Across the past couple of years, I have shown novels to around ten different readers for ‘beta-reading.’ These are readers who I have asked to critique and query and question my story – so I can ensure all plot holes are filled and get a general reaction from.
But I have also shared my work with professional editors. And this is where my learning increased three-fold.
Of all my projects, I’ve shared around 3 short stories and 4 different novels with an editor.
Every editor has their own strengths, own style and own experience of reading someone’s work. When reviewing their feedback, there are definitely some things that require a bit of thought.
The first time I shared a novel with an editor, they recommended I put less detail in around the falconry terms, and in later drafts, another then asked questions about the falconry because they don’t have enough information. It can be tricky to get the balance right, but equally, one editor’s feedback may not feel ‘true’ for you and your story. I feel I have a good balance, but it took a bit of reflection on both sets of comments to find the line I was comfortable with.
Lessons from Editors
Different editors give different types of information: some just make comments like “I’m confused here” or “surely she wouldn’t say this because of __?” while others may give ideas “this sounds more like XYZ, is that what’s happening?”
I recently had an editor friend read though a short story, an not only did she send back feedback notes in the margins, but we talked the comments through over skype. She explained why she’d felt that this character wasn’t clear, and I was able to discuss if solution-A would fix that, or if solution-B may be best. It became a really deep discussion into the story, characters and in the end, into my writing style.
The key things I’d missed in my draft focused on giving enough detail about the setting, checking the main character’s actual role in the story, and pointed out that one key event would take weeks to really show the effects I wanted to explore. I had let the story-need come before what would be actually realistic.
This revision process led to, I think, my best-written short story yet, and helped me understand a missing component of my current novel-in-progress, which had been stumping me. I’m now focusing on the character’s interactions, and how that will shape their choices a little more obviously than I had explained in the current draft.
Keeping Tracks of Changes
Although editors can offer ideas and feedback, it’s important to remember that your vision of the story is key. Some changes may deteriorate the clarity when it comes to make changes, and this is usually a good place to really question the purpose of the scene, and alternative ways of including the information.
As themes arise, I keep a master file of lessons, such as my “show the character conflicts clearly; can tone them down later if needed” example. Then, while stuck in the drafting stage, I have a few directions to follow that will keep the flow and tone consistent throughout a story draft.
However, editors really do offer a unique view of the story, and can lead you to question your process. Let’s just say I’ve learned a few things in that two-hour conversation about my short story that I hadn’t recognised through years of writing.