Novel Editing from the Inside Out

Having helped to usher roughly a dozen novels into print over the last two years as one of, Inc.’s book editors, I have been asked to delineate how our book editing services go beyond those that you might find touted elsewhere online. Frankly, this is a no-brainer. Most of our competitors, if you read between the lines of their advertised competencies, are essentially what I would call “clean-up crews”–that is to say, hygienically-minded proofreaders. If you aspire to a more rigorous and professional treatment of your full-length manuscript, go with, Inc.

Over the years this company has notched an enviable record in securing authors’ contracts for publication, many of whom were first-time petitioners for acceptance of their work. Given my experience in this venture, I will summarize below the process I go through while editing a novel. That outline, in turn, may suggest some points for fiction writers to keep in mind as they prepare drafts of their manuscripts.

Be true to the author’s voice

The first thing I try to detect and, in my role as a book editor, respect is the text’s latent voice. This involves more than the technicality of identifying narrational point of view. It also is not easy to describe. What I initially try to do is to hear the author’s cadences as they percolate through characters’ dialogical speech patterns, which of course should be distinctive to each. Through them I cock an ear for the echo, register, or stylistic tonality of a writer’s ventriloquism, the kind of nuanced effect found, for example, in John le Carré’s latest production titled Our Kind of Traitor (2010). Attunement to this idiom guides me in proposing editorial changes.

Assure the characters’ credibility

I next concern myself with the credibility of those characters. Do they speak in a manner consistent with their individual depiction and the text’s setting? “Spiffy,” for example, is an inapt description of male attire in 1920s New Hampshire. I also pay close attention to how characters are originally introduced, since such profiling will have a significant bearing on their subsequent roles. Are they plausible, again as gauged in terms of the work’s fictional context, and are their actions congruent with both the story’s events and human psychology? Persuade us that your invented personae are real and that we should care about what happens to them.

Attend to the plot

Then comes the matter of plot. While verifying that developments jive with previously indicated circumstances, I check for minor lapses. Sometimes this can be a minefield. As in a 5,000-piece puzzle, one wrong detail can derail the entire project. Consultant editors should be fanatically adept at questioning these occasional miscues. Thus, if you do not find that your manuscript comes back to you with at least some marginal queries about plot consistency, something is wrong. Even Homer nodded. We all need another pair of eyes to tell us how we’re doing.

What does it all add up to?

What I look for, finally, in a fictional manuscript is an answer to the question, “So what?” By the narrative’s climax and resolution there should be some indication, however obliquely framed, of its conceptual import. This is another way of saying that the text ought to limn by its end what has been at stake throughout the entire plot. Formulaic or pat closures, of course, should be avoided. The dénouement instead must arise credibly from earlier plot complications and project some larger insight into what has informed them all along. The pay-off for the reader, in other words, should be worth his or her investment of time and attention.

Is it a satisfying, organic story?

These major points encompass what I look for while editing a novel. My approach is to work from the inside out, letting a fictional manuscript’s flow guide me in monitoring its unfolding design. I would like to think that most editors adhere to this method, or something like it, but in my experience many come at the task from the outside in. Seek professional assistance, then, from those who are sensitive to your work’s organic shape. That doesn’t mean they’ll be uncritical; it does mean, however, that their suggestions will mesh with your text’s objectives. The book editors affiliated with Edit911’s book editing service are, hands down, your best resource in this regard.

—Dr. Robert

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