Oct 11 2009

Think Like an Editor

Published by at 7:46 pm under Writing Articles

Hello, this is Marissa with today’s lesson in practicality.

Today, you’ll be looking at a work like an editor would. This will help you get inside their head, which will in turn help you shape your story into something a publisher just might consider.

1. Take your favorite book off the shelf. If you don’t have your favorite book, it’d probably be easiest to pick the favorite one you own. That way, you’ll have it on hand. If you have your heart set on a different book, though, go ahead and use that one.

2. Reply to this entry with the title and author of the favorite book, then one (or a few) things you–the editor, remember–would have changed. This can be in the form of plot points you disliked (using Soon I Will Be Invincible as an example: I would have told the story that ended before the book begins, rather than spending the entire book backtracking on the past), characters that were flat and needed dimension (cough, Bella?), or even a page-long edit like B. Mac did for Twilight. This last option will only really be effective if you can scan the page in question, or link to where they might be read. Please, for the sake of length, don’t paste the whole page in the comment.

This lesson in practicality very much relies on the old adage, ‘Kill your darlings.’  If you can learn to criticize elements of your favorite books, you’re one step closer to looking realistically at your own.

22 responses so far

22 Responses to “Think Like an Editor”

  1. Marissaon 11 Oct 2009 at 8:04 pm

    I’ll start us off, with my favorite book, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, though it applies to the series as well.

    So I don’t counteract the criticism, I’ll keep this disclaimer short: I only noticed this after having it laid out flat by an essay in a book about this series, so it’s not entirely obvious. However, I’m not always the most observant reader, when I enjoy a book. That being said…

    The point-of-view character and the main character are two different people, in my opinion. The author’s bias blinds the reader to it unless they squint, but the point-of-view character (Tally) is really just a follower. The main problem in the first book is caused by Tally wanting to be like everyone else. She only strikes out on her own once her ability to become like everyone else is threatened, so she has no other choice. On the other hand, her best friend (Shay) was the free-thinker, the unique one. She struck out on her own, ran away when such a thing was unheard of.

    Throughout the three books, Shay’s always the one who fights the hardest, cares the most, comes up with the plans, while Tally is often just along for the ride. She stands up on her own when it matters, but… I think she should’ve been doing that more throughout the series.

    …Resisting urge to redeem book.

  2. Wingson 12 Oct 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Hmmm…I have a lot of much-loved books, but let’s take one that helped HTSTW get up and going: Hidden Talents by David Lubar. Spoilers beware!

    First, the title. If it weren’t for the fact I’d kinda already finished all the books I was familiar with I probably wouldn’t have picked it up (The same can be said for my other favorite book Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, which I only read because I was forced to by my teacher).

    The main character, Martin Anderson – he is assuredly a flawed character due to his steadily increasing problems with authority, but other than that not may details of his personality were explored. Personally, I thought the other characters – be they Torchie, a naive telepyric and a truly horrible musician (The funny thing is that he has no clue how bad he is), Trash, a loner telekinetic with dreams of being an artist, or Flinch, future comedian/Olympic-class dodge ball player – were far more engaging and interesting to read. It wasn’t that he was a badly written character so much as the fact that the author could have done more with him.

    The plot managed to be original, giving nearly all the characters a chance to shine, and maintained a delicate balance between edgy and comical. (The second, just-as-good book True Talents definitely went in a Darker And Edgier direction). They managed to avoid most cliche pitfalls while still remaining familiar to the reader, which I enjoyed. I still think the author could have thrown another plot twist or two our way, but the story was still decent overall.

    I think I was too soft on it…

    – Wings

  3. Marissaon 12 Oct 2009 at 7:14 pm

    You were much too soft on it, but it’s a step in the right direction. 🙂

  4. Eanon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:49 pm

    So, the Bible.

    I see what the author was getting at, but there’s all these unnecessary details that really bog down the plot. Genealogies, for one. And a lot of nonsensical tangents in a lot of places (though I do like the part where Elijah curses some kids in the name of the LORD for making fun of him for being bald and two she-bears come out of the woods and eat forty-two of them, see 2 Kings 2:23-24, I think).

    There is some decent foreshadowing in the Old Testament, particularly in Isaiah, but a lot of the books seem to lead nowhere. This is, I think, one of the main problems in a nutshell. Each book generally has separate stories and often a separate audience, yet they are all lumped together and packaged as one book. The main conflict is set up pretty early, but again, it seems to get off track and degenerate into lots of minor conflicts. Man screws up, God promises to redeem man, and then there are lots of wars and shenanigans and history. The history really bogs it down in places, so that it’s hard to tell if this is supposed to be a history textbook or an actual book. But, it all gets tied up in the end, with a nicely divergent ending where some people get to live happily ever after and some don’t.

