Critical Reader Input

Serpent’s Smile has been extensively edited since the first draft appeared here. Several tens of thousands of words have been cut.

But writers are myopic; they see only what’s at the end of their nose, and even then they tend to see what they think they wrote rather than the words that actually appear on the page.

So, I found someone, a retired college English professor, to give the latest edit a critical read.

“Mark and critique everything,” I said. “Don’t hold anything back. If it needs wholesale butchering, say the word.”

Two weeks later, she was done.

She said, “I marked up your manuscript with a few little things that weren’t clear but, rather than go through those, let’s talk about some high-level things that you might want to consider.” [I write fiction, OK? So that’s a fictitious quote. But it’s kind’a what she said, or at least it’s sort’a what I wanted to hear.]

I agreed [with the statement I imagined her to say].

Character motivation, love, siblings, terrorists and how they got that way were our focus for the next ninety minutes.

Our conversation was a development edit. It ignores missing commas and words, misplaced paragraph breaks, incorrect pronouns and other minutiae. Instead, we talked about story, about people, about what readers want to read, not what writers want to write.

In almost every case, she nailed a problem that needs to be fixed.

This evening after making some notes based on our verbal discussion, I then paged through her copy of the manuscript looking for the red marks and put a paperclip on each page.

That’s what you see in the picture, those “few little things.”


I’ll do those first because they’re easy.

Then, I’ll tackle the bigger surgery, making the changes we discussed. Those will be much more challenging because higher-level” changes ripple through the book with repercussions. I won’t be surprised if some scenes accumulate so much change that it’ll be a better use of time to re-write rather than edit.

There’s no question the net result will be much better. The story will make more sense and readers will be less likely to put the book down–if I do it right.

But there’s a lot to be done.

A lot to be done.

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