Developmental Fiction Edit

  • What Ash Ambirge taught me

    What Ash Ambirge taught me. How to be a better business owner - or author-entrepreneur. Developmental editing of fiction and copywriting.
    What Ash Ambirge taught me

    What Ash Ambirge taught me

    As a developmental editor of fiction, I often find myself pointing something important out to clients. Novels should not be episodic. The plot should have a structure, with each event like a domino falling over which then hits the next domino.

    This should also happen on a psychological level, which I find particularly gets missed by writers. But that post is for another day.

    The point I wanted to make here is that one thing in fiction impacts another, which impacts another, etc.

    And this is also true in real life.

    You wake up and decide you’re going to tidy a cupboard and, before you know it, you’ve somehow moved on to cleaning the whole room, or trying to track down the stuff that you suddenly realise you’ve misplaced.

    Okay, I hear you saying, what does this have to do with the title of this post?

    And who is Ash Ambirge? (If you don’t know the answer to the second question, shame on you!)

    Look, I’m getting to the point – or points – so bear with me.

    It’s the chain of dominoes. And how it relates to funnels and marketing. And real life.

     

    How it all started…

    I’m a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association where I get access to a few free webinars.

    When Covid hit last year, business owners like everyone else were panicking. So, there were some useful webinars to help people through the crisis.

    And in one webinar Ash Ambirge and The Middle Finger Project were mentioned in passing.

    I’d never heard of her – or The Middle Finger Project.

    So, shame on me.

    However, being the kind of person who can’t wait to open a new tab on a computer screen, I immediately looked her up.

    She had a new book called The Middle Finger Project. It was part life story and part kick-arse business motivation and inspiration.

    The audio version is actually narrated by Ash Ambirge herself – if you get it, you’ll really get a sense of her personality. I totally recommend it.

    Anyway, I listened to this book in big chunks. Ambirge grew up in a trailer park, the daughter of a disabled single mother on benefits, who then loses her mother as a young adult.

    The story of what happened then is a masterclass in human callousness. I’m talking about the way she heard about her mother’s death. Disgusting.

    But our heroine came through and later, in a business capacity, the middle finger story comes up. I’ll leave you to find that out for yourself.

    But she also told the story of how she found out the guy she was living with had multiple passports and multiple identities.

    And when she confronted him, he got aggressive and threw her out. She had no money or anything, so she had to go back, and then he had his hands around her throat.

    Fortunately, she escaped and spent the night in her car. And that’s when her life changed. When she was sitting in her car, homeless, listening to the radio. An ad came on and said something along the lines of: the new Rihanna CD is available on preorder.

    A truly life-changing phrase.

    Why?

    Because it was at that moment that Ambirge realised you can sell things that don’t exist yet.

    She already had loads of experience in marketing and copywriting. So, she started furiously writing some copy on her laptop and uploaded it to the internet.

    Then the money started rolling in. Her product was legit and she started working on it.

    But she sold it ahead of making it, and the demand proved to be there.

    So, with $300 in her bank account, she flew off to Chile, where rents were cheaper, and set herself up in her new enterprise.

    Now she’s incredibly successful and specialises in motivating those who want to set up in business, or who need to refine their business skills like marketing and copywriting and dealing with clients, etc.

     

    Where it all led…

    At the end of her book, there’s a link you can follow. It takes you to her site, The Middle Finger Project, and a downloadable book called You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts. This is also very inspirational and deals with setting up your own business. It’s particularly strong on building the reader’s confidence and enthusing them to change their life.

    As a consequence of following the link to the downloadable book (which you have to pay for), and signing up to her email list, I then got some witty emails periodically, often on very useful subjects.

    There was also a chance to buy a previous mentorship course she ran – Unfuckwithable Freelancer

    This course consists of a generous series of modules in the Kajabi course format. Everything is laid out in a well-structured way and takes you through the best steps to setting up your business.

    There was a considerable number of modules and because it was no longer live, but a recording of a previous mentorship, it cost $97.

    Definitely one of the best $97s I’ve ever spent. (The other one was an Alex Cattoni copywriting course, also a recording of something previously live.)

    I admit I do love courses. I love learning new things.

     

    48-To-Freedom mentorship…

    But a recorded course doesn’t have the same gung-ho motivation as a live one. So I signed up to the beta version of her live course, 48-to-Freedom, which is about setting up a business website, payment processing, email list, offers, service packages, etc, in two days.

