This week author Crys Cain is joined by special guest VE Griffith. They discuss what line editors do and how authors can utilize them effectively.
Crys: Hello and welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m Crys Cain, this week with my special guest cohost VE Griffith. Welcome, VE.
VE: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Crys: VE Griffith is one of our three story method editors. We’ve been in groups together for a while, but I think the first time we met was in the Three Story Method– like met in person– was the Three Story Method certification in Cleveland. Does that track for you? Does that seem right?
VE: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. That was really the first Author Life Community event that I went to. So yeah, that would’ve been the first place.
Crys: So how has your writing slash working week been?
VE: My writing week this week actually got a lot better today. I was able to sit down with some members of the community and brainstorm out a problem that I’ve been having in my personal writing story, an urban fantasy, and I’ve been stuck in writing myself in circles. And it looks like with the help of the members, I might be able to write my way out of it and back into something approaching a line and not a circle.
Crys: Amazing. I have had a pretty good week. I’ve been struggling with getting the words down on the romance, which is just a thing for me right now, and I recognize it. But I have a deadline to finish this by the 16th so that I can go on vacation with my kid without feeling guilty. But for my fantasy stuff, I rarely, but sometimes wonderfully have dreams that just drop little gems into my brain. Then I’m like, ah, that’s a story right there, or that goes into part of a story.
And I am meant to share this on the Write Away Podcast, because I shared it with JP before we started recording and then I completely forgot to share when we started recording, but the phrase “I run a raccoon temple,” I think that’s what it was, ” I run a raccoon temple” was in my dream. And in my dream, this very clearly meant that they were for the benefits of marijuana. And then there was also the phrase, ” we don’t allow mice,” which meant we don’t allow cops. And I was like, ah, this is going somewhere.
VE: I wish I had the problem of having ideas pop into my head like that.
I also thought of a fantasy story or a children’s story where, you know, really someone is running a temple for raccoons, or a temple worshiping raccoons or something. Raccoons are pretty cool.
Crys: A hundred percent. There’s so many ways you could take it.
Alright, so onto our topic this week which is, I wanted to talk to you about your specialization as an editor which is line editing. And so the question we’re posing to ourselves for this conversation is: when might I need a line editor?
And let’s start out by defining what it’s not. It’s not the developmental big blocks of story. It is not a diagnostic, which is one of the main offerings that all of the Three Story Method editors offer, which kind of gives you a rubric idea of how well you’re doing in your writing, and getting your genre across, your characters are clear, your settings are clear, all of that. And it’s also not putting all of the commas and periods in the right place. It’s the middle ground, also called content editing by some folks.
VE: Yeah, I do some of the commas and periods, but I’ve been known to miss some. I do look for sort of story problems that slap me in the face, but unless it’s something we specifically talk about and you want, you sort of have to be prepared and upfront with any editor about what you want.
So I’m looking at sentence structure, I’m looking at word choice, I’m looking at tightening your word choices. I’m looking at removing passive voice if that’s necessary. Stuff like that, that’s a sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph exercise, as opposed to the Three Story Method diagnostic, which is an overall look at your whole story.
Crys: Now I’m going to take the position of the writer who hasn’t hired a line editor before and say, if I’ve hired a developmental editor, why would I wanna hire a line editor if I’m just gonna get somebody to fix the grammar? Because I don’t wanna lose my author voice.
VE: No, you don’t wanna lose your author voice. And in working with a line editor, obviously as the author, you have the final say on what happens in your manuscript. But sometimes you are going to have read your story so much that you miss, not just misspellings, but completely incoherent sentences, or sentences that sound good to you but won’t sound good to anybody else.
I was editing a piece today where I found a couple of those kinds of things where they’re just, you know, word choice wasn’t correct, didn’t make sense the way it was written. And that’s something that even for me, I’ve made that kind of mistake where I have read, and reread, and reedited, and missed stuff. That’s the kind of thing where you need a second set of eyes. You really do. And a developmental edit is not going to catch those kinds of things, especially after you do your revision from the developmental edit. So if you take what the developmental editor tells you about your story, you fix the elements of your story, but you introduce more error on a writing or a mechanical level, the developmental edit won’t have caught those for you because they came later.
When you’re looking for a line editor, how do you gauge if they’re an appropriate fit for you?
VE: The first thing that I always offer potential clients is a work sample so that you can see what you’re going to get. I’ve gotten permission from a couple of clients to use some of the work that I did for them as a sample for what you can expect. So don’t be afraid to ask anybody for a work sample.
You also want a good expectation, not just of how long it’s gonna take, but of what kind of communication expectations they have or that you need as the client. I have specific days of my work week that I devote to client work. On those days, you’re gonna see progress and I’m gonna tell you what those days are. And if you ask me for progress, for example, I don’t do client work over the weekend, if you ask me for progress over the weekend, I’m gonna tell you what I got done two days ago because that was my last client day. So it’s about both the client and the editor managing their expectations and setting their expectations at the beginning of the relationship.
