Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Anne of Green Gables #GreatAmericanRead

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
by Lucy Maud Montgomery

It is the late 1800s in the fictional town of Avonlea, based on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia. Geriatric Matthew and Matilda Cuthbert reached a point where they needed help on the farm. So they applied to an orphanage to take on a boy old enough for the job. Instead they get Anne Shirley, a loquacious, dreamy, eleven-year-old girl.

“Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn't talk? If you say so I'll stop. I can STOP when I make up my mind to it, although it's difficult.”

She charms them in to letting her stay. As she struggles to adjust to life on the farm and school, she proves a challenge. Both grudgingly fall in love with her and decide to keep her.

“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile.”

The story is told by an omniscient narrator in third person. The pace is deliberately slow and the tone lighthearted.

“It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

The protagonist is quirky and spunky. Her secret weapons are her imagination and resiliency.

"Nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams." 

When her world disappoints, even cuts when Matthew Cuthbert dies, she embraces her fate with courage and determination.

“Anne always remembered the silvery, peaceful beauty and fragrant calm of that night. It was the last night before sorrow touched her life; and no life is ever quite the same again when once that cold, sanctifying touch has been laid upon it.”

The pull, of course, is the orphan finding a home through line. The Cuthberts are decent people, though somewhat set in their ways. There are disapproving neighbors and bullying children to fill in as antagonists, but no one is overtly evil.

“Life is worth living as long as there's a laugh in it.”

Montgomery's attention to detail brings the characters and setting to life.

“Look at that sea, girls--all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”

“It was November--the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.”

Anne finds allies in Diana, an opposites attract friendship, and a budding love interest Gilbert Blythe. Both appreciate Anne for all her pluck and uniqueness.

“Miss Barry was a kindred spirit after all," Anne confided to Marilla, "You wouldn't think so to look at her, but she is. . . Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

The book series has remained popular since its publication in 1908 and has spawned multiple film and television versions and stage productions.

I loved this series for its warmhearted characters, the humor, the feisty protagonist, and the thematic struggle to find a home in a world where you've been abandoned.

The only plot hole would be that someone of her background would have the vocabulary and sometimes mature thought processes Anne displays.

“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven't you?”

If there is a weakness, it is perhaps the romanticizing of life on a farm. It is difficult work with little time for leisure. Irresponsible acts can prove devastating. People set in their ways are unlikely to melt so easily, especially when they need the manpower to run the farm.

“We pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self-denial, anxiety and discouragement.”

Still, it is a story of hope and finding one's way and I need that from time to time: a little light in the darkness.

Forty years on, I still love Anne and enjoy the different iterations of her story. I hope she continues to touch hearts for many generations to come.

"Dear old world', she murmured, 'you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

You can pick up a copy of her story here. Or download a Gutenberg ebook or audio book for free.


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Memoirs of a Geisha - #GreatAmericanRead

The results of the Great American Read are based on a survey in which 7,200 “demographically and statistically representative” people participated by naming their favorite novel. Number one is To Kill a Mockingbird.


One of the 100 novels I read at the time of its original publication (1997), Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, made the list at #45. Especially worthy of discussion today because of the ongoing controversy about cultural appropriation, Golden wrote from a female’s point of view, a Japanese woman’s life before and during her experience as a renowned geisha in Kyoto circa World War II. The story begins:

Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met so-and-so…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.”

Arthur Golden was born in 1956 in Tennessee. According to the Penguin Random House bio, Golden “was educated at Harvard College, where he received a degree in art history, specializing in Japanese art. In 1980 he earned an M.A. in Japanese history from Columbia University.” He also worked in Tokyo. The research for Memoirs of a Geisha included interviews with Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha, who later sued Golden for misrepresenting her experience.

When I read the bestselling novel in the late 90s, I loved the story and the characters. I remember thinking at the time that this male novelist had bravely taken on the challenge of telling a woman’s story from a time in history he had not experienced, from a country in which he’d spent only a brief amount of time, and about a culture he could never fully understand. Nevertheless, I knew it was fiction and, from the acknowledgements, was confident it was well-researched. At the time, nothing else mattered.

