By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Not every editor sends editorial letters along with requests for edits, but my editor for the quilting mysteries does—and I love them.
The reason she’s one of my favorites to work with in this business is because of the way she approaches criticism. She opens her letters full of praise for the story, and then brings up issues to be addressed. It’s a pleasure to work with her. I just received one from my editor last week, and I’ll share some of the points she brought up in mine.
Things she mentioned that she liked in the story (in case you’re editing your own mystery): plot twists, character growth for minor characters (I tried hard in this particular story to show different sides of characters…especially the more unlikeable ones), and the setting. Y’all know I really don’t enjoy setting (at all!) but this time I tried to make the setting more fun to write so that I’d do a better job with it…I released my inner Nancy Drew and wrote in secret passageways, trap doors, and a spooky attic. I also brought in some Southern Gothic elements…just because I’m a fan. The Gothic elements also made the setting more fun to write in.
Wondering what types of issues come up in editorial letters? I’m happy to share my mistakes in case any of you have got the same sorts of issues. Mine seem to come up in the same categories:
Making sure bits of story set-up are present at story wrap-up:
This book is an old-fashioned country house mystery—remote location, ice storm, murderer in the house. You know. So my set-up involved trees that had broken during the ice storm and blocked the driveway, making escape down the mountainous driveway impossible. Somehow, I’d forgotten to mention those trees at the end of the story and during the rescue, there was no mention of them. I quickly wrote in the trees and the necessity of a chainsaw.
Make sure that other mentions in the story are explained in the wrap-up:
Was there really a ghost?
How did a gun get into a character’s room?
Why wasn’t the house heated?
I’ve got a character who was a wealthy and ruthless businesswoman. Why would her house be in such poor repair/so shabby? Well, she was a miser and didn’t want to pay for the upkeep. In my head, I knew this…forgot to share it with the reader.
And the bits that were mentioned in Track Changes on the actual manuscript:
More detail wanted (what did the van look like, sound like? What type of gun was the gun?)
Transitions needed: Needed a bit of text to show a car going into a driveway instead of suddenly ending up at the house. Needed to add transition to a very abrupt change after a section break.
Correcting what characters knew: How did the characters know which bedroom was theirs?
Who is speaking? A bit of dialogue confusion.
Continuity: Peanut butter sandwiches miraculously turned into pasta
Tension: Drawing out tension in one scene—I was asked to add a few sentences between the appearance of a pale-faced, frightened character and her explanation of what she’d seen to make her that way.
Echoes: A couple of accidentally repeated words that meant I needed to rewrite one or two of the words.
Convoluted logic: A character made an assumption while creating a plan…a leap of logic that didn’t really make sense. It was simply a leap I needed the character to make. I wrote in other options and explained why the character ended up making the plan she did.
A sentence that was a little too rough for the genre: I toned it down for my cozy readers, at the editor’s request. I must have been in a grim mood that day! Read a bit more like noir than cozy.
So those were my edits for the book coming out in December. Not too bad…able to work methodically through them and make the changes in a day.
What kinds of things do you focus on during your edits? Do you usually need to make similar changes to mine?