Search This Blog

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Writing – editing - look out!




The other day I picked up one of my wife’s newly purchased paperbacks by a successful and popular author and opened it at random, page 280. I immediately thought that the author and editor had not really given the work enough consideration, if this example was anything to go by:

            She looked alarmed. “You’ll come back to London soon, I hope.”
            “If you’re there, then I’ll devise a good excuse.” He looked at her fondly, but his smile faltered.
            “I’m looking forward to riding out. I haven’t ridden a horse in years.”
            “Don’t worry, (the horse) is very placid. She’ll look after you. And so will I!”

No author name, no book title. That’s not the point. Let's consider this as an exercise in editing.

I checked the previous page and a bit. The scene is from the heroine’s point of view. So how can she ‘look alarmed’ since she can’t see herself? She felt alarmed, if we want to be simplistic, though this is virtually ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. She could show ‘alarm’ in several ways – stepping back, a hand to her throat or covering her heart, her lip quivering, her heart tripping, all visual or emotional responses.

As for ‘looked’ – we have variants of that repeated no less than four times in 8 lines of contiguous text in the book. They’re ‘echo words’ – lodged in the subconscious and spewed out in the first draft phase; but they should be expunged in the later editing sessions.

She looked alarmed. “You’ll come back to London soon, I hope.”
            “If you’re there, then I’ll devise a good excuse.” He looked at her fondly, but his smile faltered.
            “I’m looking forward to riding out. I haven’t ridden a horse in years.”
            “Don’t worry, (the horse) is very placid. She’ll look after you. And so will I!”

It’s quite simple to get rid of all those repetitions, look:

            Her throat tightened in alarm at the prospect of him never leaving here. “You’ll come back to London soon, I hope.”
            “If you’re there,” he said with a gentle smile, “then I’ll devise a good excuse.” But the curve of his lips faltered.
            “I’m excited about riding out. I haven’t ridden a horse in years.”
            “Don’t worry, (the horse) is very placid. She’ll take care of you. And so will I!”

As they’re both in a foreign country as they talk, perhaps she should have said, “You’ll return to London…” rather than “come back”.

And there’s still the question of why his smile faltered. Did he mean what he promised or not? As she noted it, wouldn’t she dwell on that, fearing his sincerity?

What caused the sudden switch to riding on a horse – when riding was last mentioned about a page earlier? No continuity of thought or speech, no leading phrase to generate the thoughts or words about riding; no flow.

Yes, this is a trifle unfair, a section 'taken out of context'. How many authors (me included) self-edit every little section of a book that can be about 100,000 words long? I’d argue that we try. But perhaps as some authors become successful, like this one, they become lazy and don’t exert themselves. On the other hand, in my humble opinion the editors aren’t doing their job, either.

So, look out for those irritating repetitions.

4 comments:

Jo Walpole said...

We all miss things, I know that, but some books are so sloppy you wonder whether anyone bothered to read them after the first draft. I've come to the conclusion that with the dumbing down of language in general (text speak and the fact that people don't seem to talk to each other, for example), people are more interested in the story than how it's written. Fifty Shades would appear to be an example of this from the snippets I've seen littered around on the Internet. Sadly, for the masses, it's content then (perhaps) style that's important. A shame, in my humble opinion.

Nik Morton said...

You're right, Jo. And it's disappointing when standards slip to such an extent. It's a pity, too. Mediocre writing can tell a good story; but good writing can tell a great story.

Jane Bwye said...

All very true, Nik. I must admit, I am becoming increasingly intolerant of sloppily edited books. However interesting the story, I become distracted by the lack of quality, and sadly that means I tend to favour the "big" publishers, who still turn out the most polished products.

Nik Morton said...

Thanks for the feedback, Jane. Sadly, my example was taken from one of the 'big' publishers! :)