And the other thing to do is to be very clear with your editor about exactly what you want. If you have things that you’re weak in or that you want your editor to focus on, express that so that the editor can better help you. If I pick the things that I think are needing work in your manuscript, but those are not the things you want me to look at and I don’t see the things you want me to look at, then I haven’t done you the service that you need or that you want.
So be open and honest and upfront about, hey, my weakness is passive voice. Hey, my weakness is repeated words. Hey, my weakness is whatever you think your weakness is, can you take a look for that?
Crys: And just in that last sentence you gave a couple of examples of some of the things you come across that you fix. But for folks who are looking to strengthen their writing, what are three of the top issues? Not necessarily the top issues, but three of the top issues that come to mind that you encounter the most in your editing that would do writers a world of good if they started being able to see it and address it themselves in their manuscript.
VE: The number one thing that I see is passive voice. I was taught by my very first writing teacher, his name was Warren, and this was in the early nineties so it was all trad pub at that time, that passive voice kills reader interest. And the way to identify passive voice is to look for the words was, had, and were. If you can remove those from your writing, you will automatically get rid of a lot of your passive voice.
Now, there are times when passive voice is necessary and there are times when those words are necessary, particularly in dialogue. “While I liked her because she was nice, but now she’s not.” That’s a situation where you need that word.
So it’s not that you can never use those words, but if you reduce them, if you try and remove them, especially from your prose, you’re gonna wind up in a better position in terms of your passive voice.
Crys: And if I can add a little trick on top of that, looking for the “to be” forms –was, had, all that– if you can add “by zombies” to the end of your sentence, and it still makes sense, it is passive voice. So “she ran away from the dog.” If you add “by zombies” to the end of that, it doesn’t make sense. “She ran away from the dog by zombies. “
But then if you said, “she was chased” and you add “by zombies,” then you know, “she was chased by zombies” makes sense. That’s a passive voice sentence.
VE: Yeah, that’s an excellent exercise. One of the exercises that I challenge people to do is to take any couple of chapters of Harry Potter, and it doesn’t matter which, any of the seven books, because Rowling writes in a lot of passive voice, remove the word was from those chapters and see what happens. It significantly changes the pace and the power of the writing, I think. Now obviously you can’t publish that, but it is an interesting exercise.
Crys: What’s your number two thing that you come across?
VE: My number two thing that I come across is something called the comma splice. The comma splice is not just an overuse of commas, it’s where you take two sentences and jam them together with a comma without a conjunction like and or but between them.
So an example might be “she ran around the playground, he chased her.” That’s a comma splice. They’re two complete sentences by themselves. If you stick a period between them, they work perfectly well. So their ought to be a conjunction there if you’re gonna make it one sentence. So “she ran around the playground, and he chased her.”
Crys: That makes sense.
VE: So those are the number one and number two things that I see. The third thing that I see is really is confusing dialogue tags. It’s not that I think that dialogue tags are bad, and it’s not that I think that they’re unnecessary or they’re necessary, or you should never use them, or you should always use them. I don’t really have a dog in that fight. I’ll refer everybody to Jeff Elkins on that, the Dialogue Doctor. But it needs to be clear who is speaking, and there are a lot of ways you can do that, but especially if you have more than two people in a scene, who is speaking is something the reader needs to know.
I’ve read scenes with five or six people speaking, and the author has to be very careful to use body language, or dialogue tags, or attribution, or character voice, and character accent, to clearly delineate who is speaking. If the reader doesn’t know who is speaking, they’re gonna get confused and they’re gonna put your book down. So don’t confuse the reader by being unclear about who is talking or who is acting.
Crys: Excellent. And yes, definitely, if you have not come across Jeff Elkins, The Dialogue Doctor, this is one of the many topics that he covers in depth. So definitely give him a checkout.
The question I’d like to leave with our listeners this week is: have you used a line editor before? And what was your experience? Would love to know what you learned from your line editor because one of the things I’ve heard from so many people who’ve hired a line editor is that it is like hiring a teacher. They learn so much about the craft of writing through hiring an editor of this kind that their writing improves and they need less and less editing as time goes on.
VE: Yeah. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the people that I’ve helped. And then the next manuscript that I’ve seen from those people winds up being a lot better because they go, oh yeah, you taught me through your comments and through your edits to write better or to write differently in a way that’s more effective. And it’s really cool.
Crys: Yeah. I think that is a common statement I’ve heard about people working with good editors. VE, thank you so much for joining me this week. Would you please tell our dear listeners where they can find you on the internet?
VE: You can find me at my website, VEgriffith.com. You can find me at my podcast Revision Wizards that I do with Ms. Catherine MH. And you can find me in The Author Life Community as VE Griffith.
Crys: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us this and every other week, if you would like to have more of these conversations in real time, you can check our out our community at www.theauthorlife.com.