A few weeks ago, I sent my novel to Jennifer Pooley, the professional freelance editor recommended by my agent. Then I got mentally prepared to receive back pages of criticism. After all, Jennifer had edited novels written by far more experienced and published authors. She was not going to let me off easy, in fact it’s her job to point out anything and everything that could be an issue.
So first of all, when her notes arrived, I nearly fainted at the page count: 301. Then I came to my senses and realized, no, not 301 pages of concerns about the novel -- she had attached her notes to the front of the entire manuscript. Whew! And, silly me.
Jennifer advised me to read through the notes a couple of times and give things a week or so to settle before calling her to discuss them. I also sent the notes to my agent Jill, and discussed them with her.
I promised to share some of Jennifer's suggestions, and here are a few that I think all writers would do well to consider (and which don’t give away the story!):
Pacing and tension. The story moves rather slowly, and the protagonist comes across as rather passive. I'm still having trouble understanding the idea of pacing. how do you achieve pacing? To me a book is slow when I want to skip pages of description. This is very worrying. But my agent Jill said that if I dialed up the tension and raised the emotional stakes more, that pacing would take care of itself; Jennifer agreed with this.
Show more emotion: I need to show the reader more of what the protagonist is feeling each time something significant happens. I tend to understate the protagonist’s reaction, leaving it to the reader to infer how much emotional intensity is going on in that scene.
Get inside your character’s head more: While the protagonist doesn’t speak everything she feels, it doesn’t mean you can’t let the reader know what she is thinking (closely related to the point above).
Raise the emotional stakes: Jennifer pointed out a few places where adversarial relationships could be more intense, or affections grow even stronger, so that when situations change, there is more impact.
Jennifer zeroed in on problems that had been niggling at the back of my head but I didn’t know how to identify or articulate them. She found others that had been staring me in the face but I couldn’t see them. She pointed out scenes where there were opportunities to improve the story. Most important of all, she was reading the manuscript the way an acquisitions editor would read it, because she used to be one.
Just reading her notes has been a tremendous learning experience. Now, time to work on Revision 3!