Tag Archives: fiction

A look at editing romance novels

Romance novels get a bad rap sometimes. They are often viewed as being less deserving of praise – and more deserving of being classed a ‘guilty pleasure’ – than literary fiction or other genres such as crime or science fiction. But I’m an unabashed lover of romance novels and not in the least bit guilty about it. And that love spills over into my professional life, where it’s one of my specialist fields as a fiction editor.

Editing romantic fiction is, in many ways, like editing any book. It’s just as worthy an endeavour as editing literary fiction, and romance novels are just as deserving of good editing as any other book (and believe me, romance readers have extremely high expectations and standards and can be vociferous when something doesn’t meet with their approval). You have the same concerns about consistency, correctness, clarity, and all the other Cs to look out for. But romance novels also have their own set of quirks and genre expectations.

What makes a romance novel?

In order to edit a romance novel, an editor must first understand what a romance novel is and what it is not. It might seem obvious, but a romance novel is not just a piece of writing that contains romantic elements.

A romance novel – as a piece of genre fiction – must have a happy ending to be classed as such (or, as the Romance Writers of America put it, an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”). Tales of woe where the protagonist dies of some dreadful disease and his soulmate is unable to go on and leaps off a cliff are not romance novels. They may be novels with romantic elements, but they are not, strictly speaking, romance novels. And advertised as such, they can create a quite surprising level of anger and annoyance from readers who have sat down to enjoy a feel-good romance and have been left bereft and confused.

Most romance novels are character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. That means that characters’ interactions with each other and their journey and development are the primary focus of the novel. Compare this with adventure novels, which are usually plot-driven; while there may be elements of character development, the main focus is the twists and turns of the storyline. Romance novels are sometimes criticised for their lack of imagination or formulaic storylines, but the relationships between characters are the real heart of the story.

The big picture: characters and their development

When editing a character-driven story, it’s vital to focus on the believability of the characters and their development. If you’re coming in at a developmental or evaluation stage as opposed to a later copy-editing/proofreading stage, this is where you need to focus your efforts. Are the characters likeable? Are their flaws believable and not too drastic? For example, a bad boy who comes to the defence of the protagonist in a bar fight is fine, but one who beats up the protagonist or cheats on her time and time again? Not fine, and readers will swiftly put the book down, never to return. Is their romance believable? A writer can get away with stretching the boundaries of believability slightly, but readers will be turned off by something that is so far outside the realms of possibility it becomes ridiculous.

What’s the conflict and is it strong enough? Conflict is what drives a novel. Two people meeting and falling in love, with no barrier or obstacles, is not a story. There needs to be something stopping them being together which drives their actions, such as a jealous ex-boyfriend, a protagonist who has vowed never to fall in love again, or the time-honoured favourite of romance novels – the secret baby. When you’re editing a romance novel at a more conceptual stage, these are the big questions you need to ask and examine.

Details: dialogue and consistency

When you reach the copy-editing stage, I’d recommend looking closely at dialogue. Dialogue is super important in romance novels. Sometimes there isn’t a great deal of action going on, so it’s imperative that the dialogue is sparkling enough to carry the story and keep readers’ attention. Romance also suffers from some slightly odd dialogue tags sometimes, and you’ll face a balancing act of changing the most egregious ones (people ‘grinding out’ sentences, perhaps) and leaving some of the others. At times, romance novels almost have their own language, and it’s worth familiarising yourself with it before making sweeping changes. At all times, make sure the dialogue is natural and that there’s enough back and forth between characters. Long soliloquies rarely work. Readers want conversations, not monologues.

Pay close attention to things like changing eye colour and hair colour. These things are usually mentioned quite regularly throughout a romance novel, and you would be amazed how many times someone’s appearance changes over the course of the book. Also, keep an eye out for things like contraception not being mentioned or considered by the characters – modern readers expect things like this to be discussed or at least referred to. Sex scenes in general often require careful editing as many authors struggle to write these – and many editors just skip over them or don’t give them the attention they deserve. Editing romance novels means you sometimes have to put your embarrassment to one side and write some quite unusual author queries from time to time!

Keep careful notes of character backstory. Backstory can often be of immense importance (something the protagonist did ten years ago can come back to haunt her later, for example) and it’s important to make sure it’s consistent. Consider keeping a timeline if there’s a lot of going back and forth. That will also iron out issues such as people going to work for seven days in a row or children going to school on a Saturday.

