The Value of Four Eyes
Have you read a book lately, perhaps one by a well-known author, in which whole paragraphs are repeated three chapters on? Or did you trip on a cute phrase used more than once? Or sometimes the story loses credibility in some inaccuracy or exaggeration.
Where are the editors? Too busy with the marketing department?
Seems to me everyone needs a good editor. Two eyes are not enough. It is too easy to repeat yourself, or go off on tangents that don’t drive the story on, or forget details, or fall in love with a clever turn of phrase.
Two brains help, also. The second one needs to be a little less familiar or less invested it the story so it can question every questionable word, every character’s motivation, every setting’s light angle, every paragraph’s place in the flow of action.
As I struggle to create a vital story for today’s readers – one that grabs attention and won’t let go – I find the most valuable tool my editor provides are her comment tags:
Is this what you meant? ... Is this relevant? ... Is this out of character? ... Does this presage something important? ... Shouldn’t this be said earlier? ... This is a non sequitur ... I love this exchange.
The last comment is like the taste of delicious dark chocolate after a cup of coffee, a momentary thrill that moves you on to the next paragraph with hope. Then the fun begins again.
Is the story moving fast enough? ... Take out all excess verbiage ... Paint the action; don’t describe what happened.
What is the character thinking here? ... What does she like? ... Why?”
Is the conversation relevant to what is happening? Focused or does it wander?
Is this backstory triggered by the current action? Does it lead back to the action soon enough?
Does the reader know where he is? When? Why is she there?
What is the purpose of each scene? Each paragraph? Each sentence? Are the transitions in time and place clear?
I once took a workshop on screen writing, in which the dramatic action was deconstructed at every level down to each five-second interval. Does your book have a beginning, a middle and an end with life-changing decisions to be made? Is there a dramatic arc in each chapter? Each conversation? Each paragraph?
Other workshops reminded me to sit down and read the whole book out loud. Does it flow logically? Do you trip on a sentence? Fix it.
Does the current of the story carry you on down a beautiful river of language? Were you uplifted by the exhilarating ride, somehow changed forever? Did it leave you on the shore feeling satisfied, as if it were all inevitable? Well done.