Writer’s Journal Vol. 2.5 The Dreaded Red Pen or Editing The Killer Novel


The Dreaded Red Pen or Editing The Killer Novel

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Writing the great American novel might not be the end goal of most authors today, but all of us strive to at least write something that’s memorable, preferably in a good way. Our readers invest time and money supporting our craft, can we do anything less than study it, perfect it, doing everything in our power to gain the tools needed to write a killer novel?

Which is the perfect segue into my next question; What does it take, in terms of craft, for a writer to be successful in today’s market?

In my not so humble opinion, to be successfully published is to be the recipient of the dreaded ‘red pen’. That hated scalpel of editing found in every beta-reader and editor’s tool box.

Whether you’re a published author, emerging author or wannabe author, you and I both know the beginning and end of every manuscript — be it fiction or non-fiction, good, bad or indifferent — starts with an idea and ends with an editor whose job it is to help us make it into an even better one.

So what am I doing to write a killer novel?

The same thing most successful authors do, study the very things an editor is looking for, starting with the basics; grammar, sentence structure, story and character development, including plot and tension. Dissecting the work. Taking it apart line by line, scene by scene. Perfecting the things that work and eliminating those that don’t.

I recently read an article in Glimmer Train by emerging author Zeynep Ozakat , where she talks about how her love of reading led to her dissecting some of her favorite author’s works, using her version of the ‘red pen’ like a scalpel to do ‘open-text surgery’ on the overall story and all the parts that make it a whole. Pulling apart the portions she liked and those she didn’t, then using what she’d learned to write her own stories.

As I mentioned in a previous article (here), I too have begun analyzing some of the books I’m currently reading, breaking them down into the ‘. . . five fundamentals of Story form (Inciting Incident, Progressive Complications, Crisis, Climax and Resolution) and the six units of Story (Beat, Scene, Sequence, Act, Subplot and Global Story). . .’* Taking them apart in order to find out how they work or don’t work, and what it is about them that I either like or don’t like and why, then using what I’ve discovered to improve my own work.

Now some of you might think taking on the role of editor, when someone like myself is at the beginning of their own writing career, as somewhat arrogant, even narcissistic.

Whereas I certainly might agree the overall statement, the fact is every reader, whether consciously or unconsciously, is doing the very same thing every time they read one of our books. The difference being, I’m doing it to improve my craft. Readers do it to either decide whether they’re going to read the second novel in my series or, if they write reviews, what kind of review they’ll be writing?

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been hacking away on a laptop, iPad, notebook or like Frank Navasky’s (1998 ‘You’ve Got Mail’) 1980 OLYMPIA Report de luxea, for more years than you’re willing to admitthe bottom line remains the same, the more an author knows about the components that turn a good story into a great one, the better stories they’ll be able to tell.

Sharing the journey,


©Reigning Press; 2015 All Rights Reserved

*Shawn Coyne @ http://www.storygrid.com/the-story-grid-spreadsheet/

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