Jennifer Carole Lewis is a member of the Ottawa Romance Writers’ Association.
Everyone who has aspired to writing a novel knows the basics of editing: don’t use the passive voice, check for spelling and grammar errors, avoid clichés, and show, don’t tell. However, there are other pitfalls waiting to ensnare an author. Last weekend, on April 3rd, the Ottawa Romance Writers’ Association hosted Laura Byrne Paquet, a former ORWA member and freelance editor for Harlequin. She shared the techniques that professional editors use as well as a number of hilarious anecdotes about some of the more intriguing errors which used to cross her desk.
Her first recommendation was that authors keep notes on the details most likely to trip them up: characters, timelines, and locations. While most authors will have notes on their main characters and locations, it’s the secondary and minor ones which tend to cause problems in the editing process. As an editor, Bryne Paquet would keep separate page of notes for every single character and location mentioned, including page references and any details mentioned. This let her ensure that if the walls were blue in the main coffee shop on page 31, they were still blue on page 237.
Timelines are another point where authors often trip themselves up. Characters can’t drive from Ottawa to Vancouver in two hours and certainly can’t go from New York to Washington on horseback within a day. Bryne Paquet shared an anecdote where she was editing a story and realized that the characters had been running, fighting and in various levels of peril for over seventy-two hours, a physical impossibility. While readers don’t always want to hear about characters taking time to heal, sleep or eat, authors do need to keep those things in mind or else their stories can seem more surreal than exciting. By keeping a log of plot events and time/date references, authors can make sure they haven’t crossed the line.
Once the first draft is complete, then the real work of editing can begin. Authors who can manage these first steps themselves can end up looking more professional when submitting their manuscripts or saving themselves money for editing. First, read the draft quickly, as if you were the reader. Make a note of any areas where the story seems to lag or is repetitive. Next, select any areas which need fact-checking, such as specialty professions, foreign or historical locations, different cultures and languages. Find an expert who can check for any errors or misrepresentations and have them read over those scenes. After that, Bryne Paquet recommends searching out any repetitive or overused words. She used to use Pro Writing Aid to show any words which appear more than the norm.
It’s a lot of work, but editing is what makes the difference between “almost good enough” and “amazing” for a novel.
Next month, ORWA hosts Pub-Craft, a company which offers promotional help and virtual assistants to authors. Laurie Cooper will teach participants how to make Facebook work as a promotional tool. On May 1st from 2 to 4 at Ben Franklin Place find out how to optimize your author page, reach more readers and use Facebook to drive traffic to your website and mailing list. The workshop costs $20 for guests and is free for ORWA members. Guests should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to ensure a spot.