And if you’re editing a historical romance novel, make sure your author has done their research. Historical romances can be great fun to edit, but one written without proper research can quickly turn into a time sink while you check whether words, phrases, and even concepts were commonplace at the time the book was written.

Katherine TrailKatherine Trail is a former newspaper chief sub-editor who now specialises in fiction. She lives in Aberdeen, and when she isn’t editing she can usually be found tramping through the wilderness with her spaniel, Daisy. KT Editing Services

Common problems encountered in fiction editing

When I was asked to write a blog post on common problems encountered in fiction editing, I wondered where on earth to start; it’s such a big topic. Being first confronted with a work of fiction can seem overwhelmingly daunting, especially if you are a newbie, but the satisfaction you get from editing fiction is unrivalled.

Whether you are carrying out a developmental edit or a copy-edit, after a while you see the same problems crop up time and time again – and you begin to realise that if you can catch the common problems the rest will follow.

So here are a few problems that crop up frequently when editing fiction, starting with my favourite first:

Inconsistencies

When you are dealing with a novel, you are bound to come across inconsistencies, and catching them can be quite an art form.

Characters  

If you don’t make sure that things like height, build, hair colour and eye colour remain consistent your readers are going to notice. But if the character has a liking for frequently changing their image, then you need to let the reader know that they dyed their hair, were wearing funky contact lenses or had been on a new medical retreat to add that few extra inches of height.

Make sure names remain the same. You’ll often find throughout the manuscript that the author has spelled the name incorrectly. This is a very common problem – Brian can become Bryan or Bryn or even Brain. Decide on the character’s name and stick with the same spelling, after consulting with the author.

I use a modified Dungeons & Dragons character sheet to keep track of characters in a novel, which I admit is a hangover from my student gaming days. And if you deal with fantasy and sci-fi these are even better, just go ahead and use a Dungeons & Dragons sheet! Or you can use an Excel spreadsheet or whatever takes your fancy. Just make sure you have a way to know your characters by the end of the book.

Staying within character

This can be subtler but is something to watch out for. Rather than enforce a stereotype, stick with the character traits. Would someone who generally behaves in a certain way stray from their normal way of doing things? If they do stray there usually must be a damned good reason, and this can often be the catalyst for the story, but if it’s stated that she hates milk would she put it in her coffee? If she never drinks tea, watch out for her ordering one in the middle of the book. Small things can easily be missed, but I tend to add these to the character sheet.

Also, are the characters interesting enough and are they rounded individuals? If not, you may have to gently nudge the author into a rewrite.

Places

Make sure that buildings and the story settings are consistent and don’t suddenly change appearance. Keep track of where buildings and places are – if the scene is set in a run-down area of town, the narrative should reflect that. If the scene is set in a place that gets little rainfall, would the character really be carrying an umbrella?

If you have a character regularly moving around a room or building it can make sense to draw out an internal layout for yourself – this might stop your character from going through a door that in one chapter leads to the kitchen and in another leads to the bathroom. It may seem like a lot of work, but it all adds to the authenticity and allows you, the editor, to catch mistakes.

Plot holes

Does a character disappear for a cup of tea and never return? Is there a reason the characters move from Central City to the back of beyond? Is the main character’s life journey so thin you can see right through it? Plot holes can be so huge that they don’t need pointing out, but some only appear because there’s something wrong … but you can’t quite put your finger on it. As editors, it’s our job to catch the plot holes – that’s why keeping track as you go along is a good idea.

If you don’t sort out the loose threads of a plot the readers will notice. A good way to do this is to go through and read only the pages dedicated to a certain plot line – this may be enough to have the holes jump out at you. Make sure everything is resolved, and that the plot is believable; even if it’s fantasy or sci-fi, the readers need a satisfying experience.

Practicalities

This can be fun and appeal to your pedantic side, or it can drive you crazy. Keep an eye out for things that pop out at you – for example, will it only take ten minutes to do everything that the character needs to do? Can your character really walk ten blocks in three minutes? Was 15th November 1976 really a Monday? (It was.) And can a helicopter/plane/car/motorcycle really make the journey on one tank of fuel? My favourite example is when the cowboy fires away, bullet after bullet, from an old-fashioned six-shooter, without reloading. When it comes to the practicalities of the story, you can bet that someone, somewhere will notice.

Timeframes

Make sure when working, especially on subplots, that the timeframes match up. If you don’t catch a mismatch your character may end up knowing something before it happened, or before being told. A simple (or not so simple) linear timeline for each character can help – if you know where your characters are you can keep track of what they know or don’t know. Create a calendar for the story if it happens over a period of time.

