Jim’s post is part of the “All the King’s Editors” series where an editor from the Writer Unboxed contributor team edits manuscript pages submitted by a member of the WU community.
Each participating editor will approach a submission in a unique way, and speaks only for him or herself.
Remember, editing is as much art as science, and your take on the passage may differ. If so, feel free to join in the discussion at the end, but above all, be kind.
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These pages are from the second chapter of this novel, and for me they set the tone and place of the story perfectly—a light, funny paranormal tale set in California.
Two things struck me about this text. One was how the author gets in the description of the first person narrator and then how you can gain—or lose—the readers’ trust through breaks in story logic. Look out for these as you read, and I’ll explain more in my numbered notes at the end.
I made very few changes to the text as these pages looked pretty polished. Most of my revision suggestions would need more input from the author, but it wouldn’t take much to get these pages into great shape.
The pit_–bull’s nostrils twitched as
whe approached, but he remained still. I dropped to a knee and calmed my puppy. 
“Is there a problem?” A stern male voice startled me.
I found myself face to crotch with a man. A Newport Beach PD Ssergeant’s shield hung on his belt along with an ID card,  and he packed all the right equipment. Really packed it.
I telescoped  to my full six feet and elevated my thoughts with my body. My rapid ascent left me a little dizzy, or was it the view? Even clothed in jeans and an NBPD sweatshirt, he looked as if he had walked off Mount Olympus or the Olympic swim team.  He was certainly one of the few mortal  men I’d care to see in a Speedo. My legs were as long as his, but his full lips were a couple of inches above my thin ones.  He had short brown hair, sapphire eyes, lashes like brushes, and a chin Michelangelo would’ve loved to chisel. He held a black to-go cup with a skull and cross–bones logo, signifying it held a hex-presso—six shots of the Daily Grind’s signature extra-bold espresso. It could raise the dead better than a syringe of adrenaline. Only real caffeine junkies dared drink it.
Despite my empathic skills, I couldn’t read cops or psychopaths, because they had too many compartments. This guy was like Alcatraz.  To make matters worse, he scrutinized me as if I had three eyes and warts. True, I wasn’t wearing makeup and my Scandinavian heritage showed in my baby blonde hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, and pale skin. Everything was original equipment—no botox, collagen, silicone, spray-tan, or peroxide. If a woman could work her butt off, I’d wear a size zero instead of an eight, a plus size by California standards.
I flashed a smile. “My puppy wants to play with your dog, and he’s your dog’s  so well-trained, I didn’t want to tempt him to disobey you.”
“Oh.” His face relaxed, but he remained guarded. He untied the leash. “Thank you. Useless,  come.” 
The pit bull extended his nose toward Kara. The fuzzy little slut  fell on her back in ecstasy. I groaned. With the canine introduction rituals complete, she rolled  to her feet and feinted back and forth to engage her new friend in a game, but the cop announced he had to get to work.
As he walked away, Woody ran up and shouted,  “Hey, Mman! Get her name!”
The cop stopped and glanced over his shoulder. He’d heard Woody. Woody had great lungs, or whatever a ghost had, but few people without some psychic ability ever heard him.
Woody urged him again, but the cop shrugged and continued walking. Oh, well. I was still on my sabbatical from mortal men, and cops had never been on my list of possible companions.
- On first reading of this first paragraph, it all looks fine, and there are no real errors in it, but there is a break in logic. A couple, in fact. First, the narrator is approaching the pit bull, and the pit bull is not moving, it’s still (apart from its twitching nostrils). If the narrator then stops to calm her puppy, then nobody is moving and she’ll be that same distance from the man, so it’s unlikely that she could then look up to suddenly have him so close in front of her. Second, and perhaps more glaring, is that, if the narrator can notice a pit bull’s nose twitching, it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t notice the Olympian hunk next to it. The first can be solved by having the pit bull approach the narrator and her puppy, as in this revision. The second is more difficult, but maybe the narrator is so focused on any threats to her new puppy that she doesn’t see the guy. That would have to be clear here, and maybe it’s covered in chapter 1, but another hint at her anxiety or at least her level of concern for her new pup would be useful here. Why is this important? It’s fiction, why can’t we just have her see the pit bull’s nose twitch and not see the man? It’s especially important in the early pages of a novel for the author to gain the readers’ confidence, so that they know they can trust this author to take them on a believable (for this story world) journey and that they won’t have to work too hard to suspend their disbelief.
