Posted On April 25, 2011 by Print This Post

Top Five Things I Learned from My Editor

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.

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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.

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42 Responses to “Top Five Things I Learned from My Editor”

  1. Great tips Inara. Thank you. I love the trailer for The Candidates! I wish I had some wisdom to share, but right now I’m a sponge for tips myself.

    Posted by Calisa Lewis | April 30, 2011, 9:20 am
  2. Hi Inara. Thank you for being here. These are great tips. I can attest to the word repetition one. I think my editor found 350 uses of “looked” in my book. Oi!

    I also learned that using asterisks to indicate scene breaks can be a startling break in the visual flow so, unless a scene change needs special emphasis, we can use two line spaces to indicate scene changes. One space can indicate a POV change within a scene, but my editor said this is optional. Now I go through and take out all the asterisks.

    Great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 8, 2011, 10:36 pm
  3. Adrienne — I’m so glad I’m not the only one peppering my ms with looks. :-) And thank you so much for adding to my list! *Note to self: check for asterix*

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 10:37 pm
  4. No asterisks is a little odd at first, but I’ve noticed when I’m reading for pleasure there are no asterisks to indicate scene breaks. Never noticed that before!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 8, 2011, 10:38 pm
  5. Morning Inara!

    I have a problem with describing my people. (feeling like this is a 12 step program for writers) =) I either over describe – for the love of Pete Carrie, we KNOW she has green eyes already! – or I majorly underdescribe – for the love of Pete, Carrie we don’t even know if he has hair!. Somewhere down the line, I’m hoping your Lesson #3 will sink in……oh and just? one of my favorite words. just this, just that, just the other. sigh.

    And now I have to go turf out those darn asterisks. =)

    Inara, do you see that (in the second book) you’ve applied these rules, but now new ones are cropping up?

    thanks for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 8, 2011, 10:40 pm
  6. Hi Inara,

    I like to vary scenes. I send everybody to work, try to catch a rain or snow storm, and send them to their friends’ houses.

    Cool video too.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | May 8, 2011, 10:41 pm
  7. Hi Inara! I don’t have an English degree either, so I’m glad to hear it’s not an absolute prerequisite to getting published. There are still copy editors? I was afraid those were a thing of the past. I’m happy to hear authors go through so many levels of editing – it’s very reassuring!

    Thanks so much for sharing these important points. I watch for number 5 constantly, but those darn repetitive words still manage to sneak in.

    I recognize the importance of number 3, but sometimes authors add too much description. I like it best when they give me a few key recognition points and let my imagination fill in the rest. This is one reason I like headless heroes on book covers, although I think I’m in a minority there. I can appreciate hunky guys on covers, but I try not to fix their image in my mind before I read the book. Too often the cover pictures are nothing like the author’s description.

    #1, #2 and #4 – my critique partners have pointed out that my characters tend to spend a lot of time in cars. (Interesting, since I hate to drive.) I’m making a conscious effort to keep them moving now. As to varying sentence structure, that’s another thing critique partners often catch that I miss. Some of these things are a lot easier to spot in other people’s writing than in our own.

    Thanks so much for these important reminders – I just added them to my “must remember to do this” list!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:45 pm
  8. Enjoyed The Candidates very much and am looking forward to The Watchers. Good post. I’ll be printing it to keep near my computer for easy reference.

    Lucie j.

    Posted by Lucie J. Charles | May 8, 2011, 10:46 pm
  9. Jen counted the number of times I used “was” in one of my stories. It was a scary number!

    I use # signs instead of asterisks. I used to do lines of white but if they fall on a page break it can be confusing. Guess I’ll have to rethink this.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:48 pm
  10. Becke and Adrienne, that’s one that makes me crazy because every editor/copy editor seems to do it differently – stars, asterisks, extra line – and no consistency. :>

    Becke, I’m always choosing a new word-per-manuscript to use and abuse as you did with “was”. The last mss I wrote, the word was “long” – yes, you can snicker. Grins. There was long grass, long hair, long skirts, there were long moments, long pauses, long waits…everything was loooonnnnngggg. Hahahah!

    Posted by Jeanne AKA The Duchesse | May 8, 2011, 10:48 pm
  11. Becke, isn’t it wonderful to have someone read with/for you and catch those things? One of my CPs is usually the one to catch the “word-for-this-book-is” word, and let me know so I can root it out in all it’s many forms. :> Or better yet, remind you that you said the character had green eyes on pg 5, and that on page 395, you said she had blue eyes. Which of course, I missed b/c I KNOW what color her eyes are and skipped right over it in my edits. Grins.

