Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ask Your Editor: Compare with caution

If you’re a writer, you probably work hard on your style, don’t you? You labor over the words you choose, you search for the perfect phrase to describe the scene, and you’re constantly coming up with new (and better?) comparisons for the settings and the conflicts in your stories. You want the pages to sing. You want your readers to believe you’re an original storyteller.

That’s wonderful, and it’s all a worthy exercise.

But …

Don’t let your descriptions overtake your story. Don’t work so hard on your similes and metaphors that your readers stop and think, “Hmm, that’s a really funny / original / crazy comparison. It must have taken him / her a long time to think that up.” Because as soon as your reader stops to actually think about the comparison or description you’ve written, they’ve stopped reading the story and they’ve started paying attention to your writing. Do you see the difference?

A book that I’m editing right now is really interesting and filled with day-to-day conflicts of many varieties, unusual conflicts that many people haven’t experienced and may never experience. On top of that, the writers have a great sense of humor, so they are able to tell these stories in a way that often makes me laugh. However, they use a lot of similes. There are so many similes that trying to read the stories is like trying to swat flies away from a two-day-old picnic to see if there are any crumbs worthy of a snack.

I find myself getting so caught up in the comparisons—trying to picture them, trying to connect them to the story itself—that I get taken away from what’s actually going on in the story itself. Don’t work so hard that you lose the story. After a while, the work becomes obvious, which is again, not what you want.

It’s hard to kill your babies, which is probably one of the best services your editor can provide. We’re baby killers. You worked really hard on that comparison, that description, didn’t you? You were really proud of it, weren’t you? It HAS to stay in your book. It’s your baby. You’re not deleting—you’re not killing—your baby.

That’s OK. That’s what you hire me to do. 

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