Do you want to get inside the mind of an editor? To know what they might look for? To know how they think? I recently had lengthy exchanges with my first editor, Derek Bowen, and would like to share my lessons learned from working with him on revising my short story, The Ravenous Flock.
After completing his first read through, he wanted me to consider renaming one of my races and my monster. They striked him more as descriptions (adjectives) than names, so I had to spend some time brainstorming on the topic before I finally arrived at appropriate names.
In general, the majority of his edits were opportunities to delete unnecessary words to improve flow. Here is an example: Before: “Grindor took hold of the hollow yak horn and guzzled the last of the water as it poured down his chin.” After: “Grindor took hold of the hollow yak horn and guzzled it dry.”
This all may sound rather simple, but once we began discussing substantive changes to my story, a whole other level of analysis was presented to me. In discussing my monster, Derek made me think about its entire ecology – always comparing to known living organisms to be able to bring familiar elements into the creature’s description. For example, extending tongues are normally sticky rather than prehensile (with a few exceptions like giraffes and ant eaters). But what really needed consideration was the day-to-day life of my monster. What (and how much) does it normally eat? How often does it live in water? How far inland does it travel? Basically, he wanted me to put as much thought into this monster as I do with my main characters.
Derek also introduced me to a new form of outlining after you’ve finished the chapter/passage/etc. He reduced an entire battle scene to 6 bullets. All he did was capture the behavior/reactions of a tribe of fighters during a fight to evaluate if their actions in battle were warranted or not. He claims this style of outlining is most effective to “do it by going back and constructing it from what you’ve actually written, not what you’d planned to write at the outset. It makes it very easy to discover whether you’ve put everything in the correct place—especially important in the age of cut-and-paste, where things can get moved with a couple keystrokes, and it becomes altogether too easy to separate items or leave one thing stranded after you’ve moved another.”
In addition, I have a dramatic reveal at the end of my story, but I had a difficult time making it feel as dramatic as I had intended. Derek commented that, “what you need is to convince the reader it’s that important to the character(s), whether it would be that important to anyone else in a similar situation—so it doesn’t need to be high melodrama.” I ended up suggesting a new reveal, and together, we were able to craft it to a much better ending to my story about the forming of a unique friendship.
He was very impressed by my openness to his proposed revisions and so I thought I should share this one last quote from Derek: “In my experience, there are two main kinds of writers: the kind who are defensive about what they’ve written, and the kind who care enough about their writing to want to improve it and are willing to learn. The former are rarely successful.”
While these are the larger lessons learned, there were many subtle nuggets of wisdom that I captured from this experience. If you have any further questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.