    Posted by Jeanne AKA The Duchesse | May 8, 2011, 10:50 pm
  12. Hey Inara! *Waving madly* So glad to see you here at RU! What great tips, and like Lucie J, I’ll be posting them by my computer. Learning, learning, learning! Thanks for the fun insights and as much as I loved The Cadidates, I’m really looking forward to The Watchers! I’m hooked!

    Posted by Jeanne AKA The Duchesse | May 8, 2011, 10:50 pm
  13. Jeanne – All those “was”s made my stories slog along – when I started watching for them, my writing became a lot more active.

    I always have to watch “but” and “because” and “looked.” It’s scary how easy it is to overlook those!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:51 pm
  14. Carrie – I use “just” a lot when I talk, so I have to make a real effort not to overdo it when I write. I always talk in exclamation points, but thankfully that tendency doesn’t spill into my writing.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:52 pm
  15. The best (worst) mistake I made was during NaNoWriMo, when the baby started out as a boy and magically transformed into a girl by the end of the story. Of course, it was NaNo – I was lucky she didn’t turn into a space alien vampire shape shifter!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:53 pm
  16. I do have a lot of CPs – in part, because my original CPs have SOLD so they are now busy meeting deadlines for their new stories. Every CP brings something different to the mix, which is both wonderful and scary. They all catch things I missed, so I have to wonder what mistakes yet another CP might find!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:53 pm
  17. More books for my TBR pile. I’ve got to read faster!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:53 pm
  18. Oh, one of my words is “turned.” My characters are constantly turning here and there – it’s a wonder they’re aren’t so dizzy that they fall on their butts!

    K-

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 8, 2011, 10:55 pm
  19. LOL – oh, now that’s a good one, Becke!

    Still laughing…

    K-

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 8, 2011, 10:55 pm
  20. Inara –

    Loved the trailer. Gave me goosebumps by the end :).

    Could you give us any examples of how you ground your characters for your reader without using the same details over and over again?

    Thanks so much for being at RU. These are fabulous tips!

    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 8, 2011, 10:55 pm
  21. Great post. I still occasionally have problems with independent body parts. (Bad example: He pinned his eyes to her chest.) They sound so good when I first write them and so awful when I think of all the possible ways they could be interpreted. Thanks for a great list.

    Posted by Clarissa Southwick | May 8, 2011, 10:56 pm
  22. LOL – I’ve done that!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 10:57 pm
  23. Carrie, I wish that I could have moved on to make all new mistakes, but I seem to keep making the same ones. LOL. Actually, the interesting thing is that each editor picks up on different things. My first editor worked with me through my first book, and she gave me different revision notes than my second editor. Just like writers are different, so are editors. In that way, I feel lucky to have learned from more than one!

    Jeanne, I also pick something different to overuse in each ms. In The Watchers, it was the word “horrible”. In The Candidates, I abused Dancia’s stomach. Poor girl was constantly nauseated, or had butterflies, or her stomach was dropping or rising in her throat…you get the picture. :-)

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 10:58 pm
  24. Great stuff, Inara! I had many of these same lightbulb moments when I went through the editing process for the first time, too!

    Another thing I learned was that I sometimes misplace my modifiers, even when I think the sentence looks fine. Doing a sentence diagram (in my head) helps me figure out if the noun is being modified the way I intended.

    LOL Clarissa. ^^^ I’ve totally done that too!

    Posted by Laurie London | May 8, 2011, 11:00 pm
  25. Hi Becke! Awesome story about the shape-shifter sex-shifting character. LOL. I often forget eye color. Not to mention names — I’m terrible about spelling names differently as I go through the book. I had a girl name Sierra that went from Sierra to Sienna several times during ONE SCENE. Gah!

    And YES copy editors are alive and well, thank goodness. Both of my Delcroix Academy books got three rounds with the acquiring editor, and four passes on the final book from copy editors (not to mention that the acquiring editor reviewed the copy edits). I think that’s pretty standard with my publisher. (At least, I’d like to think it is. LOL.)

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:00 pm
  26. Hey Kelsey! I’m glad you enjoyed the trailer. It was great fun to make. (Though I made all sorts of mistakes there, too. First time for everything, I suppose!) So how do I ground characters with different details…I look for physical details to add to the scene that help define the character.

    Some things I’ve used —

    1) shoes: realizing a male character wore beat up Birkenstocks really helped me (and hopefully the reader) understand his character.