- This mention of seeing his ID could be an opportunity to get in the cop character’s name. Naming the character will give a cue to the reader that this is someone to remember, someone who’ll come back in to the story. If he doesn’t come back in to it, then I’d say this encounter covers a lot of space for what will be basically be an aside, something that doesn’t really move the story forward, and I’d probably advise that the author cut this or re-work it to have her meet someone who will appear later.
- I wondered about “telescoped” as a verb here as it could be argued that it doesn’t really describe how someone would stand up straight, but I really like this line, so I think it should stay.
- A great line, the Olympus/Olympic (near) repetition works well to emphasize this point of how the man looks.
- I like this use of mortal here. It looks like you might be making a distinction between guys and an Olympian god, but the reference to mortal men has a greater significance in this story, as we see later.
- It’s great how the author works in a description of the narrator through the description of the other character. It’s always tricky to describe your main character when writing from a first person perspective. This achieves it perfectly and is way better than the usual cliché of having the narrator look in the mirror.
- I’m not sure this Alcatraz simile works here. Following on from “psychopaths and cops,” I’d expect something to better explain how those two groups have compartments. Instead we get a prison, which might have many compartments (cells) but doesn’t clarify or link back to the cops and psychopaths comment. To show just how difficult this guy is to read, the author could use an extreme form of a cop or psychopath, or ideally a cop who is a psychopath. Dexter is the best I can come up with at the moment. I’m sure this author can do better. Otherwise, you could revise these two sentences to compare these types of people with something else that is difficult to read, but I like that the author avoided the obvious choice of a foreign language, for example. For that reason, I think “compartments” works, but not Alcatraz.
- This “he’s” could refer to the puppy, that it’s the puppy that’s so well-trained. I revised the sentence to make it clearer.
- I’m not sure that every reader would get that “Useless” is the dog’s name and not a comment on what the narrator has just said. But I don’t think there’s any need to explain that this is the dog’s name, as in: “Useless—that’s his name—come.” The author could change the name to something more obviously a dog’s name, or live with the fact that some people might not get it.
- It’s seems odd that he would give the command to “come” when the dog is right next to him and the two people seem to be standing so close to each other. This could be revised to something like, “play nice.”
- It’s the author’s choice to use the word “slut,” and it could be that it fits the context of this encounter, that the dogs are mirroring the humans’ behavior. However, some readers might see this as inappropriate, that it’s a gender specific derogatory term. Then you could have dog specialists who will point out that she’s not being slutty at all but performing a natural greeting pattern. See how tricky word choice can be? I like the idea of the dogs mirroring the humans though, and maybe even the animal behaviorists would agree that the puppy is giving in too easily, so maybe this could be revised to something like: My fuzzy little pup rolled over in ecstasy.
- If you revise “slut” to “rolled over,” as suggested above, it would be best to revise this mention of “rolled” too to avoid the repetition. Something like: … sprang to her feet …
- Maybe this is just because we don’t have the benefit of having read chapter one here, but this character, Woody, jumping out like this is a little too much of a surprise, and I think it would be even if we had read chapter one. The author could either show that Woody was there earlier, maybe expressing his approval of the cop, and the cop could sense his presence then. Personally though, I think it’s fine to wait until this point to introduce Woody, to keep the focus of this (part of the) chapter on the encounter. But then Woody needs a smoother introduction. This could also help with the other small issue in this sentence, and it’s another slight logic break. Woody is running while the cop was only walking. Surely Woody wouldn’t have to run. You could then revise to something like: As he walked away, I noticed Woody again. He walked behind the cop and shouted, “Hey, man! Get her name!”
Would the breaks in story logic bother you? Or could you let them go at this early stage and go with the author for a while more?