What a difference a couple of decades can make. Today, cultural appropriation restraints are placed on writers, actors, artists, and filmmakers as well as children in Halloween costumes and adult fashions. Are there rules that must be followed? Does anyone know?

In a 1999 interview for CNN Book News, Miles O’Brien asked Golden, “What's it like, sitting there at the computer keyboard, trying -- as a white male, trying to put yourself into that skin?”

Golden responded, “You know, I think that it's pretty much like writing anything else in fiction, in the sense that even if you sit down and try to imagine a story about somebody who lives on a street you've never seen, you really can't escape the hard work of just bridging this divide between you and an imagined other.”

Fast forward to 2017 when Keith Cronin writes In Which a White Guy Talks on Cultural Appropriation on the Writer Unboxed blog, Although focused mainly on the opinions others have expressed, Cronin seems to lean slightly toward the political correctness point of view. He seems apologetic about tackling topics outside his personal experience…but he does it anyway.

In Cultural Appropriation in Books for Young People, a 2016 post written for We Speak Japanese and English, a blog of an American mom in Japan, the author discusses her years of experience in the country and culture and whether she as a white woman can include Japanese characters in her books for children.

In another 2016 article, What Do Writers Have a Right to Write? for Publishers Weekly, Dan Blum dares to defend a writer’s right to experiment and exercise the full range of imagination. Blum says, “… a novel is an act of empathy. It requires getting into the minds and motivations, the joys and heartaches, of people outside of ourselves. If that empathy extends to another culture, shouldn’t this be admired and appreciated—even if the result is imperfect? Isn’t the ability to imagine what the world would look like from someone else’s perspective essential to being a writer?”

Each of the above articles mentions Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha.

Cultural appropriation discussions will continue for some time, I’m sure. But if a white male author is only permitted to write novels from a white male’s point of view and from personal experience…what use is imagination? Authors might as well be restricted to writing memoir.



Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Colorado Sun/Colorado Humanities weekend SunLit feature.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Little Women—a Timeless Tale of Womanhood - #GreatAmericanRead

Little Women appears at #8 on the Great American Read list of favorite novels.

My take on Little Women may not coincide with that of the critics who speculate on its representation of the time in which the story is set. Nor do they necessarily address the author's feelings and perspectives, which  may not have been accurately reflected in the story. Dubbed as formulaic by some and criticized for various shortcomings by others, the tale nonetheless brings a variety of gifts to any reader who chooses to ignore outside opinions and allows it to speak to her (or him) based solely on that reader's own feelings and history.


The March sisters provide a thought-provoking study in contrasts. The oldest and most motherly of the girls, Meg, dreams of marrying money to escape the poverty into which her family has fallen. Typically—but with occasional lapses—she behaves appropriately for the time in which she lives. Her dreams of wealth dissipate when she marries a bookkeeper, and her life settles into one of modest living and ultimate motherhood. She accepts her role as wife and mother and no longer (at least outwardly) wishes for money and a more luxurious lifestyle.

Jo is the family rebel. The least feminine of the sisters, she lounges on the floor (considered quite unladylike in her day), expresses her frustrations via temper tantrums, and indulges in impulsive behavior considered inappropriate for a young woman. Intense and outspokenly honest, she envisions herself as a writer whose numerous sales bring desperately needed funds to the empty family coffers. Still struggling to be as successful as she desires in the predominantly male field, she later acquiesces to the counsel from her German instructor, Professor Bhaer, about stories with a moral and writes a poignant piece from the depths of her heart about the death of her dear Beth. As for falling in love, that is not a priority on her to-do list. Yet it comes to her in the form of an older man (Bhaer), a strong supporter of her desire to be a successful author.

The shy and retiring Beth cannot envision herself as a functional adult. Sweet, caring, and satisfied with domestic chores, she lacks motivation to change her status and displays few personality traits that make her stand out or up to her more vocal sisters. Still, she is a family favorite, fiercely protected by Jo, and an unlikely recipient of favor by the next door neighbor, whose young granddaughter, similar in personality to Beth, had died in her youth.