    2) Hairstyle: in one scene, my three girls got ready for a camping trip. One wore her hair in loose braids, another wore a bandana, the third had a sleek ponytail. I described them all together to help showcase the differences between them.

    3) Position of legs while sitting — crossed at the ankles with knees together? One foot wrapped around the knee and ankle of the other leg (how to people DO that?)? Stretched out in front of them?

    That’s the idea — the physical things themselves may not be all that original, it’s just the idea of inserting something small that does double duty in illuminating character and doing some interesting blocking.

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:01 pm
  27. Hi Lucie! Thanks so much for your kind words! Glad you like the books — can’t wait to share Book 2 with you! :-)

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:02 pm
  28. Jeanne, I’m so glad you stopped by! *throws cyber-kisses and hugs* I think most writers know they are constantly learning and improving their craft. Each book requires something different from us, don’t you think?

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:02 pm
  29. Hi Clarissa! Oh, I love your body part problem. I had one scene where my character threw up her hands. My copy editor had a field day with this one. LOL.

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:04 pm
  30. I had a character named Shea in one story. It was distracting to see it near the word “she” – I ended up changing his name to Sloan.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 11:05 pm
  31. Mary Jo, I almost missed you! Great ideas for varying scenes. I’m using a snow storm right now in my WIP — great minds think alike!

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:05 pm
  32. *throws a hug back* Yes, I think each book requires something different. I kinda think that if it doesn’t seem like it’s a challenging experience, then it won’t be a good read, does that make sense? Unless I’m learning and doing something that challenges ME as a writer – weaving in more complexity, texture, or subplots and doing it better each time – then I’m not offering more to my readers. So…yep. We’re in agreement there! Ha!

    Posted by Jeanne AKA The Duchesse | May 8, 2011, 11:06 pm
  33. SNORK! I can see this being a problem, but I have to confess I’d probably read right past it. :> I don’t visualize the independent body parts thing like some people do, and it bothers me in that dangling-parti-modifier-ciple-comma way to say “Threw her hands up” or “Threw her hands into the air”, which sounds just as odd, (How did she catch them when they came down?), but that’s SUCH a telling and expressive action, it would be hard to delete it too!

    Posted by Jeanne AKA The Duchesse | May 8, 2011, 11:07 pm
  34. Jeanne, this is a tough one for me too. Even adding a modifier doesn’t really stop you from throwing around body parts…I think it’s like adverbs. They really aren’t ALL bad. You’ve just got to use them sparingly and knowingly.

    And hope your copy editor doesn’t delete them. ;-)

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:07 pm
  35. Hello Inara!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today!

    Okay, relevant blocking…I didn’t know what that was, but I do use a lot of actions because I have a phobia of dialogue tags. :)

    I’ve abused my heroine’s stomach too. I did a “find” in MS Word and used the word “clenched” five times. “Curled” is another favorite. And since eyes are a big part of how a character expresses themselves, I use “gaze”, “looked”, “eyed”, “glanced” more than I should.

    I really hope to see your books made into a movie one day. Love the book trailer! :)

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 8, 2011, 11:08 pm
  36. Clarissa…

    …He pinned his eyes to her chest… while I know that’s physically impossible, it doesn’t bother me. Maybe it’s because we use phrases like “hold your tongue” or “he flew across the room” in every day speech. :)

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 8, 2011, 11:08 pm
  37. I have a character named Shea. I don’t want to change his name even though it can be mistaken for “she”.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 8, 2011, 11:09 pm
  38. I still think it’s a cool name.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 11:09 pm
  39. I like these ideas – thanks for sharing them!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | May 8, 2011, 11:10 pm
  40. I like Shea too! Keep it!

    I have a habit of naming my characters in rhyme. In The Candidates, Trevor’s name was originally Mac. But then I realized I had Jack and Mac, and that wasnt good.

    In current WIP, I had Bailey and Bodie, and though I loved both names, it was just too much B. So one had to go… LOL!

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:10 pm
  41. Thanks Jennifer! Once we know what our buzz words are, it’s easy to do the search and destroy. It’s figuring out what you’re overusing that’s hard.

    I bet if I searched right now, I’d have more than my share of clenched teeth too!

    Posted by Inara Scott | May 8, 2011, 11:11 pm
  42. Inara…

    Dancia is an unusual name, but I think it fits the story. Were you ever asked to change her name?

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 8, 2011, 11:12 pm

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