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Thread: Some questions for substantive editors

  1. #1
    Soon I will be invincible Question's Avatar
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    Some questions for substantive editors

    When editing a book, do you do it with "don't bore the reader" in mind or "a good box should (x)" in mind?

    They may seem like the same thing, but the first means leaving things as they are as long as they're interesting while the second means suggesting things based on how things "should" be.

    For example, a book has an opening that involves more events than it needs to. It's interesting, and something that would keep a reader reading, but the story doesn't start in earnest until the next chapter. Would you leave it as it is, or would you suggest the author cut it? Why?
    Writers obsess about things that would be amusing if they weren't so crazy.
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  2. #2
    resident curmudgeon
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    Quote Originally Posted by Question View Post
    When editing a book, do you do it with "don't bore the reader" in mind or "a good box should (x)" in mind?

    They may seem like the same thing, but the first means leaving things as they are as long as they're interesting while the second means suggesting things based on how things "should" be.

    For example, a book has an opening that involves more events than it needs to. It's interesting, and something that would keep a reader reading, but the story doesn't start in earnest until the next chapter. Would you leave it as it is, or would you suggest the author cut it? Why?
    These are really questions without answers, and, I'd say, a false proposition. It's never one or the other.

    Every editor I know goes with "don't bore the reader" at all times. This does not mean leaving things as they are just because they're interesting. If it can be improved, then improve it.

    The sole aim of an editor is to help make the book better, more interesting, more entertaining, better written, etc.

    But if the story doesn't start until chapter two, then chapter two should almost certainly start the book. Readers are interested in story and character. You generally don't have interesting until you have story and character.

    Any needed information in chapter one can then be worked into the book as needed.

    If there are more events than needed, then you cut the unneeded events. Why? because they aren't needed, of course. If you don't need an event, then you'll simply bore readers by including it.

  3. #3
    Mentoring Myself and Others Debbie V's Avatar
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    Adding to what's above: If something is in the book, readers assume it's there for a reason. When they figure out it had no reason, they may be annoyed. Lots of stuff that isn't boring can be annoying. Don't annoy the reader is a really good rule. It keeps your book from being thrown across the room.

  4. #4
    Blissfully Clueless Mutive's Avatar
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    I'm not a substantive editor, so take what I say with a grain of salt but...

    I think a lot of the reasons for the checklists is because in the vast majority of cases, the rules of thumb work.

    A good editor should be able to say, "This is where this rule of thumb would apply" (versus "this is a good exception to a rule I'd usually apply".)

    So I'm sure a lot use checklists - because I think it is helpful to ask things like, "How does this contribute to the novel as a whole? Where does it lie in the overall progression of the novel? How does it work with the given theme?" Because all of these are questions one *should* ask.

  5. #5
    Soon I will be invincible Question's Avatar
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    Thanks a bunch
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  6. #6
    My sarcasm got the better of me. Midian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Question View Post
    When editing a book, do you do it with "don't bore the reader" in mind or "a good box should (x)" in mind?

    They may seem like the same thing, but the first means leaving things as they are as long as they're interesting while the second means suggesting things based on how things "should" be.

    For example, a book has an opening that involves more events than it needs to. It's interesting, and something that would keep a reader reading, but the story doesn't start in earnest until the next chapter. Would you leave it as it is, or would you suggest the author cut it? Why?
    The majority of my clients are substantive. What you're asking isn't really answerable. Books are good for different reasons. What works for one won't necessarily be good for another. We're looking at what THAT book should do, not what all books should do. There is no secret formula; there is no "how things should be."

    A good book should be...good. You don't go into any substantive project looking for anything other than good writing and a good story. If we don't find it, we look for what's holding it back, and how it can be fixed while playing to the writer's strengths.

    Strong writing doesn't equate to strong story, and vice versa.

    If the scene doesn't serve a purpose, then you have to be able to cut it. Each scene should be justifiable. An interesting chapter that serves no purpose is taking the word real estate from something else that could be equally interesting AND purposeful, but didn't get written. Every word is too important to spend word count on fluff. If you can write one interesting thing, you can write 200. Interesting writing is easy (lol, okay, maybe not for everyone, but if you can write ONE interesting thing, you can write another). You have to be able to put it all together as a cohesive story. If you don't, eventually the reader will notice its not going anywhere. Book, meet shelf.
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  7. #7
    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Midian, I took the OP's use of "substantive" to imply that we were being asked advice on editing rather than copy editing. Not to suggest that this was a big project he was talking about. I might be wrong.

    And what you said is entirely right, of course.

  8. #8
    My sarcasm got the better of me. Midian's Avatar
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    Unhappy

    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    Midian, I took the OP's use of "substantive" to imply that we were being asked advice on editing rather than copy editing. Not to suggest that this was a big project he was talking about. I might be wrong.

    And what you said is entirely right, of course.
    Aaah, upon rereading, I think you are probably right. My bad. It does sound like it was just editing in general.
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    I used to have a thing here that said the progress of my current WIPs. I removed them when the progress hadn't changed in two years.

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