    Now that did push me harder, especially since she totally underestimated how long it would take for people to complete it.

    In fact, it spilled over the weekend and finished on Tuesday. But it was great – she literally showed you what to do on her screen and then you just follow along according to your own business needs.

    Because I’d already done copywriting courses, I largely skipped using her copy templates. But her reasoning for the structure of her copy templates was very insightful.

    I’d studied Alex Cattoni’s sales page course and had already written up most of the content for one of the individual sales pages. But I hadn’t quite finished.

    48-to-Freedom encouraged me to finish and get it uploaded and live. And then do the other two pages.

    Sales funnels and email marketing are a big part of both Ambirge courses.

    Setting up an email list was on my list of things to do. But, with other things on the go, and not being as organised as I should have been, I had yet to sort it out.

     

    Conquer Your Novel challenge

    Now I have a free email 5-day challenge/course sequence.

    This free course is titled Conquer Your Novel. It addresses issues like your logline, character hierarchy (to prevent chaos ensuing), Mary Sues, plot structure, and more. 

    If you want to check it out, there’s a sign-up form below.

     

    So, that’s what Ash Ambirge taught me

    But that brings me back to the topic I had in mind when I started this post – funnels, dominoes.

    It started with someone mentioning Ash Ambirge and The Middle Finger Project – and this led me down a rabbit hole.

    I learned lots of new things.  

    However, I needed that kick up the backside to finally sort out my email marketing sequence. 

    Later my intention with my IndieCat newsletters is to talk about common problems I come across in manuscripts.

    I’ll also review useful books for indie and other authors, point to courses you might be interested in taking, discuss side hustles for those of you who are thinking of getting one.

    I’ll also be talking about training as a developmental editor, and the process of working through a manuscript.

     

    Topics I’ll cover in IndieCat emails

    But that brings me back to the dominoes and the funnel.

    If you’re an indie author (or any author), you want to funnel people from social media over to your site.

    And I will be writing another post on why that’s so important.

    If you are selling books, you’re in business. If you’re an indie author, you’re an author-entrepreneur.

    And it’s really worth thinking about yourself that way. Just as freelancers need to think of themselves as business owners.

    Ash Ambirge talks about us being the fiduciaries of our business.

    It’s our duty to look after our businesses and act in their best interests.

    It’s partly about separating ourselves from the business. If we think about the business – my editing business or your writing career – as a separate entity that we have a duty of care over, then we make better decisions.

    And marketing funnels are part of that decision! Marketing funnels that get people from A to Z.

    Which in your case might be getting people to buy your books.

    Or, if you’re an editor, getting people to buy your services.

    But first, you have to let potential readers or clients know that you understand their needs. Not to mention, why they should choose you (or your book) over someone else.

    I will be posting on some of the things I’ve learned that might also be useful for authors. There will be extra details in the coming email newsletters.

    In the meantime, here’s the Conquer Your Novel sign-up form:

    Try these tips !

    Join my free 5-Day Conquer Your Novel Challenge!

    Get 5 days of tips and challenges on plot, character, and structure so you can improve your manuscript. 

  • When is your novel done?

    Developmental editing of fiction and memoir

    When is your novel done? In truth? You can literally be writing the same manuscript over and over for years because no novel is ever perfect. Additionally, there is no one way to tell your story, so you might be tempted to make changes and try something different.

    You will be there forever at this rate!

    There comes a point when you have to let it go and move on to the next stage. Sometimes that’s publication and sometimes the next stage is when you show your book to someone else.

    If you feel that you’re not quite there yet, this is totally understandable. Many writers are perfectionists, yet there’s no such thing as a perfect novel or memoir.

    So, what’s your best option?

    If you’re not a member of a writing group, it’s worth finding a good one – you can do this online. Beta readers are another option.

    You can also try out an opening chapters developmental edit. This would allow you to get feedback on a manageable proportion of your book for an affordable price. You can also take some of the advice and apply it to later sections of your novel.

    An opening chapters edit would help with:

    • Your opening hook
    • Your characterisation
    • Whether your protagonist has goals that might face obstacles during the book
    • Your plot
    • Assessing whether you have too much worldbuilding at the outset
    • Whether the tone of your prose matches your genre
    • Assessing your dialogue
    • Checking whether you’ve chosen the best point of view
    • Look at your theme(s) and topic
    • Whether the structure of the opening chapters works to the book’s advantage
    • Your paragraphing
    • Your pacing

    Feedback on these issues and more can give you an invaluable insight into where your book is now. It also helps you understand whether there’s still a lot of work to do.