Point of view, head hopping and tense

A very common problem has the author changing point of view (POV) or engaging in a bit of head hopping. Maintaining POV can be difficult at times, but an editor should be able to spot when the POV changes for the wrong reason. Head hopping is disconcerting as readers are forced to move from one character to another in a scene – it just gets muddled and confusing. If the author really needs to have different character POVs suggest they use them sparingly, for a reason, and don’t have changes in the same scene: save them for different sections or chapters.

Make sure the author doesn’t change from past to present tense and back again; you’d be surprised how often it happens!

The rest

There are so many other problems encountered that are more developmental than copy-editing:

Pace – avoiding that saggy middle and keeping the reader interested.

Plot – is there one or is nothing much happening? What about subplots: are there enough, too many or too few?

Conflict – is there enough to move the story forward? Somebody wants something and strives to get it. Make sure there is enough tension to keep the reader reading.

Voice – the voice needs to be consistent to stop the reader popping out of the story. It’s also a way to catch plagiarism … if the voice suddenly changes be wary.

You might come across some of these problems in your fiction edit or, if you are unlucky, you may get all of them (in which case there are grounds for going back to the author and having a chat about scope and fees). Remember though – changes may have knock-on effects for the rest of the novel, so keep good notes and remember good communication with the author is important.

Sara DonaldsonSara Donaldson is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly historical fiction and non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter

 

 

Image credits: Lego Dungeons and Dragons by Marco Hazard CC2.0

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Talking about fiction: Why bother? SfEP conference preview

By Gale Winskill

At the time of writing there are almost eight weeks to go before my 2016 SfEP conference session: Let’s talk about text. As editors we deal with text on a daily basis but we don’t necessarily talk about it. We might mutter exasperatedly to ourselves in the confines of our working space, communicate our thoughts diplomatically (or not) on paper or in emails … but in these days of remote working we rarely discuss the nitty-gritty of a text face to face with another person.

So, much to my surprise, I find that at some point I seem to have agreed to lead a group discussion, masquerading as a live editing session on fiction. Currently in the midst of trying to choose/tweak/finalise my materials for said event, part of me wishes that I hadn’t agreed to talk about anything to do with any sort of text. After all, most of the time not talking about text seems to work just fine, doesn’t it?

conversation-1468159_640And what on earth am I supposed to talk about with regard to editing fiction anyway? After all, it’s a construct, a conceit, a deception. There’s no truth to it, so there’s certainly no benefit in discussing it, is there?

Like the five stages of ‘panic-buying’ – something to do with the financial world apparently – my preparations for the live editing session have gone through similar degrees of doubt and anxiety:

  1. Denial: Agree to do live editing session on fiction and then promptly blank all recollection of this fact from my mind. After all, September is ages away, so there’s no need to worry about it.
  2. Anger: Receive polite request to deliver the session summary during a particularly intense work crisis, wonder why on earth I agreed to do this and get cross with myself for not saying ‘no’. Write something vaguely pertinent together with my fellow group leaders, then bury myself in work and revert to denial.
  3. Bargaining: Eventually read the live editing brief properly and try to convince myself that I can use one text for all three parts of the session, as surely that will be easier! Stare blindly at my author folders and bookshelves for inspiration. None is forthcoming.
  4. Depression: Decide that the subject of fiction is far too large to squeeze into an hour-and-a-half session. Book a last-minute holiday two weeks before my children’s school term finishes at the end of June and flee the country. (I’m just back!)
  5. Acceptance: While away, and on receipt of another gently worded reminder that session materials need to be delivered by a certain date, acknowledge that all of the above is utterly self-indulgent, it’s too late to back out and that working through these various stages is actually my natural default setting. In addition, (most of) my authors are wonderful, generous people who might just grant me permission to do all sorts of unspeakable things to their text without asking too many questions.

So, with another conference deadline looming – one that theoretically means I now have a rough idea of what I might talk about in my session – I have rediscovered three things: that panic, especially when interrupted by a two-week holiday and a pile of good books, is ultimately a great enabler; that the patience and good humour of the conference director are seemingly endless; and that text – even fiction – really does merit talking about.

And how did this final epiphany emerge? Well, the longer I stared at my selected text options, the more I swithered about what ought to be altered, left or queried. And on further study, I found other things that could potentially be marked or considered. Then, on comparing these musings with what I had actually marked on the texts when I edited them properly – years ago in some cases – I discovered that some of my thoughts were now ever so slightly different.

