A Good Editor is Priceless
As a new novelist, I should leave provocative statements about the art of writing to the experts. But I’m not made that way, so here goes. I reckon the editing is even more important than the writing.
What makes the quality of editing so crucial is that the writer has so many issues to grapple with. Here are just a few. What is the central conflict and is it convincingly resolved? Do the sub-plots work well with the main plot? Do the scenes follow logically and propel the action forward? How much variety is there in the pacing? Is the writing spare or verbose? Is the dialogue natural? Are the characters multi-dimensional or flat? Do they tell or show what they think? Are their backstories and “wants” clearly brought out?
With so many key questions to resolve, the editing process can benefit hugely from an external input. When I wrote the first draft of what is now The Girl with the Haunting Smile, it was a very different animal. The writing was too exuberant and one-paced and lacked focus. Happily, I had the good sense to harness the talents of Gillian Stern, a superb London-based editor who works for Bloomsbury and other publishing houses. Gillian reined me in, weeded out my self-indulgences, made me re-assess the shape of my novel and taught me to focus firmly on fundamental issues like those above.
This, in my eyes, is what makes good editing so special. I’m surprised when I see folk tweet on #amediting or other threads that they’ve cracked it after an edit of a few hours. The only editing you can do in that time is to shave words or sentences and make the writing tighter. You can’t alter the structure of your novel or its pace. You can’t make your scenes flow more naturally. You can’t fill out your characters.
To me, the pruning and polishing is the easiest part of editing. It is far harder to stand back, take a dispassionate look at your beloved baby and spot any flaws in structure, pace and story or character development. That’s why skilled editors like Gillian are so priceless and so hard to find.