Whoa there, Editor!
By: Elizabeth Mueller, Author
Do red marks frighten you when you get your manuscript back from your critique partners? Beta readers? Editors? When I first started my writing career, I was terrified. Thoughts of “not good enough” kept punching me in the gut. Sometimes I had to run and hide to lick my wounds.
Not now. Now, I want to see red marks; if I don’t, I feel let down. If I see notes from the editor that are generalized and not outlined, I freak. Yes, I freak. I feel like a brat who needs everything charted so I know exactly how to fix whatever it is they think is lacking. But then, where would my voice be?
So, what are generalized comments? First, my writing tends to lean toward lyrical, purple prose. In other words – it’s wordy. I believe this is because I am an illustrator. I started drawing a few years before I started writing. I love seeing colors, shapes, and texture and I try to convert those visual concepts into words as I write.
In my most recent editorial journey, one of my editors wanted to preserve my style while it drove another editor nuts. After wading through many visceral and emotional descriptions, the former generalized his comments along these lines: “I love your poetic words—they are what I love best about your writing, but make sure they match what the character is feeling. Tone it down a bit and only apply these deep descriptions to actual emotions.”
Guess what? I hit the panic button. Just how do I recognize if a phrase describes only what the character is feeling? How do I separate my feelings from those of my character? How do I disconnect myself from the story far enough to find those passages and exclaim, “Aha! Right here and here and here.” Also, where and how do I tone it down? You should ask him how many times I contacted him!
So, through the mentoring of one editor, I learned how to cut down the emotional descriptions in my New Adult novel, Rock Star. I learned that too many times the metaphors I had used didn’t really fit what I saw the character experiencing. But I ask you, just how would you describe nausea? Panic? Anger? Rather than write “his stomach churned.” I would write, “His stomach crawled up his throat and gagged him.”
I got a better idea of how to “tone it down” with the editing style of my second editor. I had all the confidence in the world after completing Rock Star’s edits. My first editor had handled me with kid-skinned gloves when it came to preserving my style. Well, not so with my second editorial experience! After going over Baby’s Breath, he noted that I should read it out loud so that I could find inconsistencies (gotcha), issues with wording (yep), and vague language (umm, what?).
So I guess you can’t feel heat splashing across your face, or a person can’t choke on their breath—but that is what I thought I experienced during emotional moments. Haven’t you been so angry it felt as if heat did splash across your face? Or drew in a breath so suddenly you choke? I had a hard time finding all of my problem spots, but I did manage to get rid of the ill-fitting metaphors.
When I was done with his heart-wrenching requests, Baby’s Breath felt bland and unemotional. That is until I asked Author Willow Scot to beta read my edited version. Guess what? She loved it! She said she loved how I described the main character’s emotions. So, my editor had been right! By tightening my language I had managed to provide a clearer picture of my character’s emotions. Score!
I also faced a fragile moment because the editor found it difficult to swallow the foundation of the story. It is about a young girl who hides her pregnancy for the full term. I was devastated. I had based my lovely little book on the work of Project Cuddle. The foundation exists to help girls and women who do exactly that, hide their pregnancies. Many of them end up secretly abandoning their babies. I had written this book in support of the organization and to help create awareness about how Project Cuddle helps these frightened women.
This time I did not give in. But because of his skepticism I was driven back to the drawing board. If I wanted to bring attention to this cause and I couldn’t convince my editor, then the book would not get the wide audience I had hoped for. I spent days researching statistics that would support my story. With bated breath I sent them off to my editor. It was his suggestion that I include them in front of my book in order to build credibility. And so my story survived.
The moral of this story? Both me as a writer and my precious book babies came out better for the experience, as varied as it was. And I don’t always have to kill my little darlings!
Elizabeth Mueller knew that books couldn’t bite, but even though she never admitted, she was scared of them. What she didn’t know, ironically, was that she was building her way toward a career in books.
She started writing poetry when she was 9, and stories when she was 11 that make her laugh now. It wasn’t until her creative writing teacher in 12th grade made her realize there was more to writing than life. That’s when she fell in love with books.
She hasn’t stopped since, feverishly working to perfect the craft late into the night. She lives with her husband, five kids, a hyper dog, two cats, a turtle and a fish. Darkspell YA Paranormal Romance is her first novel.