    A lot of the characters are quite flat and poorly developed. The authors often tell rather than show, i.e. “So-and-so, a man obedient to the LORD and wise in years,” and they go to the trouble of naming minor characters whom you never see again.
    One has to work fairly hard to empathize with the characters beyond the simple level of “been there, had that happen to me,” and there are some things that are quite frankly not relatable for most people, such as being visited by angels or seeing the end of the world. Yeah, don’t let’s get started on Revelation.

    Among the other characters, Jesus (arguably one of the main characters, along with God) in particular is hard to figure out sometimes. I get that he’s God and therefore somewhat ineffable, but it would be nice if he was a little less so at times. He withholds information, often seemingly without cause (though at least the narrator tells us when this is happening), and between “blessed are the meek” and turning people out of the temple in a fit of righteous anger, it gets so that one needs lots of explanation by footnotes and concordances and whatnot. Actually, this is probably true for most of the Bible. So nice that we have all these denominations each relying on their interpretation of said book and often interpreting completely different things!

    But all said, the Bible’s a pretty good book. The style is understandable given when it was written, and it has lots of good advice and quotable quotes. Plus, of course, it’s the Word of God, which makes it pretty much invaluable to its target audience. Huzzah!

  5. B. Macon 12 Oct 2009 at 10:40 pm

    “So, the Bible.

    I see what the author was getting at, but there’s all these unnecessary details that really bog down the plot. Genealogies, for one. And a lot of nonsensical tangents in a lot of places (though I do like the part where Elijah curses some kids in the name of the LORD for making fun of him for being bald and two she-bears come out of the woods and eat forty-two of them, see 2 Kings 2:23-24, I think).”

    I don’t know you well enough to know whether to take this at face value or not.

    Umm, if I were rewriting the Bible, I would probably remove the ethnic cleansing of Canaan and a few other items that clash with modern sensibilities. If I were Hollywooding it up, I’d have Moses reach the Promised Land because he’s sort of the main character of the Torah/Old Testament and the main character deserves a happy ending. (Sigh).

    I’d remove the Gospel of John because there are too many factual discrepancies between it and the Synoptics. By a vote of 3-1, John is the weakest link. (Remember, modern sensibilities: majority rules!) Also, John is too highbrow for modern audiences.

    Some of the books were extremely important thousands of years ago but have become all but forgotten. For example, Leviticus was hugely important if your religious community needed to carry out animal sacrifices in accordance with God’s will. But, umm, I am not familiar with any churches or synagogues that actually carry out animal sacrifices. Indeed, pretty much all of the rituals outlined in Leviticus have changed dramatically or been more or less discontinued.

    If we were REALLY Hollywooding it up, we’d have to give Jesus a happy ending rather than a gruesome death by asphyxiation. Or at the very least a Braveheart-style blaze of glory. (The protagonist must die fighting!)

    The sex and violence are off the hook, but at some points it gets a bit gratuitous. Let’s take it from rated-R to PG-13. Also, Sodom and Gomorrah lose the family values crowd.

    I think that Genesis strains the suspension of disbelief.

    Exodus–off the hook. But there’s a plot hole. If God and his agents are all-knowing, why do the Jews have to mark their doors? 😛

    Delilah tests extremely well among horny guys and feminists. One word: spinoff!

  6. Marissaon 12 Oct 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Ean’s my clone. Would you take that at face value from me? ;D

    Ean, the Bible? Really? xD I expected better of you than that.

    Also, B. Mac, it was already Hollywooded pretty bad. Haven’t you seen The Passion of the Christ?

  7. Eanon 12 Oct 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Really, only the last few lines were remotely serious. There are plenty of books I have enjoyed reading more than the Bible, but I know it better than most of those books, and I’m not going to go through, say, The Last Continent with a notebook and pencil and do this on top of all the other things I’ve got to do.

    I quite agree that the violence gets rather gratuitous, particularly when Samson forcibly circumcises a number of Philistines. I don’t recall the exact number (~200?) or if they were dead yet, but there you are. There’s also that bit about dashing infants against the rocks. It’s nice that we don’t have to take that sort of thing literally.

