WEDNESDAY, MAY 9, 2012
One of my aims in writing "Soldier" was to tell Canadians about the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, whose activities in the Great War are known to few. And--the gold medal will look good on any subsequent printings!
Then Bob announced me as the night's poet. Courage is not fearlessness but rather doing the next right thing in spite of fear. I took the stage and recited 4 poems from my book of poetry. Hell's Angels had come by earlier and explained that as I too drove a Harley there was expectation that the audience would applaud suitably. The poems were "Acute Pain and Chronic Pain", "I've Been Burnt Out for So Long", "Sloth", and "My New Year". This was followed by applause after which I paid those individuals I'd seeded the audience with in case the Hell's Angel help had met ethical resistance.
I was followed by the main speaker who I, being paranoid as usual, felt personally was chosen for this night by friends who having read my blog on occasion had noticed a significant editorial deficiency. They may well have also heard me bemoan my missing the editor from the Medical Post who had on more than one occasion when I was writing for them more frequently, kept me out of jail, by his editorial suggestions.
Arlene Prunkl of Penultimate Editorial Services, firstname.lastname@example.org, was a very pretty four eyes, slim, blond, articulate and intelligent. An excellent speaker whose words indicated years of diplomatic training working with authors. She has editted hundreds of fiction and non fiction books. With great tact she has avoided cement boots to date.
She began by saying, "I know these are your babies" and yet she went on to imply that babies often benefit from an editor's refinements.
The first part of her talk was "Seven Reasons Writers Need Editors".
"Perfection is impossible," she said, while admitting she herself was a perfectionist. Still, a writer needs "a professional set of eyes because writers are too close to their work." She made a strong point of distinction between a professional editor and the former grade school or college English teacher, or the family member. "Half of my authors have graduate degrees and some of them in English".
Having done some work in editting myself I so appreciated hearing her admit "editors have a gift or talent for 'hearing the work'' which certainly sums up why I know something I read isn't right. What I was impressed with in Arlene was that in contrast to me she didn't say things like "any moron would know that's how it's supposed to be written, get your dunce cap on and sit in the corner." She showed no evidence of rapid mood swings while reading bad writing and clearly had no history of chasing a poor "would be" writer with a knife on behalf of protecting the English language. She was a picture of patience by comparison.
There was a lot of laughter from the audience when she said, "an editor will be passionate about their work and be perfectionist - not good traits in life, but good in an editor."
"Don't be afraid that your baby will be criticized."
"A good editor is an ally and wants to help you with the business of writing.'
She encouraged self publication but described what she meant by self publishing.
"Just because you're self publishing doesn't mean you can't be the best."
"As the publisher you contract out - decide which tasks you're best at - do those things, writing, and marketting for instance, or cover design, but hire a pro for those things you aren't....do those things you do best....hire someone to finesse the work, and best someone with years of experience."
She was all in favour of ebooks as they saved money on lay out, design and printing but she said that too often because of the errors of not having an editor, reviewers will see only the errors and jump on them. "An editor is money well spent.'
"The cost is the greatest argument against editting but people rarely write bad reviews because of the cover art."
"Mistakes jar the reader out of the fictional world you have created, not just copywriting errors but plot and point of view errors. Point of view has deep subtleties editors can help a writer with to their and the reader's mutual benefit."
Given the cost of editting she offered the suggestion that writers, submitting work to publishers, consider having their cover letter and first three chapters editted before sending them to publishers. This is what publishers would appreciate and is a likely way of avoiding one's work getting a quick passage to the dustbin
As her seventh point she explained that working with an editor was a means to becoming a better writer. "It's like hundreds of dollars of personal education in writing - all the notes about your own work." "All my writers have thanked me for what they have learned."
In questions from the audience she discussed the differences between editting non fiction and fiction, working with genres, poetry and writing for children.
She described how she used "Track Changes" in "Word" and how her work today is principally with digital copy though she has done some manuscripts for older people where it's been in paper.
