Here’s an example of some of the editorial comments I’ve received on the first couple of chapters of Project Superhero. Again, for any writer who cannot take even this level of feedback regarding your writing, you should think about doing something else. This proofreader is ridiculously polite and, more importantly, completely right when it comes to these recommendations.
I’m not posting these just to show off my own failings, although I’m certainly not ashamed to do so. I hope other writers can read these comments and not only find someone else who will treat their work with similar tough love and attention, but also learn to look for these things in their own writing. My goal when I edit is to avoid what you see listed below. Everything I catch is something that keeps me from looking AS stupid later on.
I should also point out that these remarks, and several more I left out, are only from the FIRST THREE CHAPTERS! Still, I agree 100% with all of them and am working hard to make the changes. Some are very specific, easily fixed, and others have required a significant amount of rewriting on my part, but that is what it takes to succeed–a desire to make the work as good as it can be and the willpower to keep the ego from getting involve.
So, that said, read and learn:
Lee, reading chapter 2, I’m wondering if you should alter or add anything else in this description of John. The fart was dead-on (he loves loud explosive things and wasn’t polite during camping, right?), but his comment about Micah & Lauren’s plate was both “vulgar” and hurtful – not quite something that made Michah (or any of the others) love him. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that John and not Seth (who you described as “abrasive”) made that comment (I’m thinking of Mindy’s reaction to Seth and John being the peace-maker in that situation).
Lee, this is really well written. I already like the characters and their relationships and am looking forward to finding out more about them.
I went over the last couple of pages numerous times and decided to put a lot of things in parentheses for you to consider. I like the dialogue between Mindy & Micah a lot, but I suggest that you take out a lot of the “stage directions” (for lack of a better term). You did a good enough job setting up the characters that your readers can easily imagine their actions during this scene without a detailed description. For example, I think you don’t need to say that Micah’s “thanks” didn’t sound thankful, or that Micah needed a moment to process Mindy’s question, or that he scrambled to come up with a reason to give Mindy, etc.
Doing dialogue – real, honest dialogue – is one of your strengths. At this point in the chapter, removing as much as the unessentials (is that a word?) really highlights this, and lets the characters speak for themselves while adding a sense of intimacy. I am not suggesting that you get rid of all of the comments I parenthesized, just that you review them and decide if some can be removed or shortened.
Lee, I’d switch positions of these two sentences (making the appropriate grammatical changes necessary). I think it explains Micah’s uneasiness better.
Right now, it is a bit confusing who the comment is about. Either say something like, “Brandon looked at Micah. From his expression alone, Micah could tell by that the comment…” or – my preference – delete that part of the sentence altogether.
…radiate from him like heat. You used this expression once in the last chapter (in reference to Mindy on page 3). You know me and repetition – I think you can find a better simile.
…he sat back down. He was already sitting down.
Stupid detail – In chapter 1 you mention that Brandon wears glasses; perhaps mention their absence or presence in this para or the next.
Lee, I know I’m being picky, but did the three tribe members carry the barrel of gunpowder with them as they took that long walk with Howling wind to the chamber? Should I just shut-up and simply suspend disbelief? (I know I’m weird — I don’t blink when a cave is sealed supernaturally, but a man-made sealing of a chamber with gunpowder I question.)
(My personal favorite.) Lee, this is the only bit of dialogue that doesn’t seem natural. I absolutely know what Brandon is trying to say – it just seems like something that Scooby & the Gang would say. (I hope that made you smile.)
I’m not crazy about this para. It takes away the solemnity of the moment.
Lee, I really like the concept of this chapter and your creativity, but there are a couple of things I’m struggling with.
I plan to keep posting such remarks as a testament to the trust I have in my readers and my own resolve to listen to them. Again, if you can find someone who is willing to do this for you, to give you an honest assessment of what does and does not work in your writing, do whatever you can to keep them happy and give them something, in the quality of your work, to make it seem worthwhile.