Guest Post by Suzanne Warr
Suzanne Warr writes adventure middle-grade stories, mostly sci-fi and fantasy with a twist of humor. She’s also a content editor for Red Adept Publishing. In true writerly fashion, she considers herself a Jane of many trades, with a history degree, a black belt, and an ongoing thirst for adventure and knowledge. She lives in the heart of North Carolina, where she can run to either the beach or the mountains and be back at her desk the next day. You’ll find her blogging (with a generally weekly spotlight on a middle-grade novel) at www.suzannewarr.com. She also writes under Zee Warr, because some nic names can’t be kicked.
As a content editor, I feel grateful that I get to work with a lot of amazing authors in helping them pull their books together. I see the books raw, straight from acquisitions, so when the author and I finish up the major revisions and the book goes on to line editing, cover design, and finally enjoys its debut, I feel a thrill of triumph along with the author. I’m guessing it’s a bit like how a teacher would feel if they held a child’s hand all the way through the grade school years and then watched over them with their parent as they navigated high school and graduated with honors. Truly a thrilling process!
But, how do you get there? What are the repeat offenders that could make your book’s journey harder than it has to be, or worse, get it turned away when it applies for school? Of course, you have to start with a story you’re passionate about, a sympathetic character, and a plot that propels the story forward and is a reasonable fit for your genre. Once you’ve got those basics in place, here are a few pointers I can give, to help you present your book as a bright and ready pupil with its nose wiped clean, on the first day of class.
- Look for POV errors, or loose POV. Every book has a few pov slips–that’s only to be expected! But consistent problems with the character’s point of view can be an indicator that the author hasn’t spent enough time getting to know their character or is telling the story from the wrong character’s view point. It can also mean that the author didn’t invest as much into that particular scene–for example, because they added it at the bequest of a friend–and need to spend a little longer with it.
- Jumps in time, and other Continuity Errors. I have never edited a book that didn’t have occasional continuity problems, such as having someone stand up, then once again having them stand up a paragraph or two later. It’s also easy for a background character’s hair color to change. However, when the errors include a lot of small jumps backward in time–the character gets up in the morning and heads off to work, then tells us of the events of the day before–this can be an indicator that the author hasn’t wrapped his head around his plot. In these situations I find the author almost always needs to re-imagine the scene, and the role this scene plays in the plot as a whole and in the character’s arc. Once the piece has been correctly shaped, the continuity errors disappear.
- Does your book build on itself? Does the beginning promise what the middle and end deliver? Is the awesome stuff you introduce in the first third or half of the book used in the second half or two thirds? When books don’t come together with a satisfactory ending, it’s generally because the author hasn’t mined what they wrote into the first half. For example, if your character, Sally, has an aversion to hocus pocus old fashioned magic and wants to be a chef, but is being pushed into the role of Head Witch by her family and community, and after the various plot twists have played themselves out will be forced to accept that role…your ending will be a lot more satisfactory if she decides that her brand of witch brew will be served from a classy restaurant on 1st and 5th. This of course does not mean you shouldn’t include plot twists, because who wants to read a book with no surprises? It’s more to say that each time you get stuck, as you’re writing, look back at the material you’ve already written and see what you can use to help your character’s current sticky situation. As your book builds on itself your reader will get a sense of satisfaction, and know they’re in authorial hands they can trust.
Typed up as a list like this, these tips don’t look hard! But I can personally attest that when content editors–like yours, truly–write a book…they still need a content editor. I think it’s difficult for us to see our own work clearly, and the same can be said of seeing it through someone else’s eyes. One thing that helps is to step away from the work after finishing it, let it sit for a few months, and come back to it with fresh eyes. It also helps to read it aloud, with the focus on the story rather than the individual word choices. Watching for the three things I’ve outlined above can help you catch places where your story feels a bit thin–and fix them. Because your book is your baby, and my guess is you’ve got plans for it that go way beyond a RAP sheet!