So, does that mean I was wrong back then, or that I am wrong now? What’s the right answer? And if I don’t know, what hope is there for my live editing group? Will they agree or disagree with me, or with one another? Will they even glean the same approximate understanding of the texts?

To be honest, it doesn’t matter. As I have said on many previous occasions, fiction has no one right answer … and the myriad possible interpretations of any fictional text are, therefore, definitely worth talking about for no other reason than they are endlessly fascinating and a great starting point for an interesting blether!

photo_Gale WinskillGale Winskill is an Advanced Professional member of the SfEP who enjoys a challenge. She leaves it up to the reader to decide whether there is any truth or merit to the above text, but admits that there may be a large chunk of fiction in there somewhere … or not. Discuss (preferably in her live editing fiction session).

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

SfEP social media round-up – March 2016

In case you missed them, here are some of the most popular links shared across the SfEP’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) in March.

share on social media

  1. Men make up their minds about books faster than women, study finds http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/08/men-make-up-their-minds-about-books-faster-than-women-study-finds?CMP=share_btn_tw
  2. Top 10 hateful characters you love in literature http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/02/top-10-hateful-characters-you-love-in-literature
  3. Do you know Irish verbs? Ten verbs from Northern Ireland that you’ll enjoy using http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/03/northern-irish-verbs/
  4. 10 reasons your web design isn’t working (and what to do about it) http://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/tips-tricks/10-reasons-your-web-design-isnt-working-and-what-to-do-instead
  5. Breaking rules and starting sentences with ‘And’ http://www.davidairey.com/starting-sentences-with-and/
  6. Should you only “edit what you know”? http://blog.editors.ca/?p=3440
  7. Fibonacci to Avogadro: numbers with names http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/03/numbers-with-names/
  8. Too many exclamation points? Never!!!!! U.K. educators derided for trying to police punctuation http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/too-many-exclamation-points-never-u-k-educators-derided-for-trying-to-police-punctuation
  9. Ways to make your (editorial) suggestions sound ‘softer’ and more polite http://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2016/03/23/you-could-always-email-him-making-suggestions-sound-nicer/
  10. Ten reasons why you should eat chocolate while reading http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/mar/23/ten-reasons-why-you-should-eat-chocolate-while-reading?CMP=share_btn_tw

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Social media round-up – February 2016

In case you missed them, here are some of the most popular links shared across the SfEP’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) in February.
share on social media

  1. High quality, free images: how to find and add them to your WordPress blog: http://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/tips-tricks/high-quality-free-images-how-to-find-and-add-them-to-your-wordpress-blog
  2. The cost of editorial training? Hitting the mark or missing the point? http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog-the-proofreaders-parlour/the-cost-of-editorial-training-are-you-hitting-the-mark-or-missing-the-point
  3. Fiction editing: tips for working on an author’s first novel: https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/thinking-fiction-first-novel-flubs-and-follies/
  4. How to price an e-book: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/12-top-tips-for-setting-ebook-prices/
  5. How new words are born: http://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2016/feb/04/english-neologisms-new-words
  6. Establishing a stream of work: https://eatsleepeditrepeat.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/establishing-a-stream-of-work/
  7. The tiny London shop behind some of the very best libraries: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/02/t-magazine/london-heywood-hill-bookstore-custom-libraries.html
  8. Seven tips for powering through permissions: https://bookmachine.org/2016/02/04/seven-tips-for-powering-through-permissions/
  9. Stand up for your health! 4 tips you should know about standing desks: http://www.softstarshoes.com/live-bare-blog/2016/01/06/stand-up-for-your-health-4-tips-you-should-know-about-standing-desks/
  10. ‘Rain later. Good, occasionally poor’: what does the shipping forecast mean? http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/02/shipping-forecast/

Margaret HunterPosted by Margaret Hunter, SfEP marketing and PR director

The views expressed here or in these linked articles do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

What I learned from the pre-conference editing fiction course

By Sara Donaldson

Three Little Pigs and a (not so?) Big Bad Wolf

Three Little Pigs and a (not so?) Big Bad Wolf

This year is the first year in a very long time that I have been able to even contemplate attending an SfEP conference; usually conference time falls during term-time making it virtually impossible for me to attend. However, when I saw the dates for the 2015 conference at Derwent College in York, attendance became a possibility as I knew my daughter would have recently left school and York is close enough to ‘home’ that a visit, plus conference, was feasible. And once I saw the topic of the pre-conference course, I knew I had to attend. This was my chance to gain face-to-face basic training on something I have been toying with for years – fiction editing.

