Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Although the art of fiction lies within the author’s ability to create a world for the reader to visit and leave her troubles behind, this does not give the author license to forego authenticity within the details of the manuscript. When self-editing, an author should confirm that research has been done in several areas so that the reader does not come away with a sense that the author lives in a world of his own making, or worse, that the author has a childlike understanding of the world around him. Such areas to research are:

Realistic business dealings: There are laws governing business transactions. There are permitting issues with many occupations and new businesses. Unless an author is writing a historical novel, the days of sealing a deal with a handshake and opening a business are long gone. Today, business owners face a line of red tape a mile long. Though the details may be too boring to share with the reader, the author must give some indication that characters involved in such ventures have jumped through the required hoops. If this isn’t done, the story loses realism.

Professions: Doctors, lawyers, policemen, firemen, office workers, you name it, every profession works within certain parameters. They also each have their own lingo. For example, if you were a Kennedy Space Center worker in the heyday of space exploration, you would have been met with a litany of acronyms. And yes, they did have a book that detailed the meanings. If an author planned to write a novel concerning that era, for authenticity, he would need to absorb the lingo. He would need to study launch protocol, and he might need to spend some time with rocket scientists and space engineers, who are different breeds altogether. Researching such details when it comes to professions makes the story ring true.

Characters’ Speech: As hinted above, different professions have jargon that is utilized in the course of the day. Likewise, in our everyday lives, individuals from different classes and regions have their own speech. In answering a question recently, I learned that someone from Minnesota might say, “I’m going with.” For me that is an incomplete statement that I might hear from a teenager. Someone from the deep South may not say their r’s and their g’s. An immigrant, unless he’s been in our country for a long while, is not going to use contractions when speaking. Also, depending upon their home country, they will use different tenses and sometimes incorrectly use words. These patterns of speech need to be authentic to the reader.

Characters’ Reactions: If an author has shown a character to be closed minded, dishonest, and unfriendly, the reader is going to stumble when that same character shows understanding, becomes trustworthy, or suddenly wants to befriend everyone. However, if the author does a good job of showing the motivation behind the character’s change in behavior—in other words providing a character arc—the reaction will ring true. Without proper motivation, the change in behavior will confuse the reader and make it difficult for her to believe the story line.

When self-editing be sure to research areas of law, professional lingo and convention, the patterns of speech based upon a character’s background, and the characters’ motivations for their various reactions.

Happy editing.


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