Spoiled and selfish, youngest sister Amy March sets her sites on a life of luxury and plenty. Learning to temper her negative traits and display more fellow feeling as she grows up, she still seeks friendships and association with moneyed young people and those who live the life to which she longs to become accustomed. While on the hunt for a husband who will give her the things she wants, she instead and without intent falls in love with Theodore (Laurie) Laurence, grandson and heir of wealthy next door neighbor Mr. Laurence. In the end, she gains both love and the lifestyle money can buy.

Are any of Ms. Alcott's characters relevant now? If brought into our time and viewed objectively, the March sisters represent a surprisingly similar cross section of women today. Like Jo, for example, many work in a system that still favors men when it comes to jobs and pay. The strong-willed Amy, who her husband admits to following, ran the show as a young girl and continues to do so in her marriage. Meg represents those who truly want to be homebodies, to have a family and to care for them 24/7. Unfortunately, many of today's mothers—single ones in particular—are not given a choice. They may be the sole (or at least primary) financial provider for their households. Whether they like it or not, the nine-to-five life (and too often second job) may demand their time and indeed their lives.

On a personal note, especially as a writer, I relate most to Jo. The advents of the small press, self-publishing, and electronic media offer me possibilities she never had, but I understand her drive to be a successful author. The importance of hooking the reader emotionally at the beginning of a story was one of the reasons I updated my first novel, so I learned the same lesson Jo learned—thanks to the patient nudging of my critique partner. Now, early on, it clearly reflects the heartfelt struggle of my primary protagonist to put her shattered life back together. Also, like Jo, I don't always see eye to eye with others, but instead travel a path chosen by the few rather than the many. How about you? Do you relate any of the March sisters? Do you believe our lives have changed significantly in the nearly century-and-a-half since the book was written?

Note: The second link below, chapter 40 of Little Women, is a beautifully written expression of the heart, a great example for all of us when writing scenes intended to touch the hearts of our readers.

Little Women on Wikipedia

Extract from Chapter 40 of Little Women

Download Little Women free on Project Gutenberg: ebook | audio book

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her at websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Writers Gotta Read, Right? Veterans Day #WeekendReads

Veterans Day is celebrated on November 12 (the actual date being November 11), but why limit thinking about and honoring our veterans on just a single day? And how about reading a book (or two) that would help us learn more about and appreciate the men and women who have served and are serving their country?

The following lists offer some possibilities for you to consider. I'll start with mystery-related reads, since mysteries are "my thing":
  • Mystery Fanfare by Janet Rudolph salutes Veterans Day mysteries in this post, mentioning Jacqueline Winspear's series with protagonist Maise Dobbs (a World War I nurse veteran), as well as Charles Todd's two series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge (post-World War I) and battlefield nurse Bess Crawford (World War I). You can read more of her suggestions here
  • A 2007 In Reference to Murder post by BV Lawson highlighting mystery series for Veterans Day includes the series by John D. MacDonald featuring Travis McGee, a Korean War veteran; Craig Johnson's series with protagonist Walt Longmire, a veteran Marine Investigator from the Vietnam War era; and Owen Parry's U.S. Civil War series with protagonist Abel Jones, a federal agent. Check it out for more recommendations, listed by historical era.
  • Mysteries in Paradise also has a long list of individual books for Remembrance Day/Armistice Day (honoring the end of World War I, which occurred 100 years ago on November 11, 1918). 
  • NOV 11th ADDENDUM: Here's another list from the CrimeReads blog: 9 Mysteries Set in the Immediate Aftermath of WWI. (A shout-out to the CrimeThruTime elist, where I spotted this...)
If you'd like suggestions that go beyond mystery-related reads, turn to Goodreads to view their Listopia Books for Veterans Day. First book on the list is the classic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque.

For me, the quintessential Veterans Day read is THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane (which I just found for Kindle for free right here).

I'll just add that my own Silver Rush series, set primarily in the year 1880, includes a number of veterans and other characters who continue to be deeply affected by the U.S. Civil War, even though it is 15 years in the past.

If you have any books to recommend that feature and/or honor veterans, we'd love to hear about them. Meanwhile, I plan to dive into Stephen Crane's novel and see if it's as good as I remember...



Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit AnnParker.net for more information.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The One-Plot Wonder

Image by Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke,
via Pixabay
Back in the mid to late 1980s I was a security guard. The pay was lousy, but it gave me many hours in seclusion to write short stories and novels. However, I usually worked over 80 hours a week. No one can write that much. Well, at least not me. Thus I discovered the joys of my local libraries.

Recently, I decided to look up an author who gave me great pleasure in those days. Most of his books are now out of print, I've learned, even the one that became a movie.

I found that two of his were books available, so I ordered them. One I'd enjoyed before. The other was a straight thriller from the days before he created the "Appleton Porter" spy spoofs, re-released in 2001 in POD. I didn't know this before it arrived at my home in China.

Since I'm giving away THE plot spoiler, I won't identify the author or title.

A man who deeply loves his wife buys her a hotel outside London. She is very happy there, at first. This is a fine suspenseful read as she notes oddities and eventually appears to be losing her mind and such. Suicides, an eventual murder. Finally, her husband pays a doctor to kill her.

The husband arranged all this, we learn at the end, because she was dying of a horrible and incurable illness. Rather than let her suffer the indignity, he tries to give her some final days filled with wonderful memories. He never realizes that he ended her days with a living hell.

The writing was fine, aside from some stupid typos of the sort common in unedited POD titles. He's obviously a sincere, hard-working, talented author. The plot was wholly consistent and everything "worked."

So why is it a weak book? Because the plot I described is all there is.

It's a one-plot wonder.

As an author, if you find yourself floundering, if you find your work-in-progress failing to make progress, ask yourself: Is it a one-plot wonder?

Here are some best sellers I've read over the past thirty years.

During the Cold War, a Soviet commander steals a top-secret submarine and tries to defect to the US with it. A good and idealistic young law graduate accepts a job too good to be true, only to eventually learn he's working for the Mafia. An alcoholic ex-author and his family become caretakers at an old Maine hotel, alone during the winter, and he eventually goes nuts. A US President declares war on drug dealers, a "clear and present danger" to national security. A crippled author is kidnapped by the ultimate fan.

I choose these titles because all were made into movies I've seen. None of my plot summaries are wrong. But with some of those novels, there are many more plots and subplots at work. These are the novels that didn't always translate well to the big screen due to time constraints and/or loss of non-objective voice.

I love a well-conceived "what if" scenario, and none of these books lack that. But more importantly, I love a novel that's rich with the fabric of life. That's where multiple plots come into play. Very rarely will a movie capture this as well as a novel can.

A one-plot wonder is a boring read. It's a boring write. It's not realistic. And, it's a hard sell. All your eggs are in one basket. If the editor isn't enthralled with that sole plot, you aren't published. If the reviewer isn't enthralled with that sole plot, he pans you. If the potential reader isn't enthralled with that sole plot, he doesn't buy your book. Or if he does, maybe you don't get any repeat business from him. You don't get mine.

Plus, we should be setting the bar a bit higher for ourselves anyway. We entertain, but we also enlighten and educate. Or at the very least, provide needed escape. But it's hard to escape to a one-plot wonder. I keep taking coffee breaks between chapters.

I single out no writing medium with this. All are guilty. Come on, Terminator 2 has more subplots than many successful books these days. And it's not just "these days," incidentally. The title I reviewed early in this article is from 1979. Published, successful, well-written, flat.

Craftsmanship is fine. Craftsmanship is wonderful to behold. Craftsmanship is a necessity. But, it's not enough.

Do you want to build a horse barn that never leaks or do you want to build a two-story A-frame home that survives five hurricanes undamaged? My carpenter did the latter and I can't do the former. But if I had the ability to build a leak-proof barn, I certainly wouldn't limit myself to barns. I'd try to build houses.

I'm not talking about weighty tomes. Times change, readers change, and most people don't read them any more. What was once considered gripping is now considered boring.

But one-plot wonders also bore readers. They read it, enjoy it moderately, then go look for something else to do. There's little satisfaction at the end. Rarely the big "wow" that probably made you start writing in the first place.

I'm talking about shooting for five stars instead of two or three. I'm talking about richness of story, raising the standard, writing your absolute best instead of settling for adequate.

I risk oversimplification here, but I'm seeing far too many one-plot wonders. People are buying them, too. But it's time for us, the authors, to quit writing them.

