Setting may seem like a simple backdrop where your plot unfolds, but it does much more than that when handled with care. It sets the tone and adds perspective into your characters' lives.
Whether they are city dwellers or country folk, describing the setting allows readers to relate on a broader scale. No one exists in a void. When I say I'm from Colorado, for example, people subconsciously--in miliseconds--create an image of what that means to them. They may picture mountains or craft beer...skiing or hiking...all from a word. Whether or not any of these things are actually connected to me will only be revealed after knowing me better. So it is with the story you wish to tell, whether it is nonfiction or fiction, where your story takes place is essential to the reader's understanding.
But too much description slows down the pace, you protest. I agree that it can if it's overdone. As with all story elements, setting must be woven into the plot with balance.
But you say treat setting like a character...what exactly do you mean by that? Think about the setting's personality. Every place on earth has a 'feel' to it, an unique vibration, a tempo. It's not enough to say simply "Colorado"...what's around me? What are the people like? What does it smell like? What does the air feel like? What are the local foods? How does being in Colorado affect the characters? Why are they here? There's a reason that you, the author, chooses a particular setting. Why is your story there? Will the elements impact the plot? Does it shape the characters' habits?
Give setting as much thought as you do plot and character development. If you're setting a suspense novel on an island, for instance, that immediately amplifies the tension. Where do you run if you're on an island? Where do you hide? How does the ocean sway your characters' decisions?
Even if you do not write it all in your story, think about these questions while you're revising your manuscript. Is there a balance between describing the setting, unfolding the plot, and defining your characters?
In order to have a fully fleshed out manuscript, the setting needs to come alive in the readers' minds. Let them feel the heat or the cold or the isolation. Let them hear the noise or smell the trash. Allow your setting to weave into every scene in such a way that you transport the reader into your world.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Friday, July 18, 2014
Believe it or not, you can always improve. Not every word you've written is golden, especially after revisions have gotten it to the point where your manuscript crosses my desk. But that's okay! It's normal. As the author, you have spent endless hours with your story, wrestled with plot lines gone astray, and watched your characters grow from an idea to fully-fleshed out fictional people who have found a permanent place in your heart. Because of your attachment to your story, you may be unable to see mistakes.
Editing is more than pointing out grammatical errors and fixing a comma or two. An editor needs to be honest and tell the author where the story dips or when characterizations falter. It's our job to point out the missteps before your story reaches the public who won't be nearly as polite. (There are readers out there who actually count typos and will make a point of dinging you in a review for 10 typos out of 100,000 words. It's true. I've seen it!)
I've encountered some clients who resent being asked to revise. Usually these are the inexperienced writers who aren't familiar with professional editing. Perhaps their friend has read it and told them that it is flawless, I don't know. What I do know is that it is only the inexperienced who balk at having their work criticized in any way.
You read that right: only the inexperienced. You would think it would be the opposite, right? With the novice craving insight and the pro thinking they don't need it? That's never been my experience. Why? Because an author worth their merit craves feedback and understands the necessity of a second pair of professional eyes looking over their work before it launches into the world.
What do I mean by criticism? No, it's not the words "you suck" written in the margins of the work. It is professional feedback phrased as "I suggest" or "please consider" or "I noticed some story contradictions" or another version of the above. I've been in this business for a few decades now both as a writer and an editor. Professionalism is the key in both giving and receiving a critique.
The public will tell you if something sucks and doesn't care about your feelings. An editor does care, even if you perceive him/her as tough in their commentary. No, you don't need to take all of the suggestions given by your editor. A good editor doesn't want to change your story or your style, he/she only wants to see you succeed. Use what resonates with you and disregard what doesn't. However, the key to a good working relationship with an editor is learning to be open to the possibility that your work isn't flawless.
Publishing is a tough business. The only way you will be in it for the long haul is to receive honest feedback with grace.
Next week on "From the editor's desk" I will be discussing what traits to look for in an editor. Here's a hint: your daughter being an English major is not one of them.
Professional editor and bestselling author
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
All too often I hear about 'bad' editors who either attempt to rewrite an author's manuscript or who simply aren't qualified to do the job. Editing is more than proofreading. It's also not a skill that can be faked.
Here are the things an editor should offer:
• Professional credentials. Yes, everyone, this is a profession and needs to be respected as such. How long has the person been in the business? What sort of experience do they have? Are they educated?
• Comprehensive editing. This includes story development suggestions/critique, knowledge of show vs tell, grammar, continuity issues, and basic proofreading.
• Editorial notes. It is standard for an editor to provide you a summary of both the good and 'in need of improvement' aspects of your manuscript.
• A contract. A written agreement protects both the author and the editor. It should cover all that is expected from both parties, including deadlines and payment methods.
• At least two rounds of edits. A complete edit cannot happen in one sitting. There needs to be at least two rounds of back and forth with the author. The first round usually consists of a thorough, comprehensive edit complete with suggestions and editorial notes. The second is a read through of the author's revisions to clean up any resulting fall-out in structure and proofreading. The cost should include this and should also be stated in the contract.
Frequently Asked Questions:
• Should a legitimate editor edit a few chapters for free to get a 'feel' for each other? My answer is: do you write for free? The answer is no. There is no guarantee in this scenario that you will hire the editor and, for all the editor knows, you may simply want to polish the first three chapters to submit to an agent. Do not base your choice of editor on whether or not he/she will give you a free sample edit. Editing takes time and, as the saying goes, time is money,
• What if I don't like the suggestions my editor makes? Well, that is your perrogative. Ultimately, it is your story. The editor can only make suggestions based on their knowledge and experience. Editors also know that you need to stay true to your vision. However, before outright rejecting what your editor says, think on it carefully and decide what would be best for your story.
• How do I know if an editor is reasonably priced? That's a good question. You can go to the Editorial Freelancers Association for a list of national averages (US) here: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php Also, look at a few different editors, see if they have references or a workload you can see. As with most things in life, cheapest isn't always the best option.
• Why is a professional editor preferable over my Aunt Sue who is an avid reader? Unless Aunt Sue is an educated editor or published author, I would suggest avoiding that scenario. Professional editors come with an education and experience. Aunt Sue may also try to protect your feelings. An editor--a good one--will be honest in a constructive way.
• What is the difference between a beta reader and an editor? A beta reader will let you know if the story is any good, or if there are story 'holes' and things of that nature. An editor goes deeper to the structure of the book that a novice simply can't see--unless it's a faulty structure, in which case a reader will simply say "there's something not right here." An editor will pinpoint what's not right so you can fix it.
• What if I only want something proofread? Well, I would ask you 'why.' Traditionally published authors have their manuscripts scrutinized in a comprehensive edit. Why do you feel you don't need that same scrutiny?
I've covered most of the bases here, but will gladly answer any other questions you have in the comments below. Write on!