Let’s pretend you have a top you’re going to wear for an interview. However, the sleeves are too long, several buttons are missing and there are holes in the fabric. Is it worth ironing it at this stage, or will more work be required first?
The answer is obvious, but there’s a parallel in the editing world which sometimes gets overlooked. I’ll demonstrate this with a story I wrote that’s a bit like the top. At the time, I was really proud of myself, but there are… a few problems with it. In my defence, this was back in 1997 and I was 10.
THE NIGHT I GOT CHASED
BY A WEREWOLF.
It was a dark and stormy night. Wind rustled the leaves and put ripples in the swamps of the eerie wood.
I was lost. Lost in darkness and trembling with fear. I imagined eyes looking at me through the darkness. Big, hungry eyes with the owners of them ready to strike. I heard a howl in the distance. I had gone out earlier and had somehow got lost in this dense wilderness of trees and bushes.
I heard another howl. Closer this time. I shivered. I kept trudging on through the eerie wood. An owl hooted in the darkness. I suddenly had a bad feeling that I was being watched. I looked round. This place gave me the creeps. A howl from about two yards behind me made me jump. I turned around in time to see two gleaming fangs that were as sharp as knives and two huge, yellow eyes. A WOLF! I broke into a run. I could feel the wolfs hot, sour breath on my neck. But I was sure the wolf wasn’t that tall . I turned round to see the wolf on two legs with big muscles in its chest. IT WAS A WEREWOLF!
By now I was gasping for breath and the werewolf was closing in. The trees all around me reached for me, trying to block my path. Then I came to a swamp. I didn’t see in time and I tumbled in. But I landed on a log. The werewolf howled and jumped in. I started to paddle. The log was going faster than I expected. I hung onto its scales. Hang on a minute, logs don’t have scales. The crocodile grinned at me. It reared up and sent me flying onto its tail
I looked into the swamp. There were crocodiles everywhere. Then I saw an overhanging vine. I jumped and caught the vine. I climbed up it and got on top of the tree it was hanging from. The werewolf got out of the swamp and prowled round the tree I was up. It was too dark to see far but I made a tree near enough to jump to. Scrape! The werewolf was climbing up the tree. I got ready to jump. Scrape! I jumped, and missed. With a moan I landed in a thorn bush. The werewolf jumped down and lumbered towards me. I started to crawl. Thorns ripped at my clothes but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get to safety. At last I came to the end of the bush. Then I heard a growl, then a yelp, then a howl and then the pattering of something on all fours. I turned round and saw a normal wolf . The werewolf had changed back. Then I saw a light. Thinking it was the end of the wood I ran towards it. I came into a clearing. Then I heard this whine. I turned round. The wolf was cowering in the clearing. It was as blind as a bat in sunlight. I saw my chance and ran back into the wood. With the werewolf shaken off I began to look for a way out. Then I saw it. A SIGN POST! I followed the way it was pointing and finally burst into the open. Then I found my way home. My parents were really glad to see me and now my adventure in the eerie wood is like an old dream.
If I wanted to turn this into a “good” story, it would need some work. Proofreading could fix the typos, but at this stage hiring one would be a waste of money. The same goes for a copyeditor or line editor. They could break up long paragraphs and help with redundant phrases, and perhaps even cut out a few clichés. (Rumour has it that It was a dark and stormy night has been used before.) However, the events of the story would still be the same, and, let’s be honest, they often don’t make all that much sense.
Starting with developmental editing would be the best way to strengthen things. This deals with elements like story structure, pacing, dialogue and plot holes (Random crocodiles in the middle of a swamp in the woods?). It’s often the biggest investment in the editorial process, but it can help authors to craft a well-structured story with compelling scenes that keep readers turning pages. Once that’s been achieved, other forms of editing become much more helpful.
Those with a tight budget could look into getting a manuscript critique instead of a full developmental edit. This usually includes an editorial report, but without comments or suggested alterations within the manuscript itself. It leaves the author with more work to do, but can still point them in the right direction. Like many developmental editors, I offer both services.
Are you planning to hire an editor for your book? What type of assistance do you think you need? Get in touch and let me know!
Here’s what the story looked like when I wrote it at school. At least my teacher liked it!