When I was first published, my fiction edited professionally, it was a revelation, and I still have my old copy typescripts painstakingly marked in red to match the published versions. It became my goal, a point of professional honour, to submit a typescript that would match the published version. I wanted my name to be linked to fiction that would require no editing. Time is money, and editors are busy. If they know from experience that a submission from a certain writer needs minimal work on their part, not only does the submission rise to the top of the reading pile, but it will also be chosen over a better story that needs a lot of editing. Why? Because this is the real world.
When I became a writing tutor, then a fiction consultant, those same initial mistakes I’d made began to pass before my eyes, and it is those mistakes that I included in Reading A Writer's Mind... when I dedicated a chapter to self-editing. A few of these will be added to the blog over the rest of the month. Sign up for my Newsletter to get a free full chapter.
#1 Does your story start in the right place?
There is a lot of preamble in a writer’s thought processes when conjuring an embryo story, not least in considering a character’s past life so as to be able to portray that character true-to-life on the page. You might need to know that your character spent four years in the army, but if this information is not pertinent to the storyline, or pertinent to the character’s emotional responses in this story, then to readers it is superfluous information.
The same applies to the ongoing story. Do readers need to follow that character through a broken night’s sleep due to gorging on cheese and pickles, through the morning’s toilet and breakfast routine, through the trip to work, through saying hello to the receptionist… if the nub of the story is physically centred round the office water cooler?
Beginning at a moment of change, of decision, of minor crisis, helps hook the reader into the fiction. In your drafted story, if the moment of change, of decision, of crisis, does not erupt until a third, or halfway, through the typescript, you need to ask it why, and what can be cut. Readers, especially editors, will not hang around until the story gets into gear.
Other posts in this November series include:
Editing Tip 2: Is your story overloaded with description?
Editing Tip 3: Does your story stay within the chosen viewpoint and distance?