Fiction Editing

  • 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. 

  • 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    9 reasons why you don't need an editor
    9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    So, you want to publish your novel yourself. Here’s 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    Reason #1: Your novel is perfect as it is

    Yeah, umm… probably not. Next…

    #Reason #2: Your mother loved it. LOVED it

    Is your mother an editor? If she is, does she have the objectivity to be honest with you? Or might she worry that being honest will wreck your relationship?!

    Reason #3: Your best friend promised to give you feedback

    There’s nothing wrong with getting a friend to read your book. BUT, if they’re doing it as a favour, you have to wait until they’re ready. When they made that promise, they never factored in the length of the book, how long it would take them, or their own confidence in their critical skills.

    In fact, once it lands in their inbox, they might well procrastinate until the cows come home.

    Likewise, beta readers often vanish, don’t bother to respond, or fail to give sufficient feedback. If you have good beta readers, they are worth a lot, but they’re not editors and once you’ve ironed out their concerns, that takes you to the next level. The next level involves technical issues like structure, point of view, head hopping, show versus tell, and a whole bunch of other things. There are so many balls to juggle when you’re writing. Did you drop any? Did the beta readers or your pal notice that someone exited stage right on page 83, never to be seen again, even though they kind of seemed like an important secondary character?

    Reason #4: Editing is a waste of money

    Here’s the thing, if you’ve written a novel, you’ve already put a huuuugeee amount of time into it. And time, as they say, is money. You could have made other choices on how to spend your time. For example, you could have set up a side hustle. But you decided to write a book instead.

    So, you have invested a lot of time, energy, thought, ambition, and hope in your work.

    Why?

    Do you hope people will buy it? This means putting it into the marketplace where it has to compete with other books. Potential readers can download a Kindle sample and check it out. If there are problems with the opening chapters, they will bail out.

    If you don’t mean to send it off to an agent or publish yourself then it’s true you don’t need an editor. There is one exception – if you want to do better next time. Then it might be worth investing in professional feedback to take your skills to the next level. Then again, you could save money and join a good writing group.

    Reason #5: I’m shelling out for a book cover. What more do I want?

    Bad covers can kill reader interest. Good covers still need good content. Imagine a reader excited by the cover art, the genre, the blurb, only to give up before they get to the end of the first chapter. Maybe your story fails to start, the characters are boring, or your worldbuilding is taking over the book. Maybe your story is just plain boring, and they want to throw the book at the wall. As a developmental editor, I’ve had indie authors come to me after their book has been published, so I can fix their mistakes. So, they still needed an edit after all.

    Reason #6: I’m only doing this as a hobby

    And that’s fine. Some people genuinely don’t care if anyone reads their book. For some people, writing a book is on their bucket list, and once it’s done, it’s over. In which case, you might well choose to skip editing. But if you’re hoping that book gets some readers, it’s probably best to get some input.

    Reason #7: You don’t need to spend money to publish a book these days

    It’s true you can skip editing, design your own cover, do your own marketing, and so on. You might have a free blog you can use and you have Twitter and Facebook for promotion. But, here’s the thing, so do loads of other people. Thousands upon thousands of them.

    Have you ever hung around the #writerslift hashtag on Twitter? So many people promoting their books in the desperate hope that they’ll grab a few more readers. Often they’re promoting more to other writers, who don’t necessarily have the time to buy or read all those books. You need to appeal more to readers. Yes, readers can be writers. But whoever you promote to, things like cover design, genre, plot, and sample opening pages will be the deciding factor for a lot of people. To beat the competition, your book needs to be polished, and that includes editing.

    Reason #8: Your novel is a staggering work of genius already. Who needs a fucking edit?

    Who indeed? Well, you, actually. No one writes a genius novel, perfectly polished, no flabby bits, plot holes, saggy middles, or weak endings. No head hopping. Oh wait, was the head hopping deliberate? Like a stylistic choice.

    Uh-huh.

