Theresa Stevens joins RU once again (yay!) to lead us through editing the opening pages of a brave volunteer. This time we get excellent insight on story edits, formatting and so much more.
December 22, 2012
Amanda Turner gazed out at the parking lot from her second story window, her blood
was boiling over inside her body as she listened to the television playing in her office. “Stop it.
Rewind. No, never mind. I can’t bear to hear his voice anymore,” she said to her assistant, Lacy
Cavanaugh. “Who the hell does this ego-maniac Matt Lauer wannabe think he is? This isn’t
New York City or Los Angeles, this is North Carolina – Wilmington, North Carolina. My town.
That was my story, and he swooped in and scooped it. Who let him report on it this
morning?” Amanda sipped her gingerbread latte looking at Lacy for answers.
“It was weird, boss. He just came in this morning and demanded a camera crew follow
him to the Mayor’s house.” Lacy gave Amanda a dumfounded look adding, “He didn’t say
a word to any of us.”
“Damn him. I wonder who tipped him off?” Amanda continued to concentrate on the
parking lot, her eyes zeroing in on the parked Jeep Wrangler. She wish she could go out and
slash all four of its tires. Its owner, her co-anchor, was a thief without an ounce of journalistic
integrity, and she was going to prove it. Once and for all. Amanda looked away from the
window. Her voice began to rise again. “You know what. Let him have his moment. This is not
over. I will not let Tate Mathews or any journalist on this God damn planet get away with this.”
Amanda stood up, slammed her red paper coffee cup down and flew out the door headed in a
direct storm path to Tate’s office.
“Give him hell, Amanda,” Lacy cheered pumping one fist up in the air. As she pulled it
down and crossed her arms around her chest, she walked over to where Amanda had been
standing and glanced out at the Jeep. She smiled mischievously wondering if her late night
companion chose the festive red and green tie she suggested he wear today.
“Why did I listen to her?” Tate chuckled as he adjusted his tie. He hated the color red and
mixed with green stripes he looked like one of Santa’s elves. However, he also knew the tie
choice would undoubtedly upset the woman who shared a daily seat next to him. For
that reason alone, he decided the festive tie was well worth wearing.
“Thief, we need to talk,” Amanda demanded slamming his door. The clock above the
door shook off its center. He really needed to move the timepiece to another wall, he thought, as
a slammed door often followed Amanda’s entrance.
“Hello, and happy holidays. What a great soiree last night. You know, for a company
party and all. I hope you plan on giving Lacy a nice year-end bonus for throwing such a great
event. Say, what do you think of this tie?” Tate asked. His eyes were twinkling as he suppressed
the urge to smile.
Amanda gave Tate a look of disgust. “You know I wear royal blue on Wednesdays.
Why on earth would you pick that tie?” Amanda could feel the fire rise in her cheeks.
“Whatever. I don’t give a damn about the color of your tie, the shirt your wearing, or the
color of the dress on your bimbo last night. I want to know who your source is, and I want a
“So the tie is a no-go?”
“Damn it, Tate. Are you even listening to me? Are you having an affair with the
mayor’s wife? Is that how you scooped the story?”
Tate laughed. “If only it had been that easy.”
“Tell me!” Amanda screamed. Glancing anxiously at the clock, she swung the door
open. They were going to be late. “This conversation is far from over,” she warned as she took
off down the hallway.
Tate followed her out his door while fiddling with a royal blue tie that perfectly
matched Amanda’s outfit. “I’m sure it’s not. Maybe I’ll tell you as my personal Christmas gift to
you. If you will stop being such a Scrooge.”
“You are a lying, backstabbing thief, and you know it! One day soon I’m going to
expose you for the fraud you are.” Amanda slid into her seat.
“I look forward to it,” Tate fired back taking his chair and swiveling toward Amanda.
“By the way, she wore pink,” he taunted. “Hot pink.”
“Tate Mathews, you can take all of your ties and shove them up—” Amanda broke off as
their young production assistant, Ernie, began to signal.
“And three, two, one…”
“Hello, everyone. I’m Amanda Turner.”
“And I’m Tate Mathews. Your five o’clock news starts right now. Thanks for joining
This piece was sent in as a sample for the line editing series, but it’s not quite ready for line editing yet. Before we can get to the line editing, we normally do story edits, and this piece needs a bit of that kind of attention.