    If you want to try an opening chapters edit that will give you a detailed report and margin comments in as little as 7 days, feel free to check out the relevant service page and email me at karen@indiecateditorial.com.

    You can also check out my free 5-Day Challenge to Conquer Your Novel.

    Try these tips !

    Join my free 5-Day Conquer Your Novel Challenge!

    Get 5 days of tips and challenges on plot, character, and structure so you can improve your manuscript. 

  • When dialogue ruins your scenes

    When dialogue ruins your scenes
    When dialogue ruins your scenes

    When dialogue is great, it can be terrific, keeping readers or audiences on the edge of their seats.

    Whether it’s the verbal sparring of Bogart and Bacall, the wisecracking characters of 1930s films, or dramatic courtroom exchanges in A Few Good Men, dialogue can spark and enthral.

    It’s not just true of films or plays either – there are plenty of novels with powerful dialogue.

    But there are also times when dialogue ruins scenes

    But here’s the problem – dialogue can be a little too seductive.

    Or to be more exact, writers who are rather too fond of their characters can sometimes find it difficult to know how much is too much.

    The problems with dialogue are numerous and linked to different issues.

    For example, writers who find their characters springing spontaneously to life, like Athena from her father’s head, might feel they spend a good part of their time just reporting what their characters are saying.

    It’s like taking dictation. Sometimes it’s like being possessed as you struggle to keep up with what your characters are saying and doing.

    Your fingers fly over the keyboard and you’re hoping they’ll slow down.

     

    When characters won’t stop talking

    Characters like this can have a real spark because they haven’t been consciously constructed or built from the ground up.

    They’ve not been sketched out on paper but appear to emerge from the writer’s subconscious.

    They can be unpredictable, obstructive, overly chatty (or the opposite).

    Such characters can pull the plot way off track. They have their own opinions that can supersede the author’s.

    If they are chatty, their dialogue can go on longer than necessary, and if they’re the amusing type, the author may find them entertaining.

    However, this can have a detrimental effect on the pacing and plot.

    Amusing dialogue scenes can only go on so long. Dialogue scenes should usually serve a purpose.

    If the author has two characters like this in the same scene, the situation can become more unmanageable.

    Cutting back these scenes is pretty much an example of murdering your darlings.

    The scenes might seem to be full of life, but a novel is not episodic. There should be a plot, and it should keep on moving.

    It shouldn’t be paused frequently for a chat break.

     

    When dialogue destroys your atmosphere

    Where this can become an even bigger issue is when there’s a conflict between the tone of the dialogue and the genre of the novel or its overall atmosphere.

    For example, if you want a dark, foreboding atmosphere to hang over the narrative, too much witty repartee is going to blow it out of the water.

    Think horror novels or dark thrillers.

    The dialogue becomes tone-deaf.

    It would work in a witty chic-lit novel, but there are other narratives where you really need to reign it in.

    You particularly don’t want it at wrong moments in the plot, where it interrupts the story or delays important events.

    Too much of this and your reader may bail out completely.

     

    When dialogue makes scenes too ‘loud’

    Another issue I’ve seen in manuscripts is that dialogue can actually amplify the volume in scenes where you want a quieter and possibly more introspective atmosphere.

    Sometimes, instead of dialogue, indirect speech is really better.

    There are other reasons why you might choose to use indirect speech, but volume is one.

    Another is that too much speech which has a low-information-to-wordcount ratio buries important details. You don’t want the most important details of the speech to be hidden among the less important chat.

    While people can drone on in real life, you have to be a bit more ruthless with characters.

    Novels, like films and plays, are artificial constructs. They are not a realistic representation of life. The scenes are edited, with toilet breaks and other mundanities usually left out.

    The same should be true of speech.

    You don’t have to be puritanical about it and only include the absolutely most relevant dialogue.

    But you do have to weigh the length and tone of your dialogue against the surrounding narrative.

     

    When dialogue slows the pace

    Dialogue often produces shorter lines and paragraphs down a page. This leads to the reader turning the page faster.

    While that is good for pace, it can also be draining to read if it goes on too long.

    This is particularly true if the dialogue doesn’t have an important purpose.

    The reader isn’t reading to eavesdrop on people, they want to see what happens to the characters and follow the plot to the end.

    When dialogue works really well it can boost the pace, but when it doesn’t it can slow the pace to a crawl.

    A novel that is heavy on dialogue is going to have a different tone from one that has much less.

