Every writer has to be an editor to some degree. Reading and revising what you’ve written is the first line of attack; the skirmish before an editor gets unbiased hands on the work. What are you looking for when you edit your own work? Search and destroy all worm words, cut down on adverbs and adjectives, delete extraneous dialog tags, trim unneeded prose; there is a ton of excellent advise on the web to help with a self-edit. But can it help you catch the muddle?
When you are on that heady writing roll where the words just flow and the story unfolds in your mind like a film then you write what you’re seeing — it’s a grand feeling. Just be sure you wrote what you meant to convey. When you reread those words you’re fixed on the meaning you intended. When an editor reads those same words they… just might laugh. Ah the consequence of the unintended.
I’ve encountered this muddle most where eyes are involved. Probably because it’s said that the eyes are windows to the soul. We’ve imbued two innocent organs with a near paranormal ability to transmit intent. And I think they can. The face is expressive but the eyes really can appear shifty, or soulful or hurt. And if you’ve ever really pissed your mom off, then you know that eyes can harden in anger. But there’s a thin line between expressive eyes and hilarious word play.
He lied. His eyes gave him away, gaze dropping fast to the floor and remaining there. Well, pick that gaze up for heavens sake. It’s dusty down there. But I get it and it works beautifully in the context of the scene, if it just didn’t conjure an image that makes me chuckle. We went with: He lied. The eyes gave him away. He couldn’t look at us. It was a great thriller and the book did well.
A different author; the scene is tense, the captive character needs to scope out the situation, there has to be a way out. Her eyeballs skittered across the room. Oh my! That hurts — eyeballs rolling away like errant marbles. It isn’t pretty. Please, let’s try: She scanned the room frantically…” It fit the moment and the book sold admirably.
OK, maybe the eyeball fix wasn’t the deciding sales factor — each of these authors is very, very good — but, in the end, neither provided unintended laughter. When you self-edit pay heed to what you’ve written. Do the words convey what you actually intended? Be vigilant of the muddle. No one wants to step on a skittering eyeball.
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.
I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.
Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
LOL, I love this post. Especially the part about eyes. Since Jenny has edited all my books (yes, even before I sent them to my editors in New York) I have a clear memory of each and every step she had to take me through for self-editing but mostly I remember the ‘skittering eyes’. I will never allow any of my character’s eyes to skitter again! Thank you Jenny for helping me grow as a writer. I know you still sigh at some of my mistakes but I have become a better self editor because of your sage advice. Great post.
on September 19, 2017
“Oh,thank you. Coming from you such praise is priceless,” she said, her eyes swimming away on a torrent of happy tears.