Let’s start with a word about format, though. You probably noticed as you read this that there are disruptions in the paragraphing and spacing. These result from the format of the original document and have been preserved here. The original is filled with hard returns, tab characters, extra spaces, and other problematic typography. In fact, as soon as I opened the file, I was imagining the complaints my typesetter would have made if we’d ever sent her a document like this. Format does matter.
Each house has slightly different format rules, of course, tied to their production habits, but for most houses, a few things can be assumed. Double space the text. Avoid gimmicky fonts, hard returns, and anything but hash tags or asterisks as scene separators. Tab characters are less universally troublesome, but using extra spaces to create an indent is probably going to cause problems in production. Use the paragraph format settings in your word processor to manipulate things like line spacing and indents. Anything else might not translate across software platforms and could make your manuscript look wonky, as is the result here.
The good news is that format issues are easily repaired. But there are other trouble spots in this opening that need to be mended. Look again at the first sentence.
Amanda Turner gazed out at the parking lot from her second story window, her blood
was boiling over inside her body as she listened to the television playing in her office.
That’s a run-on sentence (technically, a comma splice, because that comma is splicing two complete sentences together). Some writers use run-on sentences for stylistic purposes — they’re not as problematic in fiction as in, say, academic writing, so I’m not automatically opposed to their use. But I think it’s probably not a good idea to start with a run-on in the very first sentence. Many first readers might be turned off by that, and they might assume that rather than dealing with a high stylist, they’re reading an uncorrected draft. Here, too, because the verbs in the fused pieces don’t seem to flow together — “gaze” is a quiet verb, emotionally neutral, unlike the “boiling” in the second part — this doesn’t read like a deliberate style choice. It’s just not a strong first impression.
That is also easily fixed, so I’m not too worried about it. Just be sure to fix it before submission. What is a little more troubling is the way the character comes across in these early pages. First, there’s that interaction with the innocent assistant. I guess she’s not technically cussing out the assistant, but she sure is venting all over the assistant in what I would describe as an unprofessional manner. Also, it’s a little unclear as to why this is such a problem to warrant this level of dramatic response. I understand that she was working on the story, but reporters get scooped all the time. Nature of the business. That doesn’t make her co-anchor a thief, and the name-calling and rage feel a little melodramatic as a result.
We do want to start our books by establishing conflict and problems, so this author definitely has the right idea. The conflict and problems are right there on the page. That much is good. But the other goal of an opening is to bond the reader with the point-of-view character, and in romance, that usually means the heroine. A good heroine will be someone the reader can admire and cheer for. I found it a little hard to bond with this heroine because she did seem to be overreacting and letting her rage get the best of her. And at the end of Amanda’s piece, we head-hop to the assistant (who, it appears, is a traitor), and this disrupts the bonding process, too. In edits, we would try to have Amanda come across as someone who thinks it through, doesn’t overreact, and grasps the nature and extent of the real problem here (sabotage).
End scene, cut to the hero, and that fast cut with the scene in its current state doesn’t help the bonding process. But sometimes we use this kind of lightning-fast insert to establish some story facts before moving on to the character the reader should be bonding with. Prologues are a good example of this, especially when told in the point of view of someone other than the protagonist. Keeping these introductory pieces super-short can actually prevent the reader from bonding to the wrong character.
That’s not the situation here, though. That first bit isn’t prologue, and Tate’s follow-up piece didn’t read like an introduction to an heroic protagonist. Neither Amanda nor Tate really grabbed me. The conflict is interesting, but the characters need sympathetic motivations or a little more warmth or something else that would make us want to keep reading about them. In other words, this piece would have to be revised for character before we could get deeper into line edits.
RU writers, you have Theresa and her knowledge at your fingertips – ask away!
Join us on Monday with Leah Scheier as she discusses her path to publication.
Bio: Theresa Stevens is the Publisher of STAR Guides Publishing, a nonfiction publishing company with the mission to help writers write better books. After earning degrees in creative writing and law, she worked as a literary attorney agent for a boutique firm in Indianapolis where she represented a range of fiction and nonfiction authors. After a nine-year hiatus from the publishing industry to practice law, Theresa worked as chief executive editor for a highly acclaimed small romance press, and her articles on writing and editing have appeared in numerous publications for writers. Visit her blog at http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/ where she and her co-blogger share their knowledge and hardly ever argue about punctuation.
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