Michael LaRocca has been paid to edit since 1991 and still loves it, which has made people question his sanity (but they were doing that before he started editing). Michael got serious about writing in 1978. Although he’s retired more times than Brett Favre, Michael is writing his 19th book. Learn more about him at MichaelEdits.com, GoodReads, or Amazon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

2019 Writing Conferences Requiring Early Registration

Whether a one day session, one week conference, or a month-long writing workshop writing related events are a good way to commune with other writers. They offer opportunities to network and get your name out there. In some instances, you can meet and mingle with editors and agents. Some offer critiques or pitching sessions. Nowhere will you find a higher concentration of introverts enjoying each other's company.

Local conferences are a good place to meet potential critique groups or recruit members.

Some are free. Some require a fee. Some are more social than others. Many are for new writers, but a few dig deep into craft. You should choose an event that speaks to your needs and desires.

The following is a list of conferences that require early registration or application.

Realm Makers Conference is Thursday afternoon through Saturday, July 18-20, 2019, at the Sheraton Westport Chalet, St. Louis Missouri. Registration begins February 2019.  http://realmmakers.net/conference

Pikes Peak Writers Conference is May 3 - 5, 2019 at the Colorado Springs Marriott, Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Registration begins November 2018.

VCFA Novel Retreat is May 13 - 19, 2019 at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont. Registration begins November 2018.
https://vcfa.edu/programs-faculty/postgraduate-non-degree/novel-retreat

Chicago Writers Association Conference is March 16–17, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois. Must register before February for housing at the hotel.

Longleaf Writers' Conference is May 11-19, 2019 in Seaside, Florida. Application due by April 28, 2019.
https://www.awpwriter.org/wcc/wcc_entry_view/1249/longleaf_writers_conference_seaside_florida_formerly_seaside_wc

Bear River Writers' Conference is May 30- June 3, 2019 in Boyne City, Michigan. Registration begins February 2019.  https://lsa.umich.edu/bearriver

Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop is June 3 through July 12, 2019 at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire. Early action application deadline is January 31, 2019. Regular application deadline is April 1, 2019.

Colgate Writers’ Conference is in June 2019 in Hamilton, New York. Registration deadline is March 2019. https://www.colgate.edu/community/conference-services-and-summer-programs/adult-programs/colgate-writers-conference

Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference is in June 17-23, 2019 at Bemidji State University, Minnesota. Registration begins January 2019.

The 27th Jackson Hole Writers Conference is June 26 - 29, 2019 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Registration begins November 29, 2018.
http://jacksonholewritersconference.com

New York State Summer Writers Institute is in July 2019 at Skidmore College, New York. Registration begins May 1, 2019.

Writers Week at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program is in July in Idyllwild, California. Adult Registration Opens February 1, 2019.
https://www.idyllwildarts.org/summer/adultarts/writersweek

Squaw Valley Writer's Conference is July 8-13, 2019 in  Squaw Valley, California. Application deadline March 2019.
https://communityofwriters.org/workshops/writers-workshops

Juniper Institute for Young Writers is July 21 - 28, 2019 in Amherst, Massachusetts. It is for high school students finishing grades 9, 10, or 11. Registration begins January 1 and ends May 15, 2019.

Mendocino Coast Publishing Boot Camp is August 1 - 3, 2019 in Mendocino, California. Registration begins March 1, 2019. http://mcwc.org

GenCon Gaming Convention is August 1 - 4, 2019 at the Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, Indiana. Registration begins January 1, 2019, housing registration begins February 1, 2019. https://www.gencon.com

Postgraduate Writers' Conference is August 13 - 19, 2019 at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont. Registration Begins 1/16/2019.
http://vcfa.edu/writing/pwc

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference is August 14 - 24, 2019 in Middlebury, Vermont. Registration begins January 1, 2019.

Killer Nashville is August 22 - 25, 2019 in Franklin, Tennessee. Registration starts January 1, 2019.
https://killernashville.com

Boucheron World Mystery Convention is October 31 through November 3, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. Registration begins January 1, 2019.

