing easily.” ~ Anthony Trollope
decided to build a house and you’d never built one before, you probably
wouldn’t just buy a bunch of lumber and start building it without first consulting
experts, reading books, googling info, asking carpenter friends for advice, etc.
So chances are high that you, as an aspiring author, won’t yet have acquired the
skills to write a novel that sells, without doing some research into the
fiction-writing techniques that make a story effective, compelling and
can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.”
~Enrique Jardiel Poncela
And as a
freelance manuscript editor, specializing in fiction, that’s what I – and other
editors like me – am here for: to point out not only your story’s strengths,
but also areas that would benefit from rethinking, reworking, revision and
maybe even – gasp! – cutting and/or rewriting. Writing workshops,
craft-of-fiction resource books, and reputable blogs on writing fiction, as
well as articles in magazines like Writer’s Digest, and of course freelance
book editors like me, can all guide you and inform you of the latest effective fiction-writing
techniques for crafting your opening, point of view, plot, characterization, dialogue,
etc., with a natural flowing style and pacing that keep readers turning the
“No author dislikes to be
edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.”
I find that
I give the most advice and suggest the most revisions on the first few chapters
(and prologue, if there is one), because the opening of your story is
incredibly important. It’s what will make or break your novel. If the story
hasn’t grabbed your readers in the first five pages or so, most readers will
put it down and never pick it up again. In fact, if the first half page is
weak, most agents or acquiring editors will chuck it. Your first page is
critical – it sets the tone for the whole novel and introduces your protagonist
and his dilemma – or at least hints at it.
“I try to leave
out the parts that people skip.” ~Elmore Leonard
fault among novice fiction writers (even if they’re technically excellent
writers and have published nonfiction books) is to spend too much time revving
their engines at the beginning of their novel, setting the scene with
description and providing background on the main character and his situation.
Today’s readers don’t have the patience for all this long-winded meandering
around and explaining at the beginning – they want to be swept up with your
story and main character and his problems right away. You can always add in
background details as your story progresses, on a “need to know” basis.
“I’m not a very
good writer, but I am a good rewriter.” ~ James Michener
you’ve contacted me about editing your fiction manuscript, and I jump right in
with advice on how to make your first pages more compelling and effective,
which may well be to cut out all or most of your prologue and some or even most
of your chapter one, don’t be insulted or alarmed. Remember that we both have
the same goal in mind – to get your story published and read by a lot of people.
So some deadwood may need to be trimmed at the beginning so you can start your
story at a more compelling moment, with your protagonist, if not in hot water
already, on the verge of it. Then you can work in that backstory little by
little, as you go along.
“Sit down, and put down
everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an
author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity,
and destroy most of it.”
~Colette, Casual Chance, 1964
I find that
typically, once the beginning is pared down to delete some of that excess
description and “cut to the chase,” the rest of the novel goes much more
smoothly, with way fewer major revisions.
is a writer’s best friend.” ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
novel can often be turned into a remarkable one by:
“My first draft
is not even recognizable by the time I get to the last draft. I change
everything. I consider myself at Square Zero when I finish the first draft.
It’s almost like I use that draft to think through my plot. My hard copy of
each draft will be dripping with ink by the time I finish, and I’ll do that
several times.” ~ Terri Blackstock
don’t have to take my word for it – there are all kinds of great books on
writing and revising fiction out there, not to mention articles in magazines
like Writer’s Digest, blog posts by
writers, agents, and editors, creative writing classes, and writers’
conferences and workshops. See the Resources page of my
website for a list of excellent books on writing fiction and other resources
that I recommend to my clients.
writing! And remember, writing is rewriting! Or as my mom (and probably yours
too) used to say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries,
and other fast-paced fiction. Jodie publishes her craft-of-fiction articles
here and on several other blogs. For more information on Jodie’s editing
services and her books, please visit her website. Jodie has published two
books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing
and Killer Thriller, a short e-book, and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback,
as an e-book on Kindle,
and in other e-book
formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy
e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.