I recently read a domestic noir thriller in which a woman found herself with a new neighbour. The neighbour from hell. A woman out for revenge who wreaks havoc on the main character and her group of friends. I’m not going to name the book or the author because this blog is not meant to target them. Instead, I wanted to examine some of the issues in the novel that should have been picked up by a developmental editor. Because this is one example of what happens when publishers drop the ball and don’t do their job.
Since this novel had a mainstream publishing house, I’m assuming she had some level of editorial feedback regarding the story. But I also know, from reading a recent summary of a writing event, that editors and agents are finding themselves stretched. Inevitably, this will impact what happens to the books they promote.
The book in question has a good premise. It was also obvious to me that it might be the kind of book that would appeal to the likes of reading groups. This would definitely be in the author’s favour.
The problems were located in a number of areas:
- rotating points of view that were not always clearly marked, leaving me a bit confused as to who I was following, and on consulting Goodreads I found out I wasn’t the only one
- a main character who clearly felt she was drugged at some point, but never attempted to get herself tested
- a main character who felt someone was breaking into her house regularly, yet she never got the locks changed
- likewise, the MC did not attempt to leave any kind of surveillance device to catch the intruder on camera
- when she finally gets a pair of bolts for her door, she finds she doesn’t have the right drill bit, so the bolts are not put on. Her house is still open to the intruder (who makes use of this) because there is no other attempt to keep the neighbour out
- the MC’s best friend visits and is spooked by the antagonist, feels she’s seen the woman before, and promises to investigate when she returns to London. Then she never contacts the MC again. The MC texts her over and over, but doesn’t bother to call her work place to see if she’s okay, or even travel to London to find out. The woman is dead, but it’s a while before it’s revealed
- the MC worked out the antagonist’s game (though not the motives), yet doesn’t turn the tables on her. Had she done so, it could have led to a pivot against the antagonist, where the MC briefly gains the upper hand and the antagonist is forced to up their game. This in turn would push up the stakes
- once the MC realises the antagonist has killed her friend, and tried to kill someone else, she still takes pity on the antagonist at a key moment, thinking she’s just lonely, at which point the antagonist knocks her over the head and almost burns her to death. I had pretty much lost all sympathy for the protagonist at this point and thought she deserved whatever fate was coming to her
- the MC’s character arc was extremely unsatisfying
- the ending is also extremely unsatisfying
- the MC’s friends are also (for reasons that are not entirely clear) targets for revenge, but since they don’t consult with each other, the shaky plot wagon rolls on
In fact, there were more problems than those listed above. The main character was extremely passive and even ended up thinking she somehow deserved the neighbour’s revenge. This was clearly not true. Meanwhile the neighbour’s motives were a complete let down.
Many reviewers on Goodreads were in agreement. They also pointed out that the book was longer than it needed to be, there were boring bits, and none of the characters were likeable.
I did indeed feel that there was no one to like, other than the dog.
Yet the publisher had majorly hyped the book on the cover, making claims it could not live up to. Something that some of the reviewers also pointed out.
A decent developmental editor could have flagged these issues, encouraging the writer to develop a better motive for revenge on the part of the antagonist, cut out the unnecessary scenes and chapters, better flag up who the viewpoint character is at any one time, and address the passivity and general cluelessness of the MC.
None of this would have meant completely changing the book either. It would have led to a tighter plot, with faster pacing, and a more credible protagonist and antagonist.
No one in their right mind would notice their house was regularly being entered without changing the locks. Especially if they know the neighbour once had their keys.
The novel’s plot rested on a lack of psychological credibility and character cluelessness. The antagonist is not an especially clever person, so it was hard to see how she managed to know so much about what everyone was getting up to – which she could later reveal out of revenge.
The plot rested on weak decisions, massive holes, and a rotating viewpoint that possibly helped divert attention from the problems at times. There were genuinely gripping points in the book, which is why it was ultimately a let down. None of it was necessary. This was a debut novel and the writer would have benefited from a developmental editor who could have walked them through the weaknesses so they could have eliminated them one by one.
Having said that, some readers have given the novel four or five stars. But it was the one to three star reviewers who really summed up my own observations.
As to the exact nature of the edit that would have improved things – even a manuscript critique would have listed the issues and pointed out what to do about them. A developmental edit would have included margin comments next to the relevant parts of the novel.
The writer’s book was certainly good enough to get a publisher. But the publisher didn’t do the necessary work. And that wasn’t fair to the author, the book or its readers. But if editors are stretched, it’s not surprising that this can happen.
Are you an author looking for feedback on your novel? Are you concerned about plot holes, lack of character credibility, confusing viewpoints, or a weak ending? You can check out my services page below. I offer opening chapters edits for those who want a chunk of their novel edited for an affordable price. Otherwise, you can opt for a manuscript critique or a full developmental edit.
Developmental Fiction Editing Services – IndieCat Editorial