    I’d not say Genesis strains the suspension of disbelief so much as it has more fantasy elements than most of the rest of the Bible. Then, too, one could interpret parts of it metaphorically, as do many Christians.

  8. Wingson 13 Oct 2009 at 8:56 am

    Yes, I was too soft….

    I must become much eviler. Therefore, I shall become the biggest jerk in the world!

    – Wings

  9. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 15 Oct 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Correcting the Bible. LOLWUT? Haha. I guess I’d rewrite it all in leetspeak, just to make it more interesting. Sure, that breaks a lot of rules, like grammar and being gimmicky, but it’d be more interesting than analysing every sentence in RE looking for boring lessons that I learnt long ago.

    “And so God sed “Ler their b teh lolcats”, and so they’re were teh lolcats, and on the 7th dae he rest3d and sor taht it waz gud.”

  10. Anonymouson 15 Oct 2009 at 5:55 pm

    There’s a LOLCAT Bible already. Google it.

  11. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 15 Oct 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I will correct a series I like that has gone down the drain lately: Maximum Ride. Here be spoilers. Be warned, it’s a whole essay on the flaws. Well, not really an essay, because I can’t write them. Haha.

    The first book has a good start, it shows her running through the forest to escape some wolfmen chasing her, then it turns out to be a nightmare caused by memories. Then she’s in a house, it introduces the others and then one of them is kidnapped by the wolfmen from her dream, they spend a lot time trying to save her and fighting the enemies. The main wolfman is a seven year old boy named Ari who Max used to be friends with.

    The first book is my second favourite; the second is the one I like best. Max gets a voice in her head in the first that is as of yet unexplained. I wish it would be clarified already, it’s getting on my nerves. And in one of the books it is mysteriously absent (it usually snarks and makes it more interesting) until she needs it most.

    In the second they attend regular school, and it becomes more like a scifi/fantasy high school drama, which is how I think it should have stayed. If they fought the baddies off while trying to appear like normal kids, and moved to a new school each book because of a huge fight that revealed the truth, it’d be better. But in the second book, their caretaker turns out to be a baddie and stuff happens. It also left a lot unresolved with Max and Fang’s school love interests. I want to know what happened to Lissa and Sam already. It’s been three books now, with barely a mention of them, except when Max is jealous (like usual).

    But the third, I forget who it was that pointed it out on SN, but there was a huge “wtf?” moment. Though the rest of the book was quite good, this part just made me think “who is the character lying here?!”

    For some reason, Angel the mindreader helped out the bad guys, and Max spent a lot of time in captivity being hostile to her, threatening to rip her head off etc. Then after they escaped Angel and Max, said “oh it was just a plan we made earlier”, though Max, the POV character, NEVER commented on any sort of deal or backup plan, and in her own thoughts, not just dialogue, expressed hatred for Angel. I was so confused that I skimmed back to see if there was even a hint. Nope.

    Then the fourth book happened. Instead of running away from interesting monsters and scientists, they then decide they’re gonna go and save the ice caps. …yeah. They get betrayed, etc, some guy tries to auction them, then a character who had little mention at all in the book is offhandedly revealed as a spy, though he got nowhere near the main characters. When Max said “oh, and (I forget his name cos he’s so unimportant) was a bad guy too, so he got arrested”, I think it was just an excuse to cut one of the characters out who had no value to the ending.

    The fifth is better than the fourth, but not without its flaws. Again, it’s a giant neon sign saying “BE GREEN” like the fourth and the environmental message is not played down even a little, but I find the plot more interesting. Or perhaps it’s just because of the kiss between Max and Fang. Haha. But seriously, it may be better, but there is just so much wrong with it. Firstly he stopped the interesting titles. Instead of “The Angel Experiment”, “School’s Out Forever”, “Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports” and “The Final Warning”, this one is simply called “Max”. Yes, it’s redundant. “Maximum Ride: Max.” They’re the same freakin character! That’s like saying “Harry Potter: Harry” or “Artemis Fowl: Artemis”.

    It starts out interesting, when Max is nearly sniped out of the sky, but then some ninja-robot-things attack and Fang shows concern for a female scientist friend of his, Max spends a paragraph ranting about how much he looooves “Doctor Wonderful” just because he is defending her life against crazy murderers. Then they proceed to be roped into some deep-sea adventure, Max complains about it but goes because her mother wants her to. The rest of the book is them fighting some guy who’s doing something bad which I forget, except heaps of fish die. Oh, and Angel talks to a whale-thing.

