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Why Editors Must State the Obvious – Editing Basics

Editors must state the obvious starts long before the actual edit begins.

One of the things that I’ve realized as I matured was that – much to my shock and dismay – people see the world differently than I do. Really?!?

We have to remember that we might look at things from a different perspective than someone else, and we should keep that thought somewhere in our mind as we communicate with clients, both potential and secured. It will serve us incredibly well in our careers.

The Role of an Editor

When chatting with a potential client, the role of the editor is a good place to start stating the obvious.

  • Do they know what type of edit they will need for their manuscript and what type of editing you offer?
  • Are you clear yourself about what role you will take on, and have you taken the necessary training to do your job well?
  • Does your potential client say, “It just needs a little copyediting,” and then present you with a manuscript that calls for much more than that? How will you respond (with kindness!) to that author?

Sherry Leclerc has written on types of editing in case you need a refresher. (True confessions: when I first signed up for editing courses at Simon Fraser University, I signed up for Intro to Editing and then Proofreading, because I thought proofreading was the first step in the editing process! Never assume your author understands the editing process either.)

What are the Most Common Challenges When Working with a Writer?

The most important thing is to make sure that you, as editor, and the author you are working with are on the same page. If you have a client wanting a substantive story edit, be sure you can deliver that. I have read accounts of writers paying sizeable sums of money for a story edit, only to have their manuscript returned with a full copy edit instead.

Be clear with your client about their expectations for feedback.

  • Does your author understand your editing methods, and is it something they can use for their revisions? (Fictionary StoryCoach / Trello / Track changes in Word / ProWritingAid)
  • Does your client prefer to hear from you often during the editing process? Or do they only want you to hear from you after you’ve finished their edit?
  • How much time will you give them after the edit is done for follow up? If they need more time, do you have a rate you will charge, and have you stated that up front to your client?
  • Have you been clear about how you present your edit? Does your client need you to have a softer voice, or are they okay with the “give it to me straight” style? It may depend on what you are editing; Christine Gordon Manley writes here about an area where compassion and empathy are key tools. (And remember that no matter what kind of manuscript you are writing, encouragement is ALWAYS appreciated.)
  • Does your client want suggestions? Or do they just want to know something doesn’t work, and why?

Why An Editor Should State the Obvious

Stating the obvious goes back to the statement I first wrote here – everyone sees the world a little differently, and people do things in different ways. Writers use their preferred programs and tools for their writing, and they often follow particular guidelines. Does your author follow CMOS or AMA? Does your fiction writer use the 15 beats of the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel method, or use the 5 beats of the traditional story arc, or follow the hero’s journey?

I edit for clients using Fictionary, and the language used within the program may not be familiar to my authors. Do we agree on what a story element is? Do they know what I mean by inciting incident or plot point 1? Do they understand the story arc and why it’s important to have their story follow it? Why is it important to keep track of opening types and closing types?

State the Obvious

This holds true even for a seasoned writer, where you may feel you are overstating the obvious: it’s essential to let them know you want to understand each other when you are working together, and that your definitions for well-used terms are the same. When I send my clients a summary letter on the return of their edit, I make sure all the terms are explained, so they will know what I mean when I use them.

For example:

Opening Type: Try to vary the scene opening types throughout your novel while still taking into consideration the purpose of your scene.

I’ve filled out this element for you so you can see on the Scene Opening Types insight on the Visualize page that there is an imbalance in the types used.

If you’re rewriting the opening based on my advice, when you choose a new opening type, consider what happens in each scene and choose an opening type that gives the reader a hint of what’s to come.

    • If two characters are going to have an important discussion, start with dialogue.
    • If the scene is your character reacting emotionally to a previous event, start with thought.
    • If the setting is driving the scene, start with description.
    • If the scene is a high action scene, start with action.

When you start a scene with dialogue or thought, check how quickly the reader can tell who else is in the scene. Waiting too long to let the reader know who the character is talking to can be confusing.

When you start a scene with description or action, make sure you are describing the scene from the POV character’s eyes.

As you revise your story, update the Scene Opening to match the new scene opening.

After you’ve revised your story, I recommend reviewing the Scene Opening Type insight and check that you have a more balanced usage of each type. 


Fictionary Editing Basics

I had a client remind me that I don’t always explain why I suggested a certain edit (something I will double check that I do from here on out.) We editors can get so caught up in what we are doing we forget to let our clients into our thought processes!

Therefore, it’s important to make sure our edits aren’t vague; “Does she really have to do this?” They should be written with clarity; “Does Sheila really need to answer her text at this particular moment? It takes away from the flow of the action.” As editors, we must explain ourselves; it is NOT our job to rewrite something just because “we like it better”.

Being an editor means juggling many hats. We are coaches and cheerleaders, critics and challengers, and ultimately (as Christine writes in another blog) invisible, if we do our jobs correctly. The editor/author relationship is like any other, where communication is key. We cannot assume that we all have the same definitions for the many components of a good edit, so go ahead, state the obvious, and enjoy an easy relationship with your author.

Post Written by Kara Henderson

Kara Henderson FictionaryKara Henderson is a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach and a content creator for Fictionary. She attended Simon Fraser University for editing courses and is a student affiliate at Editors Canada. She edits blogs, creative non-fiction books, non-fiction books, and fiction novels. She has a passion for young adult stories.

She is excited about living life as a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach and helping writers make novels the best they can be.

She currently lives on Vancouver Island, Canada. Contact on LinkedIn.




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