Today, we’re pleased to welcome YA author Inara Scott. THE CANDIDATES is the first book of Inara’s DELCROIX ACADEMY series. Her second book, THE WATCHERS, will debut next spring.
Top Five Things I Learned From My Editors
By Inara Scott
I have a confession to make, Romance University: I don’t have an MFA. I don’t have a degree in English, either. Oh hell, I’ve never even taken a class in creative writing. Truly, I have no idea how I sold a book. I can only assume it was a temporary act of insanity on the part of my editor.
However insane it was, she did buy my book, which meant that eventually the poor thing had to edit it. In fact, since I sold my young adult series Delcroix Academy, back in 2008, I’ve inflicted myself on three different editors. (They are slippery beasts, those editors. Hard to keep in one place.) And then there were the poor, long-suffering copy editors. They had to deal with me too.
Now that I’ve been through the editing process on the first two books of my series, I believe it’s safe to say that I’ve learned more about writing from my editors than I possibly could have by suffering through years of English classes and creative writing seminars. And now, I want to share what I learned with you. This is practical stuff, folks. No big picture conflict and theme stuff here. You probably learned that doing your MFA. This is the nitty gritty.
Ready? Here goes:
1) Vary your scenes: As Editor One gently pointed out, most of the action in my book took place in the same three or four locations. I had to break it up. Send my characters outside. Create a basement for my school. Add some weather. Make the setting COUNT.
2) Add relevant blocking: We all know that we’ve got to keep our characters moving. Talking heads are boring, and adverbs are a no-no. But Editor 2 told me to add movement that also serves to develop character. A shy character shifts her skirt to cover her knees. A nervous character fiddles with a pen. This may sound easy, but now try putting this stuff on every page. Try making every gesture count. Wow. Now that’s hard.
3) Make sure readers can “see” your characters. I’m not big on describing clothes. Never have been, never will be. And that’s okay – but readers still need to see the characters. Editor 2 lamented at the beginning of several scenes that she could not remember what the characters looked like. Do you do this? Do you have a grounding visual for each character in each scene? I sure didn’t. The challenge here is not to resort to adding a mention of blue eyes, blonde hair, and broad shoulders every few pages. You need to mix it up and make it count. Don’t overwhelm the reader, ground them. And do it creatively.
Scared yet? Yeah, this writing business is much harder than I thought. But there’s more…
4) Vary your sentence structure. I will never forget how embarrassed I was when a copy editor noted in the margins that all my attribution tags seemed to be following this pattern: “He said, shifting in his seat.” “She said, pulling back her hair.” “He said, standing up and…” You get the picture. Make sentence structure something you look for in final revisions and make sure you are mixing it up. Though we have all been beaten into submission about the passive voice, you also can’t structure every sentence to read PRONOUN, VERB, CLAUSE. Variety is key.
5) Word repetition and buzz words: This is the hardest thing to fix, but so important. You need to find those nasty repeating words that show up twice in the same sentence, the same paragraph, and the same page. (See? There’s one now.) It’s so hard to catch this yourself, because we tend to tune out our own writing. I have my computer read my book to me because I find I can hear repetition better than I can see it. Then there’s the closely-related problem of buzz words. These are the annoying little writerly tics that we all have. Some of my buzz words are: just, horrible, turning, looking, and the dreaded sighing and shrugging. Your buzz words will vary. Before you inflict your book on an editor or critique partner, do a search and destroy. Your readers will thank you.
Now that I’ve given you my top five pieces of advice, how about you share some with me? Please, make me a better writer! And if you have questions, I’m happy to answer them. Just remember, I’m making this up as I go along.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s the fabulous book trailer for THE CANDIDATES – DELCROIX ACADEMY.
Join us tomorrow at 8 p.m. CST for a live author chat with Lori Foster.
Inara Scott is the author of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates, and the forthcoming sequel, Delcroix Academy: The Watchers. She tries not to take it personally that editors keep quitting after working on her books. You can find her on the web at www.inarascott.com. She is also known to hang out on Twitter (@inarascott) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/inarawrites) far more than is healthy.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for October 3-7, 2011
- No Time for Modesty: Discovering the Genius in Your Writing with Inara Scott
- C.J. Redwine Critiques a Reader’s Query Letter
- Ask An Editor: Point of View Sliding Scale
- Engines and Cabooses with Mary Jo and Dave Thome