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Daniel I Russell - Writer of Horror Fiction

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Some tips on editing

A literary agent has requested a full manuscript of my latest novel, The Forgotten. After I'd finished it and edited it, a few things popped into my mind regarding the 'polishing' process. Being a writer-type, I thought it best to simile-up. This is not a complete list, just a few thoughts. Here's hoping that old hands agree and new writers take heed. Let's hit this...


We've all done it. The hideous thing I bought once was a sleeveless tight t-shirt with flames around the bottom. For someone skinny in the arms and not so skinny around the waist...it was a bad bad look.

And it didn't need to happen! If a friend had simply said "Mate. Seriously?" it would have gone back on the rack and I could have spent my money on something more sensible, like beer or a catapult or something.

But that's the thing: a good mate will not want to hurt your feelings.

You've finished your book, and if you do say so yourself, it's the dog's. Maybe? Nah, probably not. You need readers to, you know, read it and offer their opinion. Some writers claim that they're writing a novel just for themselves and screw the readers. Good for you. I hope you enjoy it. But for most writers who want to make sales and form a readership, a book has to appeal to a wider audience than just you. What works for you might not work for someone else. Fair enough, difference of opinion. But if something works for you but doesn't work for the other 5, 6, 7 people that read your manuscript...something needs to change.

And it's crucial that you have the grits to take criticism and have beta readers that can dish it out unhindered. If they want the book to succeed as much as you, they'll be quick to point out the flaws rather than blow happy smoke up your ass.

And I'd like to thank the team that beta read/reading The Forgotten for me: Jim Mcleod, Jeanna Tendean, Felicity van Ravensteyn, Kody Boye and M. E. Ellis.


Because no one likes the coffee creams and the strawberry creams are always the first to go.

To set the record straight, a few years ago my mother was throwing out a box of chocolates because she thought no one wanted them. She put them close to the bin (not IN the bin!). I found them, saw they were mostly caramels, and ate them. I refuse the claims that I ate chocolates from the bin (Sherie) but I do admit that they sufficed as breakfast that morning.

I digress as I often do.

As Hanks said in that film where he played Forrest Gump (the name of the film escapes me), with a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. And that's true with editing. There are so many things that can go wrong, so many intricacies to consider. Unfortunately, there's only one real way around this. Read, write, learn.

An editor I worked with once said that any master craftsman needs to know each and every one of his tools, and this is very true of writing. Listen to any experienced editor you work with and absorb their knowledge like a sponge.


You know how it is. Sometimes you just have to go to another town and all these differing rules come in. If you pot the cue ball, does your opponent:

a) place it anywhere on the table
b) place it anywhere behind the line
c) place it anywhere behind the line and play down the table or
d) place it in the D?

I've met guys who have sworn by each of these rules. The game is ultimately the same (hit balls with a stick) but each place develops their own rulings. So when you come along with the rules you've been taught, you look like an idiot.

With the written word, I've noticed a lot of this, in particular, subtle differences between the US and UK. Yes, we all know that Americans can't spell (colour, grey, foetus, kerb, mould...for example are the correct spellings ;-P ) but there are a few other things.

Did you know that UK writers go backwards and forwards while American counterparts go backward and forward? Little things like this make a difference and its just one more thing to pick up as you go along. That way, when an editor of a US magazine is making these changes, you'll know why. When I was doing the tech edits for Necrotic Tissue last month, I was an Englishman removing the English-terms from American stories written by Americans! Confused? You should be...


You have to watch your dangling modifier, be careful not to splice her comma and most importantly, have fine wines and Belgium chocolates to hand.

Okay, I might cop a bit of flack for this analogy, but hear me out.

With a new partner, you might be a little more responsive, notice her scents, her sensitive areas (!), her sounds more. Not that your partner/wife doesn't do the same...but you get...hmmm...how can I put this?

Basically, if you're handed someone else's manuscript, you don't know what it's going to do. You're more alert, your editor's eye a little more thorough. When looking at your own stuff, you WILL miss things. I firmly believe that no one can create a 100% technically correct manuscript (unless they edit a page a day for example and have ultra-concentrated editing sessions...but that's just a pain!). Another pair of eyes will see the things yours failed to, but then again, it should go vice versa.

Even for the best of us. I'm reading Brian Lumley's Necroscope and yesterday, I came across a woman who was a window with two children!

I don't know if this Editing is like... section worked, but any excuse to put a Swiss Tony clip is a good thing.

Enough editing stuff. I'm off to celebrate something...

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 12:07 pm :: 1 comments

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