My journey to novelist, part 4

Critique me, please!

As I read my friend’s book, I found the story to be quite good. However, somewhere in the recesses of my mind I also knew that something wasn’t exactly right about it either. I couldn’t put my finger on what the difference between it and the Robert Ludlum, James Patterson or Clive Cussler novels I regularly devoured, but there was something...

In the meanwhile, I met with my editor. Some of the news was very encouraging, she loved the story, the characters and the character development, the surprising plot twists and how they tied everything together. So far, so good. Then, the other shoe dropped. Though the story was action driven, it was written in passive voice. I didn’t know what that was. She provided a simple example: John was walking down the street. (passive voice) vs. John walked down the street. (active voice). At first, they didn’t seem all that different to me. I read the two sentences a couple more times. Then, the second sentence began to sound more purposeful and powerful. ‘John walked down the street,’ made me wonder what would happen next? I wanted my writing to be powerful. Understood, I’m onboard.

My editor also pointed out that I’d used both present and past tenses throughout the manuscript. It needed to be written in one or the other. I knew that, yet it had happened over and over. Many of the sentences were long and awkward, needing to be restructured or split into two. Plus, I tended to use some words repeatedly, often two or three times within the same paragraph. Moreover, I’d used the word ‘that’ over three hundred times and ninety percent of the time it had been completely unnecessary. That was not good. As she pointed many of these things out, showing examples, they seemed obvious. Why hadn’t I seen all this myself? It is very difficult to edit your own work, she’d assured me. She remained encouraging; collaborative, rather than lecturing. I could tell her goal, like mine, was to make my book to be as good as possible. It felt good to have a partner. Writing can be a lonely business. I do almost all my writing absurdly early in the morning before most of the world wakes up.

My partner hadn’t yet finished her critique. There were several passages, including one whole chapter, which didn’t advance the plot and therefore needed be removed. A whole chapter… She also felt the conclusion of the book was too abrupt and not as satisfying as it could be. She even had a couple suggestions for the ending. Despite all the issues she’d found and the knowledge that I’d be rewriting almost every sentence, I came away from the meeting feeling positive.

Besides, myself and my new editor, half a dozen people had read my manuscript. Why hadn’t they seen the problems with my writing, that had suddenly become so blatant to me. Then I remembered how I'd felt about my friend’s book. I picked it up and read a few pages. I found several awkward sentences, and remembered that I’d often had to reread dialogue to figure out who was speaking. I grabbed the nearest Clive Cussler off my bookshelf and randomly studied several pages. No awkward sentences or passive language to be found. It read easily, with no confusion. Good writing isn’t accidental. I aspire to write like my favorite authors. I learned so much that day. Not the least of which was: professional editing is a must.

I could feel my writing skills improve as I revised and edited. Plus, I’d come up with a killer new ending.

This time when it came back from the editor, I had a book fit to be published…

Watch for part 5 – A Family Affair


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