    The characterisation isn’t that great, either. Max is always right, and though I will admit to adoring this trait, she always has a snarky answer for everything, but I think she’s a Mary Sue. But Angel is definitely a Sue. Angel can read minds, put thoughts into people’s minds, communicate with fish and other animals, control minds, can change her appearance and has gills, and like the others, can fly. And they gained these abilities through DNA. How is talking to animals a genetic trait? Angel always gets what she wants, mainly through mind control but also because she’s written as goshdarn cute. Blue eyes, curly blonde hair, firmly attached to her teddy bear.

    Iggy is the only one besides Max to have found his parents, who turned out to be jerks that wanted to abuse his experiences for money. But he’s probably the least Sueish of all the cast. But still, he can feel colours. I have no idea how that works. Couldn’t he just have been given regenerative eyesight?

    Max had an “I am your father” moment when it turned out that the guy who had saved them, then died, then wasn’t dead, then was a bad guy, then was a good guy pretending to be a bad guy, also turned out to be her dad. And the woman she met by chance was her mum. It was made less serious when he tried to explain and she said “No! I don’t want to hear about the ‘beautiful science’”, but I still thought it was dumb. It also gave her two half siblings, Ari on her dad’s side, and Ella on her mum’s. Stuff happened, Ari died.

    Yeah, I probably went overboard with this, but I couldn’t stop listing all the bad stuff once I started. If I were an editor, I would say “No, if you’re going to have a green message, make it subtle. Angel cannot have all those powers; Ari needs more characterisation, and why the hell did he randomly self-harm those two times?! Talking to animals and feeling colours are not genetic traits, and for the love of GOD, why is all the ‘save the world’ crap in the first three revealed to be global warming and not something interesting like a government conspiracy?!”

    Then I would hit him on the head with the manuscript. “Go rewrite it!”

  12. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 15 Oct 2009 at 6:26 pm

    “There’s a LOLCAT Bible already. Google it.”

    So there is! If I were Minister of Education, this would be curriculum. Haha.

  13. Tomon 16 Oct 2009 at 8:28 am

    “I were Minister of Education, this would be curriculum.”

    Good thing you’re not Minister of Education…

  14. Wingson 16 Oct 2009 at 9:06 am

    What is this “LOLCATS” of which you speak?

  15. Luna Jamniaon 16 Oct 2009 at 9:08 am


  16. Wingson 16 Oct 2009 at 9:19 am

    Now I understand…

    Such odd conventions you non-sheltered people have…

    – Wings

  17. Luna Jamniaon 16 Oct 2009 at 9:33 am

    Lord of the Rings.

    I think the overall plot was good as well as the development of many of the characters and where they ended up. However, although the histories and explanations of the elvish language and all of that were very interesting, that could have been left out. It discouraged many from reading it because it was so long and when does the story start?

    Also, there were many little situations the hobbits had to go through which (as evidenced by the movie) could have been left out. For example, I think Tom Bombadil was rather interesting, but did he actually add anything? Did the hobbits have to go through the strange woods? Why?

    The end.

    I haven’t read Lord of the Rings in a while, I’m sure if I had I could add much more but that’s all I’ve got.

  18. Holliequon 18 Oct 2009 at 9:58 am

    The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

    DISCLAIMER: I absolutely adore this book. To date, it is the only novel that has made me laugh, cry and made me want to hit something. Preferrably the antagonist. Also, recently I have been unable to read a novel without predicting 90% of the twists and plot points along the way. Not so in this book. In short, this is unbelievably difficult for me.

    Spoilers follow.

    1) The German was obvious in context. Except for that one time when it was used for humour, translating it was really unneccesary. In fact, as it’s only a few words at most, was it neccesary to include it at all?

    2) The narration occasionally slipped into some awful metaphors. I know this fitted the theme of the story, but really, do you have to describe the stars as ‘sewn into a patchwork sky’? (The actual quote escapes me, and I am too lazy to search for it at the moment.)
    FOR THE RECORD: I actually liked this, since it fit with the general theme of “discovering words and, thus, the world”. (Or at least that’s how I interpret it. But let’s not get into that.)

    3) When the “flashbacks” appear in the story anyway, you do not need to include them at the beginning. No, really. This would have made the Nazi flag metaphor less obvious (not that it was particularly subtle to begin with: you illustrated it. Yes, the Nazi regime was bad. We know. Yes, many people died. WE KNOW! You do NOT have to hammer this into our brains. The narrator of the story is Death, and tell us the setting within the first few pages.)
    FOR THE RECORD: I liked this too.

