Saturday, April 29, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - You Need Other Eyes

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

You can't do this editing thing all by yourself. Ok, you can, but please don't.

As I've said before this month, you know your story. It came from your head. Of course you know it. You know what everyone looks like, where they are, and why the doing whatever you made them do. But have you conveyed all that in a way your readers will understand?

The only way you'll know, is letting someone else read it. And I don't mean by publishing it. That's easy to do these days, but that doesn't mean you should.

Find a two or three or handful of other people you trust to tell you truth. They don't need to be brutal about it, but you do need them to be honest. This could be some friends that do a lot of reading, a friend or co-worker's parent that was an English teacher, a college student with some sort of English major, or better yet, a local writer's group or online critique group. There's no one more willing to pick apart your words than other writers.

What do you do when you do get that feedback you were looking for (through the hands over your eyes)? You read through it. Don't rush off to change anything major. Sure, fix the typos and obvious grammatical errors. Fix the things you totally agree with. Because the words "Holy crap, how did I miss that?" will very likely come from your lips at least once, if not several times.

Now, the other stuff, the things that may require you to make major changes:
  • Do they feel right for your story/voice/plot/genre?
  • Did more than one person point out the same area as a problem?
  • Do you respect that person's opinion/knowledge enough to trust that they are possibly right?

Whatever you decide, remember that the opinions of readers vary widely. The thing someone hates, might be the exact same thing another reader loves (true story, many more times than once). Give suggestions due thought (nothing beats sleeping on them a night or two for clarity) and change what feels right to you. You are the author. These are suggestions.

On the other hand, there may stuff that makes you never talk to them again/quit writing forever/want to throw things/run off and write an angry response over. Don't do any of that. Just think about it, and for the love of all that's holy, don't say anything but a polite, "Thank you for your help".
Give that stuff a few days to settle into your mind and then go through what they said again with some criteria in mind.
  • Where they just being cruel for the hell of it or, more likely, helpful but maybe phrased more boldly than you're used to?
  • Does this person read/write your genre and is what they suggest inline with that?
  • Is this person more experienced than you was perhaps frustrated that you don't know what POV is or that your dialogue punctuation was all wrong, or that you didn't bother to fix any typos?

Most people, even other writers who like to beat up your words, are doing so to be helpful. Take a step back, use what advice speaks to you and say thank you for the rest. All of this is good practice for working with a paid editor, either one you contract or from your publisher.

Do you prefer beta readers, critique groups, or friends to read for you?


  1. I have been getting others to read my memoir. I sent it by email to some including my book club members. Haven't heard from some of these people. Also, I've been looking for a writers group nearby, but to no avail.

  2. Editing may be the most difficult part of writing. I cringe when I see comments on books about the poor editing. Yikes!

  3. I belonged to a critique group for a short time. It was very helpful but I joined too early as I was just getting started. I learned a lot though from helping others and hearing their critiques. I will probably join one again when I have something to be critiqued. It felt wrong to be there critiquing everyone else.

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador | Yuletide at the Olón Orphanage

  4. I have used a critique group, but for office stuff I have two employees that check most everything I send out except for short emails. As for blogging, I edit that myself and some days are better than others!

  5. You've hit on some important points about receiving critiques. I still use Critique Circle for detailed feedback, and beta readers for big picture impressions. Either way, independent sets of eyes on your work is an absolute must!

  6. That's why it's important to have as many CPs as possible, to try and get some consensus on what does and doesn't work. Of course we'll never please everyone but it would be boring if we did.

  7. Absolutely agree that you can't edit all alone. I usually work until I hate the whole thing, or totally think it is a hopeless mess. Then I give it to 2 or 3 writer friends I know will be both honest and gentle. They usually manage to simultaneously give me a lot to do to the book and restore my faith in it. Ideally I do a couple of rounds of this.

    Rebecca at The Ninja Librarian

  8. Hi Jean - I can quite believe one needs eyes - with some gentle objective insights ... so true - my time will come! Cheers Hilary

  9. Someone else’s eyes over a piece of writing is excellent. It is alarming sometimes those little things that they find that makes you go, “how did I miss that.” I usually source a friend that has editing or writing experience. My husband reads over things but beyond grammar and punctuation he doesn’t give that constructive feedback that I crave.

    Thanks for stopping by Youthful


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