    This doesn’t mean that the first is wrong – it could be a feature of the novel.

    But it does have an impact on tone and volume, though there are other factors like the personalities of the character and the genre that also have to be factored in.

     

    Other examples of when dialogue ruins scenes

    Fictional dialogue is a huge topic. Certainly, it’s too complex to cover in one blog post.

    But these are some of the other occasions when dialogue can ruin your scenes:

    • Using clunky dialogue to convey information to the reader. There are more subtle ways to convey the information you want your reader to know. 
    • Related to the previous point – some writers are using blocks of dialogue as massive info dumps, with no interruptions or pauses that you might expect in real-life speech.
    • Long speeches that are never interrupted by other characters.
    • Incorrect dialogue formatting – one author client even had an editor incorrectly format all the dialogue in her novel which I then had to undo.
    • Dialogue where everyone in the same scene sounds exactly the same. Readers struggle to tell one character from another.
    • Overly formal dialogue that doesn’t match real-life speech patterns. For example, some writers make upper-class speech oddly stilted.

     

    Dialogue is a skill you can master

    There’s much more that could be listed here.

    But one important thing to remember is that most human communication is non-verbal. And this is often getting missed.

    Those little pauses, gestures, facial expressions, and body language can reveal a lot. Check out The Emotion Thesaurus for how to convey non-verbal cues.

    If you really want to learn from the best, screenwriters and dramatists are a great place to start.

    Some of them are more realistic than others, but there’s plenty of great material to learn from.

    Most of all, don’t worry if your dialogue isn’t quite there yet. It’s something you can refine over multiple drafts.

    And if you think it’s not your strong point right now, remember not to get bogged down in negative thinking.

    Because when you tell yourself you’re not good at something, it can block you from doing better.

    Those other people who are great at dialogue – who knows how long it took them to get there!

    Try these tips !

    Join my free 5-Day Conquer Your Novel Challenge!

    Get 5 days of tips and challenges on plot, character, and structure so you can improve your manuscript. 

  • When is the best time for a developmental edit?

    When is the best time for a developmental edit?

    When is the best time for a developmental edit?

    So, you’ve been working on your novel or memoir and now you’re wondering when is the best time for a developmental edit. Maybe you’re even wondering if you need a developmental edit. In fact, that is the best starting point for this topic.

    Let’s check your writing background and circumstances.

    Let’s take a look at your background and current circumstances. Have a look at these questions:

    • Are you a beginner writer working on your first piece of writing?
    • Do you have any experience of writing groups, workshops, or courses?
    • Have you already had feedback on your writing from anyone likely to give you an honest assessment?
    • Are you in a hurry to boost your writing skills as opposed to taking your time to learn your craft?
    • Are you intending to publish your work yourself?
    • Do you hope to make a career or at least a side gig out of writing?

    I could have listed other questions, but I think this is a good starting point.

    Beginner writers don’t necessarily need to get a developmental edit on a rougher draft unless they are determined to shorten their learning time, they have the money, are aiming to publish themselves, and don’t have access to writing groups and other feedback.

    However, I’m not someone who believes people should be wasting their money on unnecessary services or services they are not yet ready for. So, let’s dig deeper.

    Let’s assume you are working on your first book – either a novel or memoir.

    Perhaps you don’t have access to a local writing group and you’re not comfortable engaging with online writing communities.

    Maybe you’ve tried to join some but you’ve just never found the right one.

    Or maybe you’re just shy and hate participating and you prefer to share your work in a more controlled situation.

    Developmental editing and manuscript critiques are still not your first option. There are times when they could be, but a beta read or working with a trustworthy critique partner might be a better cost-effective start.

    However, if you’ve not had much luck with beta readers, you might be reluctant to go down that path again.

    Nevertheless, it could still be worth your while looking for like-minded people online who are interested in your genre, are knowledgeable about it, and reliable enough to give you constructive feedback.

    But, for whatever reason, maybe this has not worked out for you or you just don’t want to go down that route. I get it – writers can be introverts. And like creative people in general, they can be wary of sharing their work.

    When you need feedback

    However, sooner or later, you need feedback. For one thing, bad habits can become engrained and it can become difficult to shake them off. But you also want to know:

    • Is my work good enough?
    • Would anyone want to read it?
    • Might an agent be interested?
    • What can I do better? Where can I improve?

    I have worked with quite a few beginner writers. In those instances, a developmental edit was useful for them because my prices at the time were lower. Some of them said I was cheaper than a writing course.

