One of the comments in last month’s Editor’s Clinic suggested that the piece I worked on should have been rewritten once or twice before the editing commenced. (Incidentally, I’d encourage you to go back to that discussion. At the time it went up, I was working to get ready for Christmas – a crunch time for an organist – and didn’t have the chance to join in the discussion right away.) The comment raises the question – how much can an editor do? How much is worth doing?
I revisit the question this morning. The sample scene below does contain a number of problems that writers without a lot of experience run into. The writer is easily distracted by information that readers don’t yet need – like the details of the shop’s cash register system. It’s hard to follow Sarah’s internal state – in the auditorium, she seems both shy and furious simultaneously. And the author puts distance between Sarah and her readers in a lot of little ways – awkward interior monologue mechanics and cliches, for instance.
But most of these problems are the sorts of things you run into because you can’t judge how your story is coming across to your readers. That particular skill only comes with a lot of experience. In fact, one of the most valuable things editors and beta readers bring to a story is a set of fresh eyes. Any writer who’s first starting out is unlikely to spot these problems without a little outside help.
Underneath these problems is a lot that makes the work worthwhile. The tension between the stuck-up members of the Historical Society and Sarah gets started right out of the gate. The moment when Sarah walks out of the meeting is very nicely done. And Miss Stella tends to light things up when she shows up in the shop.
Even though the piece could have been stronger to begin with, the best way to make it stronger is to edit it as it is. I’m pushing the writer as far as I can take her. If all goes well, she’ll take what I’ve done and push herself even further.
“I refuse to have such an unskilled woman represent our organization.
She has no formal training and claims those children’s books as art. She’s nothing more than a ranch hand that married money.”
Sarah Stone had simply wanted to huddle 
“Morene, we are holding a Wonderland Tea Party. Isn’t that is a children’s book?” Miss Stella held her gaze on the Historical Society president. Murmurs broke out across the meeting room as Morene Montgomery turned a deeper shade of purple. A mixture of anger and hurt welled up in Sarah as she tilted her hat brim to cover her face. She had slipped in on the back row of the meeting just as the members of the Santa Marie Old Towne Women’s Historical Society.  Actually, she hadn’t even wanted to do that much, but began taking their seats. Sarah was not a member and normally avoided the monthly hen’s nest. This time, however, Jewel McLane, aka Miss Stella, prodded her to attend.
Now she wanted to charge up the aisle and throttle Morene Montgomery. A ranch hand who married money? That witch! [Read more…]