By the time I arrived at the York campus on the morning of Saturday 5th September I was slightly frazzled. A 12-hour drive from the far north of Scotland the previous day, followed by an early morning drive from Whitby to the one part of York I didn’t really know, meant that I was too tired to be nervous about jumping in at the deep end and meeting a bunch of professionals I didn’t really know. By the time I sat down in the well-hidden tutorial room all thoughts of imposter syndrome had vanished. I’d fluffed the hoped for brilliant first impression I’d make as I didn’t so much introduce myself to the first person I met as headed off in the opposite direction back to the car park to collect some forgotten items. Thank goodness there was plenty of coffee!

The group was comfortably small, with around 10 attendees, and as we all sat at desks in a horseshoe formation (much better than in groups), we introduced ourselves to the room and to Gale Winskill and Stephen Cashmore, our tutors for the day. By this time I was a bit apprehensive – my route into editorship was a bit convoluted, so who was I to sit in a room among ‘real’ editors when I’ve only really worked on non-fiction and still find it hard to actually say I’m an editor? But the worry soon subsided as we started the course and my brain kicked in.

Gale started off by going into detail about the different types of client we should expect to work for as fiction editors, and what they actually expect from us. She also explained how self-publishing does not necessarily mean that the author cannot get a publishing deal; they may simply prefer the hands-on approach and want to feel in control of their creations. We then discussed how to quote for a job (this course concentrated on copy-editing of fiction, not structural editing), what to look out for and the different ways of working on a text. It had honestly never occurred to me that self-publishing authors would not like tracked changes on a Word document, and that they may not care about the changes you make to spelling, punctuation and grammar. It really brought home to me that working on non-fiction has spoiled me somewhat; I tend to take some of my working practices for granted and assume they are the norm, although my meticulous style sheet habit will stand me in good stead.

We moved onto plot and structure (with more coffee), and discovered the differences between premise, theme and plot, before moving into more detail on structure and what we, as editors, should be looking out for. The first exercise of the day had us writing premises and a theme for the Wolf’s Story from the Three Little Pigs. Loved it! By the end of the day I had become particularly fond of Mr Wolf.

While Gale was having a well-deserved rest we moved onto dialogue with Stephen. I found this really interesting, especially as it showed me that I actually know what I’m doing. I loved his take on fidgets and throat-clearing. Erm … well … yeah, like … I really did actually.

I know we stopped for lunch at some point … then came voice, style and point of view. Now POV is something I really need to practise – internal, external, first-person, third-person … it’s enough to make your head spin when you think about it. Luckily our handout is great for explaining it in more detail, better than my scribbled notes, so I shall be going back to that frequently.

Consistency was great; plot-holes, timelines and setting appeal to my inner perfectionist. Feedback among the group reminded me of a time when I noticed a helicopter travelling a LOT further than it was capable of in one of the novels I was reading for pleasure. Glad it’s not just me who notices these things when they’re not working!

We worked through character, style and how books in a series should be treated, then finally looked at critiques, synopses and blurbs. Now critiquing is something I’ve been curious about, as it’s always been a mystery to me how an editor actually moves into critiquing, and by the end of the session I came away believing that, far from being something I could never do, this was something I really could do. And the blurb discussion showed me that I’m doing things right (I often write the blurb for a regular client’s books).

So what did I get out of this pre-conference editing fiction course? Lots!

The exercises scared me at first (what if I really wasn’t good enough?), but they showed me that my training has been good, my experience has counted for something and that I really can call myself an editor. I’ve also come to realise that, rather than being a leap too far, I can move into fiction editing if I want to. I just have to take it slowly and use what I have learned (and continue training). Finally, this course gave me my first real-life meeting with real editors and I loved every minute of it. I’m glad to be associated with such a lovely bunch of people, and this course has given me the confidence to look further at fiction editing without the horror of the unknown.

If you are interested in training for editing fiction, look at the SfEP online course Introduction to fiction editing

Sara DonaldsonSara Donaldson is an editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist, or in the theatre doing what needs to be done. You’ll find her at northerneditorial.co.uk.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

 

Posted by Margaret Hunter, SfEP marketing and PR director. Proofread by Carina Bailey.

Editing Fiction: An addiction or bête noire?