In response to specific questions about cost she explained that she charged $45 an hour while the editting rate was usually $30 to $55. She is a member of the professional editor societies in Canada and clearly there was merit in hiring those who were so accreditted if only in relation to the cost. She explained that professional editors decide their project cost always on "word count". The usual policy is to have a 1000 pages of writing given to the editor who then reads it to decide the cost per work. "Everything depends on your writing and the quality of writing." The better the quality of writing the less editting required, the faster the rate of reading which could vary per individual as much as 2 words an hour to 12 words an hour. Then the number of pages is factored in, a thousand page novel costing decidedly more than a 100 page children's book. She described children's books as the least expensive to edit because they are commonly shorter works.
She adds another 10 to 15% to the over all cost for administrative time, discussion, research, etc. "Most editors work out a project rate. Everything is about word count and quality'.
In the second part of her talk she focused on editting itself.
"95% of fiction is about character," she said. "The Hero, the primary struggler, should revolve around a character flaw. This is then broken into mini struggles, each building to the next - there must be enough qualities in the characters for the reader to have empathy."
"Readers enjoy character driven novels, plot is important, but character drives. Make the characters more real and even give the villain some redeeming qualities of character where possible."
"Readers should have moments of recognition.'"
Arlene spoke in more depth about Point of View. "Don't do head hopping in the same paragraph."
"Deep point of view allows a deep connection with the protagonist'.
Regarding plot she said, "Understand that plot isn't just a series of events. Plot is about a character with a problem often internal and emotional, having conflict, tension and struggle. Complications arise from the conflict. There is crisis, climax and resolution.
"Don't forget scene building. A novel breaks down into parts, chapters and scenes. Each chapter should have a mini plot and contain the same elements of 'problem, struggle, tension, crisis,and partial resolution.' It's a method of writing that works and you want all the structural elements."
"Avoid poorly written or unnatural dialogue",
"Don't overuse dialogue tags".
"Use action sentences to assist dialogue."
"Beware of 'ly' adverbs. Show don't tell. Showing always takes more words than telling.'
"Use contractions in dialogue. Contractions are used in speaking".
"All dialogue should advance the plot."
"Balance dialogue with plot".
"Don't back story dump - layer the back story through the overall work'.
"Don't info dump - don't tell the reader all you know about something in the next 10 pages."
"Exposition is exposing facts."
"Beware that narrative or narration can slow a story down.'
"One of the most common errors is not cutting to the chase....get to the inciting incident early....a reader shouldn't have to wait for the action to begin. Get to the incident that started the protagonists change early'
"Another common writing error is 'weak and sagging middle sections".
"It is your job to engage the reader at every spot - are they showing character growth or advancing the plot".
"Too much plot and not enough character can be a problem too." "I've read battle scenes that go on for so long I don't know whose sword is sticking who".
"Even in an action scene you can inject a paragraph showing what is going on in the protagonists head. Readers want to be in the head".
"Avoid predictability and cliches'.
"Beware of metaphors and similes. They should be original and should reflect the plot and character'.
"Don't have a lousy ending....especially one that just peters out....the conclusion should do more than a wrap up....not every lose end needs to be wrapped up but the ending must be satisfying."
In the following question time Arlene spoke to ethical editting, plagarisms and discussed the merits or lack there of various on line 'self publishing' companies.
Concluding she received a round of applause before being swarmed and tackled by the audience members having a zillion questions about pros and cons of baby diapers and what suckies work best.
As so often happens on nights like these the evening ends. Our parking meter was up and Gilbert was waiting for a pee walk back home. I talked with Ben http://web.me.com/bennuttallsmith/BenNuttall-Smith.ca/Home_Page.html about the excellent sales of his historical novel Blood Feathers and Holy Men and his publisher Libros Libertad. Ben has a book of poetry in the works so had some helpful insights to share on how best to go ahead with my most recent book of poetry. Poet Jean Kay, http://www.canauthorsvancouver.org/kay/index.html must have been roughed up bad by the bikers because she shared with me that she actually liked my poetry. I've loved hers now for years and was delighted when I learned that she makes it a point to write a poem a day whether she needs to or not. Marvellous discipline.
On the way home Laura 'opined' that she had learned so much from Arlene Prunkl. It really was a fine evening.