    But I did look at it to some degree as coaching mixed with developmental editing. The aim was to boost their skillset (and their manuscripts) to a whole new level.

    Opening chapters edit – affordable, fast, detailed

    But you don’t have to go for a full developmental edit to do this. You don’t even need to opt for a manuscript critique, which is cheaper but usually deals with an entire book.

    There are some editors, like myself, who offer opening chapters packages. I offer 15,000 words currently for £150. It’s a flat rate, so you always know what you’re paying.

    There are no extra costs.

    From a price perspective, it’s more affordable, but it also means a newer writer doesn’t feel as overwhelmed by information and track comments right through the entire manuscript. It allows you to learn with less material.

    Some of the things an opening chapters edit will deal with

    • Your opening hook – do you grab the reader (and why it’s important to do so).
    • Do your writing style and tone fit the book’s genre (you’d be surprised what can impact this).
    • Your main character – are they well fleshed out and someone the reader will want to champion for an entire book?
    • What are your main character’s goals, aspirations at the beginning of the story? What do they want?
    • Narrative viewpoint(s) – does your point of view choice work in your narrative’s best interests?
    • Do you have an antagonist or antagonistic force? Who/what is blocking your main character’s goals?
    • If you have an antagonist, are they a fleshed-out credible character or a two-dimensional baddie with no redeeming features?
    • How soon does your plot begin? (Hint: it should start pretty soon.)
    • If you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, do you have a lot of worldbuilding at the outset? (Watch out – this is a pace killer and could leave your reader bailing out before the story is underway.)
    • Character hierarchy – how many characters do you have, and how many are main characters, secondary, minor, etc? (Remember, the more time you give to minor and secondary characters, the less time you have for the main characters.)
    • The emotional and psychological dominoes – if something good or bad happens to your character, they should not forget about it by the next chapter. This is a generalisation, but if someone has had a bad experience in real life, it reverberates for days, weeks, even years. (This will be the subject of another post.)
    • Location: does your novel have a strong sense of place? (Location is more important to some stories than others.)
    • Do you have either too much or too little dialogue? Do you use dialogue to tell the reader things in a way that’s maybe too obvious and clunky? Is your dialogue the right tone for the scenes?
    • Do all your characters sound alike? (Do any of them have their own particular speech patterns?)
    • Is your dialogue correctly formattted? (I’ve seen some odd stuff in my time!)
    • Pacing – how well does your story move? Too fast? Too slow? The same speed all the way through?
    • How does your paragraph formatting affect your pacing? (This is a topic I’ll address in a future blog post.)
    • Are you using unnecessary transition scenes when you could just opt for a jump cut instead?
    • Your plot structure – even though I only assess the first 15,000 words, I can also give you an idea of what you should be aiming for later on. Especially if you include a synopsis that helps outline the middle and end of your book.
    • Themes and subjects the opening chapters address – for example, it might be a coming of age story about a young LGBT teen and the challenges they face.

    These are only a few of the things that might get looked at in an opening chapters edit. It partly depends on the individual manuscript and the author’s strengths and weaknesses.

    Don’t worry, all writers have their weaknesses!

    What you get with an opening chapters edit

    So, how does all this look in terms of what you get for your £150?

    • An editorial letter that usually runs to at least a few thousand words.
    • Track comments in the margins of your manuscript.
    • A reading list that addresses editorial suggestions and helps you develop your skillset further.
    • Where relevant, I might include a book map or visual material but not all manuscripts need this.
    • Email support – I respond to your queries about the edit and will review a small number of short sample rewrites at no extra cost.
    • A discount on a later manuscript critique or full developmental edit.

    The beauty of an opening chapters edit is that it’s not overwhelming, either from the point of view of time, amount of information to consume, or price.

    This is also a fast service – you can get your feedback a few days after your booking time.

    You also don’t pay the full amount upfront. If I’m booked up, you can pay in three installments, though the payment period is very short owing to the express delivery time. If I’m not booked up, you can pay half in advance and half on completion.

    When is the best time for a developmental edit? Whenever you’re ready!

    But don’t forget you have writing group and beta reader options first.

    You an also join my free 5-Day Conquer Your Novel Challenge below, which focuses on looking at your central plot, characterisation, and structure.

    Try these tips !

    Join my free 5-Day Conquer Your Novel Challenge!

    Get 5 days of tips and challenges on plot, character, and structure so you can improve your manuscript.