Editing 101

The following is an excerpt from an unnamed bestselling crime novel (written by a certain media-friendly model-cum-author), reproduced without permission (but publicly available on the author’s website in full). I’m using it to demonstrate that the writers can gain a foothold in the publishing industry without actually being great writers, and success often depends on *who* you know, or *who* you are, rather than *how good* you are. This is simply an exercise in sharpening my editing skills, but if it provides some sort of informative lesson for readers of this blog, then fair enough. My comments are in red and bracketed and erring on the generous side. Take a deep breath, here we go:

She wore stilettos, burnished [adjective] black [adjective] [missing serial comma] and stylish [adjective], with thin [adjective] straps that bit into her pale [adjective], slender[adjective] ankles[we note here her legs, implied by her ankles, are slender – remember this for later]. Her heels clicked on the winter pavement as she made her way up the street alone. He strained to capture the sound they made, the beguiling music pulling him in like the Pied Piper’s song [this could be a clever, if cliche, simile – the Pied Piper attracted rats – however, the entire sentence is muddled because he is straining to capture a sound which is supposed to be capturing him, or beguiling him as the adjective says].

Click, click, click . . . [this is a personal gripe, but the use (and overuse) of onomatopoeia – words formed from, and sounding like, the words they represent – is a lazy form of storytelling]

Slowly [adverb could be replaced by a stronger verb like ‘glided’ in this clause] he drove past, observing the girl through the hungry [adjective] eyes of a predator [cliche and foreshadowing] . She was young, raven-haired [remember the hair colour, you’ll be reminded again]and seductive, [an adjective list! without the serial comma after ‘haired’. Also remember, she’s seductive, and therefore attractive, you will also be reminded of this] wearing a short black[two adjectives] skirt to reveal willowy[yes, her legs are slender] bare legs. A winter jacket fell to her thighs but wasn’t enough to keep her slim[umm, I said YES her legs are slender] legs warm; he could see goose bumps, and the bluish hue of cold, bare skin.

Click, click . . . [more delightful onomatopoeia repetitions!]

He passed her again minutes later. The street was nearly empty, but still she did not acknowledge his presence. She continued instead on her misguided [how does he know it’s misguided?] course, her pretty face set with determination.

Walking alone. [no shit!]

Lost. [was she misguided, as said before, or lost?]

The clouds above her[as opposed to the clouds below her, diagonally opposite, or anywhere in between! – ‘above her’ is unnecessary because of the implication] were leaden-heavy with the threat of rain. He could see no umbrella. How far would she be willing to walk once the skies began to cry? [another personal grip – narrative questions are also, to me, lazy storytelling – and besides, what guy with ‘the hungry eyes of a predator’ would think in terms of ‘clouds crying’ – holy pissweak characterisation, Batman!] Surely she didn’t want to get wet. Surely her feet were tired. [given this is the prologue – the absolute start of the novel – and given the fact the man has never met this woman before – how the hell would he know if her feet would be getting tired? has she run a marathon? Also, how the hell would he know if she cared about getting wet? Assumption is the mother of all fuckups, so I’ve heard.]

It was inevitable that she would need him. [really? if this were expanded and explained through some sort of interaction, or at least some logical buildup to this conclusion, then I’d be believing it.]

Patiently[adverb – show us his patience, don’t tell us!], he watched her remove a map from her heavy shoulder bag. Jet, silken [two adjectives – her hair must really rock. Maybe our guy is a hairdresser, because any Aussie guy I know wouldn’t see anything above the neck! Mind you, we’ve already be told her hair is black] hair fell over her face as she unfolded it and struggled to make sense of the intricate[unnecessary adjective – aren’t most webs intricate?] web of streets, roads and lanes. She squinted with concentration, and when the clouds finally opened, showering her with cold droplets [this phrasing is just awful, I won’t bother going into technicalities!], she shot an irritated look at the lowering sky, before scanning the street for shelter. There were no taxis, no telephone booths, no open cafes or corner stores. Nothing for blocks.

The rain began [this is a common mistake – ‘began’ is one of those words which adds nothing – it either did or did not. Just remember Yoda’s advice here, peeps – ‘do or do not, there is no try’. There is no began, started, etc. Drop these and your phrasings become sharper, more active.] to fall more heavily [gah! another adverb!].

Click . . . [onomatopoeia, short and stout, here is my handle, and here is my spout…]

The girl set off again, walking faster, aimlessly [whoa! mixed language here. Remember, we’re in city streets – I have the image of a bint bumping into walls like one of those dodgy robot toys – perhaps this is an insight into the author’s psyche?]. Her black bag weighed upon her shoulder, the map scrunched in frustration [we’re told this, not shown her frustration]in her hand. Raindrops made slick, shimmering lines down her soft, hairless legs [a nice way to end, with a volley of adjectives! also don’t forget her legs are not only slender, but soft and hairless – I hate those hard-, hairy-legged women, who are ‘seductive’ with ‘pretty face(s) set with determination’!].

Aside from my rather cynical review, here’s the crux of what I picked up here:
* The writing has an over-reliance on adjectives and adverbs, when a simple, stronger verb could be used.
* The author continually repeats basic details and descriptions. We’re told repeatedly that the woman is a) attractive; b) has slender legs; c) has black hair, d) is walking the streets alone; e) apparently is not familiar with her surroundings. This is a good case where the author is not letting her sentences do the work for her in building up a picture. Writers do not need to continually repeat such details – it appears to be a sign of insecurity.
* The characterisation needs considerable work – the point of view character is the guy in the car, but he seems to be thinking like a woman trying to think like a guy on the prowl. It’s paper-thin, given away by clearly ill-chosen language like ‘once the skies began to cry’. Also, the emphasis on fashion and appearance are also clearly not from the male character’s point of view. More work would need to be done to research the male perspective.
* There is a considerable tendency towards ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’. We have all these assumptions (which turn out to be true!) based on nothing already in the story. Think about this – when do we see any reactions from the girl at all? Not once! We don’t see her frustration or her struggle. It’s all just ‘told’.
* Aside from the ‘clicking’ and the detailed clothes and appearance listing, there are no other sensory descriptions (sights, smells, sounds etc.). We don’t even see the scenery, or hear it, or smell it. It’s just a guy, a girl, and a whole lotta grey.

Okay I feel better now. 🙂

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