Should the Dog Eat my Homework? – Post #1

Every once in a while I’ll post a block of my, or another poor soul’s writing, and will tell you what should be fed to my dog Sirius Black what needs work … or editing.

If you write, you will need to edit and be edited. It’s an excellent way to learn craft and to improve your writing.

There are several different levels of editing. Developmental Editing looks at the whole work, its characters (do they change from pole to pole), pacing (is it a page turner), plot, and subplots, and evaluates how the story hangs together. We won’t be doing this here as we’d all have to read the same book!

The next level of editing is Line Editing. This is a line by line analysis that considers paragraph and sentence structure, impact, some grammar, tightening of language (extraneous words, repetition, rhythm, etc.), and continuity (didn’t he have iceberg blue eyes on page 1?).

After a Line Edit we’re faced with the Copy Edit. This includes some of what we did in the Line Edit for language but it adds grammar, ‘house style’ (if this is a publisher’s copy edit), spelling, and fact checking (is Ottawa really the capital of Canada or is that Toronto?).

The final edit is a Proof Read, which looks for dropped commas, typos, and the such.

We’ll be doing Line Editing. Here is the start of a book tentatively titled FASTER THAN LIGHT. It’s young adult, science fiction, at first or second draft stage. I haven’t looked at the material for a while so believe I can be objective (That’s an editing trick: Don’t launch into an edit of your book right after you type ‘The End’, but put it away for a couple of weeks (better yet a month) and start with fresh eyes). I wrote this a few months ago.

So let’s go. Comments are in red (usually we’d use the track changes function but that doesn’t work in a blog!).

“Yeehaw!” Borga shouted, pulling the ship around in a 2G turn.  [Having ‘lingo’ like ‘2G’ in the first line might turn some readers off. This isn’t ‘hard’ science fiction, rather ‘soft’, which means it’s set in the future but with lots or ‘hand waving’ when it comes to warp drives and other technologies. Second question: Is this the best first line I can come up with? Does it reflect the tone and themes of the book? Is the reader going to read on? I can likely do better than ‘Yeehaw.’]

Sabra’s fingers dug into his shoulders as the full force of the curve pressed him into his seat.

“You’ve been noticed,” she said through clenched teeth. [How can he see her clenching teeth? Where is she?]

“Of course we’ve been noticed, but you did want those flowers, right?” [Reader could be confused by now. We need to ground the reader. Where are Borga and Sabra? It’s a challenge of starting in the middle of the action that the writer won’t have taken the time to ground the reader and engage the senses.]

He could sense the shake of her head. [How? Later we learn she’s sitting behind him.] It had been an off the cuff comment about Lothain having brought her flowers to which Borga had offered to steal a star orchid for her, and her replying that it would earn her undying love. A harmless flirtation that had ended with them entering the no-go-zone of Triatatur—a planet much like Earth, but under the protective umbrella of the Space Merchant Guild to which Borga was no member. His tithe went to the Pirate Guild like his father’s before him.  [This is good enough exposition (world building) and effectively delivered, BUT I don’t like the cliché about getting a flower for the girl. This is the future, not the ancient past like the 1980s. How about some piece of alien technology? Something she can use? Or why doesn’t SHE make the comment and they’re getting the flower for HIM? Subvert the reader’s expectations and you’ll win over a reader.]

“Otto,” he said and the little bot chirped acknowledgment [from where?]. “Let’s disappear.”

A lower bleep indicated its understanding.

“They can still track your signature,” Sabra said.

“Yes, but they won’t know whose signature they’re tracking.”

Borga knew that this was foolhardy even for him, but he tried not to think too long before doing stuff. That led to not doing stuff. He was pretty good at not thinking. [This is good because we start to feel Borga’s voice.]

To collect a star orchid, he would need to cut one from the coiling vegetation that mounded the jungles of the planet. Far from rare, the flowers bloomed in relative abundance and as he descended their large petals dotted the landscape. At the speed of sound however they were very hard to collect.

Sabra sat behind him in the navigator’s seat, surrounded by screens. [Move this up to situate the reader earlier with her disembodied voice.] Borga didn’t need the windscreen in front of him to see his environs either. A semicircular array of touch consoles delivered the perimeter of the ship and every measurement known to humanity.

“Incoming, Marauder Class 4—those are fast, Borg.” A note of concern tinged Sabra’s voice and no one called her gutless. [Good, more piratey talk? Have fun with it.]

“Pattern?” With a swipe of his fingers, he answered his question.

“Fanning out, looks like a reverse funnel. Two are following you down. They’re going to be within visual ID in two minutes. You do know they can fire at will,” she said, reminding him that he had zero cause to be here.

“So can I,” he replied.

Sabra gasped. “That would be criminal.” [Cut the dialogue—it adds nothing and is implied in the next line. This is an example telling rather than showing.]

“I won’t actually hit one,” Borga said. “Besides Triataturian prisons are soft.”

“Yeah, soft as in gummy, as in I’d rather not be jelly molded.”

Truth be told, his little space skater had little firepower. Only chaffing guns, most of its armaments were designed to keep it from being noticed or identified, which was why the Triaturites were going to need their beady little eyestalks to determine who had broken six or seven intergalactic laws.

He skimmed the vegetation.

“I don’t care about the flowers, Borgy, let’s go.”

By calling him Borgy, he knew she was succumbing to irrational fears. So a flight of twelve Marauders trailed him. He could handle it.

“A Deathnell, twelve o’clock,” she whispered.

Something cold gripped him. A Deathnell was a bit like using a nuke to clean the mud off your shoes. [Upping of stakes, good] He clicked away the screens. The only way to see a Deathnell was with the naked eye. Now he could make out the distortion, shimmering in its refracted light ahead.

“Hold—” he said, and didn’t have the breath for the rest of his warning, the turn so tight the skater nearly stalled out [delete ‘out’] before shooting under the Deathnell’s forewing and sliding past the Marauder net. Everything grayed for a minute [delete ‘for a minute’] as he completed the turn, tensing his stomach muscles to reduce the blood flow to his lower limbs, straining to keep conscious. Levelling out [delete ‘out’], the world returned to full colour.

“Sabra, Sabra, you okay?” He’d done turns at higher gs, but Sabra had G-Locked once.

“Oh my god, I’m going to need to clean my suit,” Sabra said and then barked a laugh. “That was crazy. Totally tunnelled.”

He sagged and completed another sharp turn that brought him inline with a long bank of approaching orchids.  “Where are my buddies?”

“Why aren’t we going up, Borgy?”

“We came for something.”

“You can’t pick a flower at mach.”

“You’re probably right, I can’t pick just one.”

“Marauder overhead.”

The Triataturian attempted contact and the skater scrambled.

“I think you’re about to lose plausible deniability,” Sabra said.  [Good, stakes continue to rise, a touch of humour and we have a preliminary understanding of both Sabra and Borga. I’d keep reading, but then I WROTE it so admit to a touch of bias!]

Sirius Black will have to go hungry, but he might have a snack of the first few lines.

Sirius Black

I hope this gives you a sense of what a Line Editor might do, and I hope you picked up on a couple points of craft along with it.

Note the ‘white space’, exposition (dense description, world building) is interspersed with dialogue. Punchy dialogue improves pacing, it decreases the amount of text on the page so that a book literally becomes a ‘page turner’. You want that.

Categories:   Writing Tips