Surry International Writers Conference is in October 2019 in Surry, British Columbia, Canada. Registration begins June 1, 2019. https://www.siwc.ca

Kauai Writers Conference is November 4-10, 2019 in Kauai. Registration begins January 1, 2019. http://www.kauaiwritersconference.com
  
Deadly Ink in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey was in August in 2018. No date has been set for 2019. https://deadly-ink.com

California Dreamin' Writers' Conference is April 5-7, 2019 in Brea, California. Registration opens October 2018.
  
Historical Novel Society Conference is June 20-22, 2019 in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Proposal submissions are due by November 18, 2018. Registration opens December 2018.

Further reading on finding the right conference and why you should attend:

An Ambivert Walks Into a Writing Workshop

Five Unique Marketing Opportunities

Readers and Writers Pressing Flesh

Agents and Conferences

Ten Ways To Get The Most From Writers Conferences




Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

How to Tell Good Editing from Bad Editing

Image by Sean MacEntee
Over the years I have worked as an editor, I’ve encountered many authors too terrified to hire an editor because they previously suffered through a truly awful editing experience. As a writer, I survived a few of those myself, so I know firsthand how upsetting a bad edit can be. Bad editors create new problems in manuscripts and often do nothing to resolve existing issues that beg for improvement.

I am often asked how authors can tell a good editor from a bad editor. There’s no guaranteed way to do this, but I can offer a few suggestions that might help authors find an editor who will not only do a great job but will also be a good fit for their personality and writing style. Keep in mind I am speaking of developmental editing in this column, not just a copyedit that corrects typos and grammatical errors.

Look for an editor who offers to edit your first ten pages free of charge

Almost every confident professional developmental editor is more than happy to edit 10 pages free to give potential clients an idea of their editing style. As authors review their sample edits, they will soon learn if the editor is a good fit for their book. A great editor suggests beneficial changes that will improve a manuscript and make it more marketable and more appealing to readers. A bad editor rewrites the author’s manuscript, often scrambling the storyline and drowning out the author’s voice in the process.

If your 10 pages have been rewritten rather than edited, I suggest moving on to another editor, because the one you tried is not actually an editor but rather a frustrated writer whose only outlet for their dreams is plowing destructively through other people’s work. You deserve much more than that for your editing investment. Hire someone whose sample edit shows insight into what you were trying to accomplish with your novel, and whose suggestions improve your story and resolve problems that detract from its cohesiveness.

Find an editor who is constructively critical and honest

How your editor expresses suggested changes matters—a lot. If your ten pages are full of scathing criticism with few constructive suggestions to improve or amend problem passages, then you will not get much value from the edit. Worse, you could end up with something quite harmful…a ticking time bomb planted in the center of your most delicate commodity‑your self-confidence.

There is no room in editing for mean-spirited critiques. Authors must work up a great deal of courage before submitting themselves and their work to the editing process, and it is all too easy for an unkind editor to undo that courage with thoughtless and cutting remarks that serve no valid purpose.

You should also skip an editor whose edit is all sunshine and glitter bombs. Some editors shower authors with effusive praise in an effort to “land the job”. Be wary of this. An honest editor will point out both the good and the bad in your manuscript, and not feel compelled to tell you that you are the greatest writer in the history of the world.

A good edit should also lift up an author and encourage her (or him) to dive right back into their work with renewed enthusiasm and confidence that they can weave in the suggested changes to produce a better book. Bad edits do the opposite; they rob authors of confidence and make them feel like giving up.

If your sample edit either makes you feel like you just walked into a cloud of magic unicorn dust or would be better off throwing yourself in front of a train, move on.

Ask for recommendations from fellow writers

Ask your friends who write which editors they’ve enjoyed working with. Editors often specialize in one or more genres, so before you query, do a bit of research to make sure they’re experienced in editing for your genre. For example, you wouldn’t want a horror editor reviewing a romance. With their tastes and sensibilities so wildly divergent from those of a romance editor, you might end up with a zombie cat in the middle of an otherwise perfectly sensible romance, which would kind of ruin the mood.

Finally, attend writer’s conferences. Not only will you learn a lot about your craft, but you’ll meet other writers and make great new friends. And best of all, you might just discover the perfect editor for your book.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.