    4) Max Vandenburg. Not the character himself, because he was rather enjoyable, but… my god. I realise that, as a Jew, hating Hitler is part of who he is, but those two miniature books? Were really unneccesary. (Although making them out of the pages of Mein Kampf for Liesl really was a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming…) Whilst we’re talking about it, fighting Hitler in the basement. You know what I’m talking about. We did not need that.
    FOR THE RECORD: I found these parts really touching, but… yeah, kind of unneccesary I guess…

    5) Spoiling future events of the book is not fun. No, not even if you’re a little vague about it. When you tell us that Papa is going to escape death again, we suddenly stop worrying when he’s shipped off to a really dangerous job by the Party. Also, telling us that Rudy dies about 200 pages before it happens? Yeah, thanks for that. (I think it says something about Zusak’s writing that I cried anyway. Hell, I had to put the book down because I was sobbing uncontrollably. It’s not the happiest of endings…)

    6) The ending. Realistic, yes. Cruel? That also. See above re: sobbing uncontrollably. There are downer endings, and then there are unneccesarily depressing endings.

    7) The epilogue. Liesel lived a long and happy life (after the deaths of her whole family and most of her friends), that’s good to know. But couldn’t we get something a BIT more? After all we went through with Liesel throughout the book, is that really the only ending we get? And no mention of the Mayor and his wife? At all? They took her in dammit! Ms. Mayor allowed her to become the book thief! And we. Get. Nothing. That is not how we tie up lose ends, Zusak.

    I would have to look at the book to do a more detailed critique.

    By the way, I 100% recommend this book to everyone. It really is one of the best novels I’ve read. I really, really love this book. Honestly, I can’t really put it into words. It’s just… guh. I need to buy more Zusak.

  19. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 31 Oct 2009 at 7:24 am

    ” ‘I were Minister of Education, this would be curriculum.’

    Good thing you’re not Minister of Education…”

    Yeah, probably. I would be forcing the kids of Australia to worship Ceiling Cat, they would be practicing calligraphy on cakes using tube-icing, and learning physics by tossing jelly-bombs at each other. But we already make Mentos-Pepsi fountains in science class. Also, in History class, we tease our teacher and don’t get in trouble because we’re his favourite class. Besides, he teases us back. Haha.

    Anyway, to stay on topic, I heard that My Immortal is available to buy online because the plot bears so little resemblance to and changes so many names of Harry Potter characters that it’s not considered infringement. I wonder how good it could be with some damn editing. I’d take it on as a project, but I became desensitised to speeling nda gramar miztaces becuzze off reedin it. Haahah.

  20. XosMelon 05 Jun 2013 at 3:42 pm

    “Umm, if I were rewriting the Bible, I would probably remove the ethnic cleansing of Canaan and a few other items that clash with modern sensibilities. If I were Hollywooding it up, I’d have Moses reach the Promised Land because he’s sort of the main character of the Torah/Old Testament and the main character deserves a happy ending. (Sigh).”

    You guys don’t seem to understand that the Bible isn’t a book for entertainment. It’s true, and each story and piece of advise to for us to learn more about God and how we should live.

  21. B. McKenzieon 05 Jun 2013 at 5:46 pm

    “You guys don’t seem to understand that the Bible isn’t a book for entertainment.” I, uhh, hope this isn’t a surprise, but my comment about taking things at face value which involved Hollywooding Moses and a spinoff to the Bible based on Delilah’s marketability with horny guys wasn’t meant to be taken at face value. I suspect that the previous commenter was also being facetious.

  22. Tricksteron 01 Jan 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Les Misérables.

    Now, first of all, the extremely long and plotless start with the Bishop. Just no. Start with Valjean arriving, then show what the Bishop is like through his interactions with him.

    Drop the whole Tholomyes side-story. Fantine got knocked up and the guy was a jerk and left her, MOVE WITH THE DAMN PLOT.

    Drop things like musing about Waterloo (it took me about 15 reads to not skip it), boring philosophy about convents, and the fucking history of the sewers. No one cares. If Hugo wrote this today, the editor wouldn’t make it to page 2.

    Now, it’s a great book with great characters. But there are a lot of plot-stopping, unnecessary fillers.

    Also, for the love of Odin, drop Marius. Replace him with someone less whiny and less of a Werther clone.

    And the coincidences. Oh my Chuck.

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