Saturday, July 21, 2012

This week’s weekend guest: Editor Cheryl Freedman

This weekend’s guest here at Type M is my good friend, the redoubtable Cheryl Freedman, ace editor and friend to crime writers everywhere. She has edited and consulted on numerous books with many authors here in Canada, and together with her sister editor Elaine runs, a well-respected and busy editorial service. Cheryl has assisted me for my most recent three novels as “last eyes” before I’ve sent my mss off to the publisher and she has proven invaluable – and tough to please, an excellent thing in an editor. She can be contacted at You can find her very extensive bio by clicking HERE. If you’re lucky, she’ll be able to help you. Just ask if she’s got time. Oh, and did I mention she was the heart and soul of Crime Writers of Canada for many years? Then there’s her work as chair of Bloody Words, and…

So take it away, Cheryl!

An ABC of Editorial Advice

It’s not inexpensive to hire an editor to make your magnum opus shine, although it’s almost always a good idea to do so. But you can cut down on the cost by avoiding certain mistakes that make editors gnash their teeth, wonder if they should raise their rates to cover pain and suffering, and possibly contemplate some other more rewarding job like working the morning shift at McFood.

So let me offer an ABC of editorial advice. Well, not a complete ABC, which would be humongously long. But we must start somewhere, so here are a few entries under A.

Adjectives and adverbs. Don’t stack adjectives and/or adverbs. You can get a much stronger effect and you’ll sound less like a newbie author if you use powerful, descriptive nouns and verbs.

Apostrophes. None of you write “it’s” as the possessive of “it,” do you? Of course, you don’t because you know that “it’s” is the contraction for “it is” while the possessive of “it” is “its.” Now that we have that out of the way, apostrophes denote either a contraction or possession; they are not used when you make a word plural.

Attribution, or, He said, she said. If you have only two characters in a scene and (this is important) each has a distinctive way of speaking, you do not need attribution. As a matter of fact, if your dialogue is particularly well crafted, you may not need very much attribution even in a scene with more than two characters. If you do have to attribute a line to a character, you might want to add some kind of action or business to it. Example: “So there.” Trillian reached over and tweaked Zaphod’s right nose.

Nor do you have to get fancy with attributive words. Example: Unless the character is a pompous jerk, the following is highly unlikely: “I’m going to the store now,” Bob pontificated. In other words, “said” is a perfectly good word unless you have a very good reason for using another word of attribution. And bear in mind that what the character is saying should convey how s/he says it. Example: You probably don’t need to say “Billy snivelled” if Billy’s line is “But you promised you’d take me to the zoo.”

Audience, Know your. Who’s your book aimed at? What age group? University educated? Men or women? Mystery readers or perhaps cross genre? Knowing your audience will tell you the kind of language you should use, length of sentences, complexity of sentence construction, etc. It will also help you shape and colour your plot, characters, voice, tone, etc.

Author. That’s you. You’re the boss: You’ve come up with the plot, characters, setting, etc. That’s enough. Keep your voice out of the book. Let your characters speak for themselves and carry the story forward themselves. If there’s information (usually background info) you absolutely have to convey, figure out a way for your characters to present that information naturally.

Just don’t fall into the trap of having one character tell another one something the second character would already know. Example (true story, but I still like the books by this particular author): Two knights, friends, both participated in the sack of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. The author wants the reader to know about the massacre of the Jews and Muslims so he has the first knight tell the second knight what happened.

1 comment:

Hannah Dennison said...

Welcome to Type M! Great post and very helpful tips. It's also great to know about your editorial service. I'm often asked if I know of any editorial services and now I do. Excellent.