IMG_2080Fiction is a vast subject area. There’s no escaping this fact. Unlike non-fiction and academic texts, which have certain conventions, reference formats and factual, checkable details to fall back on, fiction is essentially ‘something that is invented or untrue’ (OED). Not only that, but the medium itself encompasses a plethora of categories: romance, thrillers, erotica, science fiction, fantasy, literary works, and so on … not to mention children’s fiction versions of most of these as well, albeit with additional considerations for the age group concerned, language levels and appropriate content!

Faced with such a behemoth, many editors of my acquaintance choose not to edit or proofread fiction. Of those who do indulge, nearly all shy away from children’s fiction altogether, deeming it too problematic, or limit themselves to particular fictional genres, usually mirroring their own reading preferences. So, with that in mind, where does one start when thinking about editing fiction?

As editors we are ethically constrained from commenting on the content of academic material, even if we know it to be wrong. Unless we are experts in that particular field of study, often we have no idea if the facts presented are invented or true. And, quite honestly, that is not our concern as long as the text reads convincingly and is grammatically correct, properly referenced and so on.

To play devil’s advocate, if fiction really is a work of ‘invention and untruth’, as long as it reads well, is it really that different from the above? And should it be treated with so much circumspection?

I understand that many editors may find fiction’s apparent lack of clearly defined boundaries extremely daunting, preferring the relatively controllable realm of non-fiction and academia. But although I do edit non-fiction and academic material on a regular basis, the thing that draws me repeatedly to fiction is, indeed, the very fact that I never know what I’m going to find in a narrative. Authors continue to surprise, delight, even frustrate me … but editing fiction is never dull.

Without question, fiction incorporates an unparalleled arena of realistic or fantastical landscapes, remarkable or mundane individuals, and gripping or bathetic scenarios, where anything — or sometimes even nothing much — goes, and everything is possible. There is a book for every occasion and mood, a genre to suit most people, and while fiction’s breadth and variety are undoubtedly its greatest challenge  — and a huge potential hurdle with regard to editing — they are also its most rewarding features.

So, are there things that connect and bind all of these vagaries together, and can provide a would-be editor of fiction with a starting point when tackling their first novel, irrespective of the genre? All books are predicated on certain elements, in terms of structure, characterisation, pace, plot and presentation. In David Lodge’s novel Therapy, beleaguered sitcom writer Laurence Passmore states: “Each one [each book] is different, but the same themes and obsessions keep cropping up: courtship, seduction, indecision, guilt, depression, despair.” And this is largely true.

Conversely, there could also be an argument to suggest that one should not edit fiction, as it could be perceived to compromise the author’s original creation. However, Terry Pratchett asserts: “… the fact that it is a fantasy does not absolve you [the writer] from all the basic responsibilities. It doesn’t mean that the characters needn’t be rounded, the dialogue believable, the background properly established, and the plots properly tuned.” So, subtle, constructive editorial assistance is still required, and usually welcomed, to ensure that what the author thinks they have done is actually the case on the page.

Essentially, fiction still involves the basics of our trade: punctuation, spelling, grammar (although this can be less rigid), textual fluidity, narrative cohesion. Even fact-checking exists: if an author states that the Empire State building has 97 storeys you can and should check that detail (it has 103!); and don’t get me started on incorrect spellings and missing accents with regard to foreign words. After all, erroneous details only provide a would-be reviewer with ready ammunition, which is something all fiction editors should bear in mind.

The characteristic that sets fiction apart from other media, making it simultaneously rather problematic but also intriguing, is the element of ‘story’, which has to be plausible within its own context and setting. As long as a reader believes the events of a novel to be feasible and credible, albeit fantastical, and the characters to be rounded, creditable individuals, then the author and editor have done their jobs.

As for more specific details of how, as editors or proofreaders, we do or don’t facilitate that, and how we go about imposing our own minds on the matter at hand without compromising the author’s integrity or voice … you’ll have to come to my conference workshop – Introduction to Editing Fiction: Mind over Matter – and find out, or look out for details of forthcoming SfEP training courses!

Gale Winskill

Gale Winskill

Gale Winskill is a freelance editor who enjoys variety, and will edit most things within reason (www.winskilleditorial.co.uk). A half-Italian, dim and distant relative of William Shakespeare, she has travelled and worked abroad, finally residing in Scotland, where she plays tennis inconsistently, gardens by benevolent neglect, and is still occasionally flummoxed by Scots vernacular.