    Reason #9: Some mate on Twitter says you don’t need an editor and they’ve never used one

    Did your mate do well with their own book? Might they have had an unfortunate encounter with an editor? Perhaps they’re still gnashing their teeth over negative feedback and now they have an axe to grind.

    Some people do display a strange amount of anger towards editors. It’s almost as if they think editors are out to get them, destroy their cherished dreams, murder their first-born child (their book).

    In reality, most editors get into this business because they love reading and they love books. They feel passionately about helping writers become better authors. They want to see their clients do well.

    Still, there’s no law that says you need an editor. The truth is, for indie authors, you can do what you want. You can choose where to focus your attention – marketing, cover art and design, the various levels of editing, etc. There’s no doubt that to address everything comes with a price tag attached. A price you don’t have to pay when you have a traditional publisher to cover the costs for you. Compromises may have to be made. Corners cut. It might come down to leaving out a round of editing or relying on beta readers to try and pick up your developmental issues.

    If you see indie publishing as a business, then you will definitely come to understand the costs of doing business. In business, it’s normal to hire contractors. In serious indie publishing, it’s no different. Budgeting for this is a topic for another day.

    So, there you have it, 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    But if you are looking for a developmental editor, you can check out my post on the difference between a developmental edit and a manuscript critique.

  • What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?
    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? Hint: not coffee

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? This is a reasonable question since I could be a complete scam artist about to run off with your money.

    I know you don’t particularly care about my training, other than to hope I’ve had some. Yes, indeedy, there are people out there who think reading a book on developmental editing and downloading a template off the internet is all it takes to start a business.

    Before I go any further, I need to point out two things:

    • Yes, I meant to write ‘indeedy’ because this is a somewhat informal post
    • I once had a client tell me she got more feedback from me for her 20,000-word novella than she did for a full length developmental edit where she paid over £1000. Not to me, obviously. To another editor who may not have specialised in developmental work.

    The skillset for developmental editing is very different from a proofreader’s skillset, or what you need to be a good copyeditor. Indeed, you can be a good technical copyeditor, but not a great line editor when it comes to fiction – especially fiction where you literally have no idea what the author is trying to do because you. don’t. get. literary. writing.

    It’s like getting an actor to read a poem. Sometimes they do a good job – think Vincent Price reciting Annabel Lee. Totally blows my socks off every time. But there are some lords and dames of the theatre who absolutely murder poetry by reading it like a speech. They completely ignore metre and I never want to hear that poem read that way ever again. It’s like a tone-deaf person murdering a song.

    But, I digress… I’m supposed to be telling you what you will get if you hire me.

    I’ve been rather remiss when it comes to posting client feedback on this website. This is because my clients were all coming from another platform and I didn’t bother to promote my site the way I should. But it’s the end of 2020. I need to sort myself out, give myself a good slap, and remember that I will living on the streets if I don’t start charging what I’m worth.

    A crash course in writing

    Today was a great reminder. Though it started yesterday, or several days before that. A client whose manuscript has been through two rounds of full developmental editing sent me her new chapters one and two. I think she’s hoping for a third round soon, and my prices are such that it’s well affordable. Her new chapters one and two were a big jump from the previous two drafts. I was seriously impressed. She took my reading recommendations, ploughed through the list, read the novel I recommended because I thought it was perfect for her to learn certain techniques, and she has improved her writing in a very short period of time.

    She’s a newish writer, so she doesn’t have years of writing behind her to learn all this stuff. Is she there yet? No, but her learning curve has been amazing. And that’s one of the most satisfying things about developmental editing and returning clients. If someone comes for a single round of editing, there’s not the same opportunity to see how they get on with it. You might even start to worry if they did get on with it. I personally prefer to see a second round of the manuscript at the very least.

    But that leads me to what you’ll get with me beyond a potentially steep learning curve, if you’re a beginner. However, that learning curve is one of my USPs. Know what a USP is? It’s your unique selling point. If you ever mean to go into business, and that includes becoming an author-entrepreneur, you should give a great deal of thought to your USP. Because it’s what marks you out from the competition. It doesn’t necessarily make you better than the competition, because they have their USPs too, and their client base could be very different.

