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Editor - dictionary definitionGuest blogger Kieran Mathers is one step closer to publishing his fantasy novella, The Darkness Embraces. But there are some hard truths (and a lot of red pen) to face first…

I expected Claire to break my heart.

Knowing what other writers say about being edited, I was genuinely expecting to lose the will to live once she sent me her revisions of my manuscript. For the princely sum of £254, she read the entire thing and corrected all my typing and grammatical errors.

Not a page has escaped the touch of her red pen (actually, it’s track changes, but the metaphor just doesn’t work otherwise), but I’ve not found it as upsetting an experience as I thought it would be. There were as many errors as I anticipated and then some, but it’s been great to have them pointed out to me. I didn’t realise I was making many of them.

My favourite three errors, which turn up throughout my manuscript, are as follows:

1. My characters are always replying to each other. I used the word ‘replied’ almost as much as I used ‘said’ and I hadn’t even noticed. Most of them have now been discarded. It made me realise that ‘replying,’ unless you’ve used it specifically, can almost always be discarded.

2. My characters are always nodding! It’s clear when I couldn’t think of a description for a line of dialogue I would start with ‘She/He nodded…’ It might be lazy writing, but I think it actually is indicative of my concentration cracking for whatever reason. Otherwise I hope I would have picked it up.

3. ‘Get the captain, right now…’ Broken up dialogue like this always ends with a comma, it doesn’t just trail off. This is, by far, the most common error I have made – it’s in almost every line of dialogue, so at least I’ve been consistent. Consistently wrong. Sorry Claire.

I hate re-writing. By the time I’ve finished staring at my manuscript I’ve normally forgotten what made it so good in the first place. But reading through these corrections has made me re-engage with it, and I’ve re-written some small sections as I go.

This was not a development edit – I got no story or character notes – but knowing that I’ve minimised the errors in the manuscript has given me more confidence, and it’s really good to see what someone else would write. Claire has done some re-writing, too, where it was clear that I’d just lost the idea of what I was doing. She’s definitely improved things.

Most of all, I think just seeing this has already taught me to be a better writer, and that’s never to be sneezed at. To have an editor’s dispassionate view on your work, even just the bare text, is useful and I don’t think I’ll ever move to publication without this.

Editing a manuscriptYou can spend a lot of time talking about ideas, characters, settings, plot and motive. And I have. But I’m beginning to realise that, while these are key, you can’t really get away with sloppy text and it requires much more work than I had anticipated. After all, once the book is finished and available to buy, all the talk is pretty pointless. The reader doesn’t know your intentions, hasn’t heard your conversations and certainly doesn’t know you. All they have is the text, and if you don’t craft that to the best possible standard and really express what you mean, then the rest of the process has frankly been a waste of time.

It sounds like a really simple point, but I think this edit has brought it home. I thought the ideas would sell the book. Now I realise that only the best writing will.

So, not bad at all. I’m still working on the cover art for this one, and we’re in line for a July publication date. Wish me luck, because this should be fun!

Kieran will be back next Saturday with the next instalment of Mundane Adventures. Meanwhile, you can catch up on the previous instalments here.

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