This is a guest post from Aaron Sikes. We receive many questions about the editor/author relationship and what indie authors can do to be better prepared for hiring editing services. Thank you Aaron for sharing your expertise and we look forward to our conversation next week.
I put the parenthetical in because these tips stood out from my recent editing projects. Next month it’ll be five (or thirty) different ones. For now, it’s the Dan Brown Effect, The Teleport, Marching Orders, Knowing your Characters, and Spoiling Specificity.
- The Dan Brown Effect – Renowned author, Dan Brown, gets a bad rap for stuffing his books full of info dumps. Hey, the reading public gives world-renowned authors a break, right? Nope. And independent authors get even less of a break.
If you include info dumps in your story, you’re going to run afoul of the DB Effect, and readers will either skip over the dull parts you’ve left in as they search for dialogue or descriptive action, or, if you do it too much, they’ll simply close the book.
How do you identify an info dump? Often it’s as simple as looking for breaks in the middle of a conversation. If a character asks a question and another character doesn’t supply an answer right away, you probably have an info dump on the page. Strike it and read the surrounding dialogue again. Does it flow right? Ditch the info dump or reserve it for inclusion in a more appropriate place.
- The Teleport – If you’ve seen Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you’ll recall the moment when Harry and Hermione use the time-turner in the hospital wing, leaving Ron Weasley behind. When they reappear across the room, Ron is flabbergasted. “How did you get there? You were just right there, and now you’re there.”
That’s what your story looks like when you forget you’ve got characters in a scene. Even if characters aren’t doing much, you have to show them doing something. Otherwise the reader ends up feeling like Ron Weasley, and really, who wants that?
- Marching Orders – This goes to fixing The Teleport problem, but it’s a good thing to remember any time you’ve got a group of characters moving through a scene, and especially when there’s a threat of action looming. Several authors I work with write military fiction. That means showing the reader who is on point and rear guard, and how the folks in the middle are arranged. When the ambush happens, you have to show the reader where everyone ends up, and it has to make sense. Start on a good foot and line your characters up clearly on the page.
For more factual info on writing about the US military, check these (PDF) Army Field Manuals: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/Active_FM.html
Only available to those with a US IP address.
- Knowing Your Characters – I picked this up from a learning exercise my kids do at the Reggio Emila school they attend. What do you know about your characters? What do you want to know or need to know about them? How are you going to learn that stuff?
Before you write, take some time to think carefully, and critically, about your characters. How do they fit, archetypally, into your plot? How will they respond to incidents of trauma or joyful events? That information will help you craft believable, authentic characters who simply waltz off the page and into the reader’s head, never to depart until the story is finished.
- Spoiling Specificity – I get a lot of curious looks when I suggest removing specific details from a manuscript, but bear with me. Consider the two sentences below:
– She stepped through the decidiuos forest, carefully avoiding the heavy roots of oak, hazel, and hawthorn that pushed up from the loamy floor.
– She walked through the wood, watching for signs of movement just as she watched her step so she wouldn’t trip over any roots or brambles.
The first sentence presents a clear image, but has the potential to counfound that image by asking the reader to imagine what those trees look like. It’s a quibbling point perhaps, but unless the entire book is written for an arboreal audience, it isn’t reasonable to expect readers to be familiar with such a specific detail as the species of tree our character is walking past. The second sentence gives just as clear an image but without any potentially confounding details.
Attached to this issue is the inclusion of specific names and details about weaponry. Chuck Wendig hit it out of the park with this one a while back, and here’s another great read for people who need to know the basics of firearms nomenclature. Rule of thumb: unless you’re writing a book where specific firearms figure prominently througout, it’s okay to stick with generic terms like “gun,” “rifle,” “shotgun,” and my favorite, “weapon.”
A little about Aaron:
I’m a sometimes author of noir urban fantasy and an all the times freelance editor for independent authors. Most of my clients write post-apocalyptic thrillers and speculative fiction, but I also work with writers of memoir and academic material. What’s a guy like me do for fun? Look for me at a 501st Legion Troop dressed as a Biker Scout (TB11771), or find me in my wood shop making sawdust and toys. Keep up with me on Twitter @SikesAaron.