    The basic built-in services

    So, beyond the learning curve, what do you get? In some respects, it comes down to what is right for you, the individual author. And what is most appropriate for your manuscript. But there are the non-negotiables. For a full developmental edit, you get an editorial letter that is several pages long, plus a copy of your manuscript with track commenting. You also get a reading list.

    I can do more than this. I can draw up a book map, which is time-consuming and therefore more of an extra. Although my prices are going up, they will still be lower than industry-standard for quite some time to come. This means I don’t put in extras that add a lot of time (because time is also money). You can get the extras on top. That includes a second round of editing. You can also get feedback between edits – for when you’re stuck and you need me to check something. A small amount of this is built into the price already. But a lot more and I’d have to charge. But, again, I wouldn’t be charging industry standard rates. Not for a while. I’m keen to give lower-income writers an opportunity to get a foot on the rung.

    All of this, so far, has been about developmental editing. I can do this type of editing on different levels – starting with the most basic issues in the first round of editing, and moving on to more pernickety stuff later. This can be easier for a writer to deal with because it paces the rewrites better. Reworking a draft is no longer such a monumental task. And they’re getting guidance along the way. Of course, some writers want something much more detailed to start with because they don’t intend to come back for a second round.

    Manuscript critiques

    So, what about manuscript critiques? These are cheaper than developmental edits, so I ought to have done far more of them, right? Wrong. I’ve done far more developmental edits because my prices were low and many of those edits were my opening chapters edit. The wordcounts were around the 10,000 word mark, unless a client asked me to look at something longer. Many of those clients would then come back to me for a full developmental edit. They liked the track commenting in the margins and found it helpful.

    However, as my prices go up, a full developmental edit will be more expensive. So, where does that leave the manuscript critiques? Well, cheaper, obviously. The full weight of the feedback is in the editorial letter since there’s no track commenting. These editorial letters can therefore be longer because they have to deal with everything. They are structured by subject, starting with the bigger issues and moving down the hierarchy of things-that-need-to-be-dealt-with. There’s also a reading list. You get this regardless of whether it’s a developmental edit or a manuscript critique.

    Specially tailored manuscript critique

    You can also ask for a manuscript critique with a sample developmental edit of the opening chapters. This means those chapters will have track commenting. You could ask me to look at the beginning and the end this way. But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons a developmental edit is more expensive is the sheer amount of time it takes to go through a manuscript and leave comments. It’s at least two passes of comments or even three or four in one edit. I never read a manuscript once, I read it several times.

    My opening chapters edit is a developmental edit, but you could ask for the manuscript critique version instead, which means no margin comments. It takes me less time, and that means you save money. You miss out on the comments though.

    The main thing to stress is that what I can do for you really depends on a number of things. These include the amount of knowledge you already have, the number of drafts you’ve already written, and whether you intend to send your novel to an agent or publish it yourself. In the case of the former, if you can get a cheaper developmental edit (from someone who knows what they’re doing), then that’s all well and good. But you don’t need a full DE if you’re submitting. If a publisher accepts your book, that kind of editing will be provided without you being out of pocket. Some writers do still choose a developmental edit even if they’re submitting to an agent. There are reasons… like, they think it’s the best way to rise above the other manuscripts in the pile. It’s true that the competition is huge.

    Another editorial service I offer is a beta read with some additional developmental comments. However, this is nowhere near the input of a manuscript critique. It can work as the last read, checking that everything on the developmental level is now fixed or close to being fixed.

    So, that is an outline of what I deliver. However, every client and manuscript is different. Custom orders are always welcome. If you want to know more, feel free to drop me a message through my contact form. We can discuss your needs and also assess whether you’re really ready for a manuscript critique or a developmental edit. Perhaps you need a beta read first, in which case I’d advise you to hire or find beta readers and getting feedback from them first. But it really comes down to the individual client. I will turn down work if I think I’m not right for the client or that the client is wasting their money.

    In the meantime, you can check out my services page. Here’s a detailed post about the differences between a manuscript critique and a developmental edit.