The Editor’s Scalpel

Brief Housekeeping:

Some of you may have noticed a lack of updates this month. Due to school being school, I’ll be changing my schedule to post every other week instead of weekly. 

English: Diamond scalpel
I was seriously considering a photo of a scalpel leaning on a pig’s heart, with a caption about ‘yeah, that’s what it feels like’. Because I love you, here’s a diamond scalpel instead. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my experience editing, I’ve noticed I use two words more than any other: “comma” and “cut”. The former, being one of the most absurdly complicated elements of English grammar, already has a blog post dedicated to it. And then there’s the latter.

A double-edged sword

It’s a writer’s job to explain, to take that vivid picture in your head and use words to paint it in mine. That takes a lot of effort, a lot of detail, and a lot of words. Sometimes, though, those words can clutter the sentences, bog down prose, or otherwise get in the way of the image. We’re left walking a razor’s edge: too many words, and you risk overwriting. Too few, and you risk not being understood.

(That’s the last blade-pun, I promise).

You might notice the problem: it’s very difficult to identify that line in your own writing. After all, you already know what you’re trying to convey. For a matter like this, which is dependent on clarity and reader understanding, I recommend getting a beta editor to look over your manuscript and point out which sections are unclear or overwritten.

What is overwriting?

There’s different varieties, but these are the ones I see most often:

Purple prose — When the writing calls attention to the author instead of the story or characters. Often it comes in the form of waxing poetic at length about… anything, and it typically comes across as the author trying too hard to be fancy. That’s not to say good writing can’t be poetic, but you’ll often get a stronger effect with a single significant detail than with a paragraph-long abstract description.

Needless repetition — Sometimes it’s as subtle as using both a dialogue tag and an action beat for the same section of dialogue. Sometimes it’s characters repeating the same information to one another. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase being reused too frequently in a short space, when one or more of them could be replaced by a synonym. And sometimes it’s the same detail being given in two different ways.

Understood — “He reached down to his belt level, wrapped his hand around the hilt of his sword, tightened his grip, contracted the muscles in his arm and shoulder, pulled the weapon from his scabbard, and raised it into the air in front of him.” Or, once my scalpel has had its say: “He drew his sword.” There are a lot of secondary and tertiary details that readers will assume to be true when they’re given a little bit of context. The biggest offender: “he said, looking at her.” If two people are in a conversation, unless it’s explicitly stated they’re avoiding eye contact, we will always assume they’re looking at one another, because that’s the way people hold conversations (outside of movies and television, of course).

Unnecessary words –– Descriptors can often be trimmed if they’re understood. For example, “He sat down in the chair” can usually be slimmed into “He sat in the chair” (unlike “he sat up in the chair”, which indicates an entirely different action). Similar examples include “stood up” and “woke up“.

These are all things to give you ideas, but like all writing, it’s subjective. In the end it all comes down to whether that word or phrase helps to create a vivid image or emotion in the reader’s mind, or whether it’s just clutter. .

Fresh on the shelves!

In case you hadn’t heard, Michelle Hauck and I are working together as freelance editors.

Today I’m proud to announce that not one, but two of our clients just hit the shelves!

black parade Kyoko M. just came out with her first book, The Black Parade, an urban fantasy NA thriller with a holy twist. 

One bullet is all it took to transform eighteen-year-old New Yorker Jordan Amador into the last hope for souls of the dead. However, it also transformed her into a cantankerous asocial waitress with a drinking problem. Jordan accidentally shot and killed a Seer: a person who can communicate with ghosts, angels, and demons. Worse still, she did so on the eve of her own awakening, making her the last Seer on Earth with no one to guide her. As penance, God gives her two years to help one hundred souls with unfinished business cross over from Earth to the afterlife or she will go to Hell. Just as she approaches the deadline, Jordan finds her hundredth soul: a smart-mouthed poltergeist named Michael whose ability to physically touch things makes him distinct from her usual encounters with the dead. However, the deeper she delves solving his sudden death, the more she realizes something sinister is on the horizon. With time running short, Jordan stumbles across a plot that may unravel the fragile balance among Heaven, Hell, and Earth. Her life is plunged into chaos as she is hunted by demons that want to use her valuable Seer blood to bring about the end of the world and discovers that these creatures have a frightening connection to her family bloodline. Plus, the budding romance between Jordan and Michael makes it harder for them to let go of each other so he can become part of the eternal black parade.

Kyoko M is a recent graduate from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She hails from Riverdale, Georgia, a metro-Atlanta city, and currently lives in Ocala, Florida working on her novels. She has written articles for toonaripost.com, and is a 2011 winner of National Novel Writing Month for her title The Starlight Contingency, as well as being a first round finalist for the 2013 Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest for her debut novel The Black Parade. She has a passion for urban fantasy, science fiction, high fantasy, supernatural, and paranormal works. She is also known for being a sarcastic nerd whose influences include comic books, anime, movies, and various novel series.

iron jawed boyKyoko is joined by Nikolas Lee and his debut, The Iron-Jawed Boy, the first installment of The Sky Guardian Chronicles. It’s a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, set so far in the future that it curves back around and starts looking like the past. 

Being the freak with the iron jaw isn’t easy for Ionikus Reaves. It’s cold, heavy, and worst of all, it’s bound to his skin with magic. Father attached it, but left only a riddle as to why, and now he’s in the war, fighting on behalf of the pompous, evil Illyrian gods who drafted him. Now with Father gone, Ion blames no one but the Illyrians for his new freak status. Then Ion discovers that, due to an incredibly infuriating reincarnation, he’s a Guardian: a wind-riding, lightning-toting god created to serve the Illyrians he so hates. The gods promise to free Father, however, and possibly solve the mystery of Ion’s jaw–so long as he agrees to train as a Guardian–and Ion accepts. But Ion soon finds his new world to be a dark, secretive one, where not every promise a god makes, a god keeps, and not accepting who you are…can have the deadliest of consequences.

 Nikolas Lee was born in Evansville, Indiana, moved with his family to Las Vegas, Nevada, when he was eleven, moved back to Indiana when he was fourteen, then moved back to Las Vegas when he was sixteen. No, neither he, nor his family are under the witness protection program. Though that would be much cooler than the real reason. He currently resides in Santa Monica, California, where he’s usually watching anything with Tina Fey in it, or writing. He and Ion have been friends since he was eight years old, when Ion’s name was Thunder and Nikolas’s concept of proper comma usage was poor at best.

 

Both of these books are fantastic reads, so what are you waiting for? Hurry up and grab a copy!