Editor’s Intensive

I had a break in appointments at the WD editors intensive (which I’ve posted about a couple of times). It’s been a nice event. Yesterday I sat on a panel with some fellow editors and addressed writers about the topic of “Why I Stop Reading,” essential giving writers a list of “don’ts” (and a few dos) to think about when they approach their work. 

Here’s a list of some of the things most editors agreed upon:

  • Be careful of inserting too much exposition into dialogue–this makes the dialogue seem unnatural and can jar the reader out of the story
  • Be very selective about the details you reveal as backstory for your characters–only give the readers what’s necessary or you run the risk of overwhelming them or boring them
  • Never begin your story with a flashback or dream sequence
  • Introduce your protagonist early on (don’t wait until several chapters into the book)–some writers tend to want to start out with the villain or a victim, but make sure we get to know the protagonist soon; don’t wait too long
  • Make sure your characters are likable (even if they are villains they should have some traits that at least make them seem like real people–everyone has redeeming qualities)

Lots of questions on craft were discussed. These are just a few of the conversations that ran on for a while.

Today I’ve met with 5 writers and have one more appointment. Everyone has been really nice and I’ve read some nice ideas for stories. It’s interesting see all the different strengths and weaknesses that different writers may have. It really makes me think about how invaluable having a writer’s group can be as someone in your group may be good at one technique (such as dialogue) while someone else may be good at another (setting for example). Having multiple eyes take a look at your work is a big help, even if you get conflicting advice that you end up having to sort through later.

Keep in mind that you’ve been living with your story for a while now. A fresh set of eyes can always help you find some perspective.


About seescottwrite

I'm a writer and editor. I've worked for Writer's Digest, HOW and Popular Woodworking and have authored and co-authored several books including "The Monster Spotter's Guide to North America," "The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook," and "The Writer's Book of Matches."
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3 Responses to Editor’s Intensive

  1. uninvoked says:

    If I may also add a suggestion: Please ask your authors not to begin a story with a report on local weather. “It was a dark and stormy night” only really worked once.

    I realize I am not one of the writer’s you are advising, but if you have time for a question I’d be interested to know what you mean by exposition during dialogue?

    I am sad to report “exposition” is not a word I was familiar with. I say was, because upon reading it I promptly looked it up. From what I gathered, you mean to say don’t talk so much between bits of dialog that the reader forgets what they were talking about in the first place.

    If that is not what you mean, would you mind going into a bit more detail?

    Also, do you have any advice for writers regarding character development and detail? These are my weak areas that I’m trying to correct through my current noveling blog.

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    • seescottwrite says:

      Great question. Exposition through dialogue is when you use the conversations between your characters to convey details about the story. To some extent this is necessary to reveal facts and forward the plot. A common mistake, however, is to overdo it. For example two scientists discuss in detail all of the science behind an experiment that they have both been working on for several years:

      “As you know Dr. Jekyll the nucleotide sequences in this DNA dictate the genetic makeup of the subject.”

      “Yes, Dr. Hyde, that is why we chose such a unique specimen for our strange and unusual experiment.”

      Dialogue like this is meant to inform the reader of what is going on, but it is unbelievable because two scientists would never talk to each other this way about a subject they both should surely understand (they’re both scientists… why do they need to explain it to each other?).

      The point is, make sure your dialogue sounds like something people would actually say and that you’re not forcing a lot of detail or back story into the conversation just for the sake of informing the reader.

      Hope this helps to answer your question. Best of luck with your writing!

  2. beckylevine says:

    Nobody can be good at everything. In my groups, not only do we get specific help from different people with their different skills, we all learn and strengthen our own “eyes” for catching those problems. One of the writers in my critique group is just BRILLIANT at thinking up more bad things we can make happen to our heroes. 🙂

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