Lest anyone think from reading Saturday’s post that I never suggest things that can be improved in other people’s manuscripts….
Here’s my editing motto: Be ruthless when editing yourself, and be compassionately ruthless when editing others.
Ask anyone who’s been brave enough to let me edit something for them: I am addicted to comments. When I’m done, it looks like an entire army of highlighters bled to death on the Microsoft Word document.
No one is ever obligated to take my suggestions. I often tell the writers to get second opinions. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have made a comment if, as a reader, I didn’t think there was a problem that needed to be fixed.
I admit that sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to advice from others, especially if it means major changes (mostly because I’m notoriously lazy). It’s easy for us to fall in love with our first drafts and not want to make changes to them.
Fact of life: first drafts are bad.
Once you realize that, it’s much easier to accept criticism. Don’t apologize for your draft before giving it to someone to edit, but know that there will be many areas where it can be improved.
With that in mind, here are some of my more common markings. Feel free to take them and use them when editing others or yourself.
What It Is: Amy’s Weird Opinions on Words
Meaning: This is followed by a brief explanation of my weird opinion. Usually it has to do with the connotative meaning of words (i.e., this usually has a positive feel to it, but you used it to describe something negative) or an oddly specific way a word should or shouldn’t be used (i.e., eyes can’t glint in affirmation when the rest of the face is covered up).
What It Is: Show, Don’t Tell
Meaning: Classic writing tip, not so easy to follow. (Note: Be careful not to accidentally rearrange the letters in this one.)
What It Is: Point of View shift/error
Meaning: This happens all the time (even in my own writing). Reginald is the POV character, and all of a sudden we read, “Regina blushed, embarrassed that he figured out her motives so easily.” We can’t know what Regina is thinking. We’re in Reginald’s head, and head-jumping within one section is extremely difficult to pull off (when done well, it’s called omniscient, but mostly it’s just called confusing and annoying). Unlike, say, usage errors, I have a hard time spotting all of these. The best way to edit for these is to read the whole thing straight through with POV in mind.
Punctuation Justification (PJ)
What It Is: You broke a grammar rule, and you’d better have a darn good reason. Or else.
Meaning: I got this one from my senior year English teacher. If we wanted to have a run-on sentence or use an ellipse in a non-standard way, we had to include a sentence of justification at the end of our essay that satisfied him.
Meaning: I’m slightly confused. Did you leave out a word or something?
Meaning: Um…what’s happening here? Did you leave out a paragraph?
Meaning: What on earth is going on? I am totally lost! You must have accidentally deleted a chapter!
And, bonus! Here are my pet peeves. All editors have them – things they will notice and mark all over the work because they’re especially attuned to these things. For some, it’s dialogue tags that aren’t possible (breathed, laughed, grinned, etc.). For others, it’s the fact that you have characters stand when they haven’t been sitting or sit when they were already sitting (I’m usually guilty of this one). It’s good to find an editor who violently hates something that you have a bad habit of doing and not noticing.
Pet Peeve #1: Forced/awkward physical descriptions – If you have a character look in a mirror, I will call you on this. But I’ll also mark times when you just state what your characters look like when that information seems irrelevant to what’s going on. Find clever ways to work in your description. This is especially difficult when describing your narrator in a first-person story.
Pet Peeve #2: Staged dialogue – Unlike most people, I don’t picture what I read. There is no movie in my head. But there is a play. Usually, I couldn’t tell you what the main characters look like, but I can hear them talk, and I have an ear for dialogue that sound “off.” You know, lines handed to the character to advance the plot or insert some humor or make the moral of the story clear, but lines that the character wouldn’t actually say. It’s like a little kid with chocolate around his mouth claiming he didn’t eat the last brownie – it doesn’t ring true.
MegaUltraRidiculouslyStrong Pet Peeve #3: Rough drafts – Now, rough drafts have their place. There’s something to be said about getting all of your thoughts down, knowing that you’re going to have to fix a lot of it later. But ‘later’ still means ‘before giving it to someone else to edit.’ Please, please don’t send me a rough draft to edit. I’m already a meticulous editor, and your piece will be nothing but red if you haven’t gone through at least three rounds of self-editing. Just to raise the stakes a little, I also consider sending a peer editor a rough draft inconsiderate and lazy. Don’t waste someone else’s time. If you care enough about the work to get critique on it, care enough to make it as good as you can first.