Novel Writing & Editing – Script Editor Interview


script editor interviewI met Amy Reith at a cast and crew film screening.’Twas the funniest thing! No, not the film which was a drama titled “Nuclear”. Here’s what’s so funny…

Amy’s seat was next to mine. We chitchatted for a short while. Soon, the lights went off and the cinema room became pitch dark, with occasional light flashes coming from the screen. Then, this slightly confused lady arrived… late… She was looking for a place to sit, entered our aisle, and… I thought she’d just walk on by, but instead she decided to sit… on me! Who does that! I still laugh when I think about that… Wait… having a small fit right now… Okay, I’m back. 😁

So, while she’s trying to get situated (on my lap), both Amy and Stella Nwimo, Nuclear producer who invited me to the screening, rushed to my rescue… Eventually, not without a fight, the lady resolved to abandon my seat for one that’s actually free! Aargh!

This happened last year when the world was less insane. I wonder how that personal space intruder is managing social distancing now. Not very well, I presume. 😁

Ahhhhh… So now, that I’ve got that out of my system… let’s get to the interview…

Amy is a TV script editor who’s worked for BBC4, SKY TV and various other major productions… To find out more about her journey please read part one of this interview. Here comes part two with a focus on novel writing and editing…

M:  You work with TV scripts. I imagine they’re mostly about action and dialogue. What advice would you give a writer e.g. a novelist struggling in these areas?

A: This is quite a well-known strategy, but the best advice I can give on dialogue is reading it aloud. It feels weird and takes a while to get used to, but it’s incredibly helpful to get a feel for the rhythm… Action is always a difficult one to balance I think – some people can write tonnes of fascinating action that’s gripping, while others write a few lines and it can feel dry – so I think with this it’s finding what you feel comfortable with and what fits the story you’re telling. 

M:  You’ve written a novel. What’s your process like? How do you draft a story? Do you simply let the words spill onto a page, or do you edit as you draft?

A:  I usually begin all over the place – if there’s chapters/moments that are really clear and bold in my head, I write those first... At the beginning it usually feels like there’s something I HAVE to get down on the page, so I start there, but after that I’ll try to structure more – I think about characters and write some rough bios, then I think about tent-pole moments in the story and start building up a structure until I have a broad outline.  

Then I dive in properly with the writing and try to work in a more linear fashion – although when you hit writers’ block, jumping forward or backwards for a bit can be useful… It’s also useful to take some time, give it room to breathe and go back to what you’ve written days/weeks/months before with fresh eyes.  

M: What aspects of novel writing do you find the most challenging?

A: I think the sheer time and size of the project is such a challenge. My finished book is over ninety thousand words, so it was a massive time commitment (and I’m a fast typer!) With screenplays the work is still difficult, intense and time consuming – but you’re ultimately going to write around 60 pages for a TV show and a maximum of 120 for a film – it’s much more focused than something that stretches over hundreds of pages.  

There’s such a responsibility to build the world as well when you’re writing a novel – which is both extremely exciting but also daunting. All the readers have are your words, so you have to guide them in how you want them to read the characters, how you want them to feel the atmosphere – their imagination will take it from there – but only if you’ve done the groundwork. 

M: Someone said that even the best writers need editors. Would you agree with that?

A:   As someone who works as a script editor, I feel I have to say yes on this, or I’ll be out of a job! But genuinely, I think it’s very difficult for anyone, no matter how talented they are, to create in a vacuum. Characters should be questioned; plots should be stress-tested… I don’t doubt the best writers would write something that stands up against these, but the process is still massively useful. 

M: When is a manuscript ready for the editorial pen? How do you know when you’ve taken it as far as you can and it’s time to ask for feedback?

A: I think this relies quite heavily on the writers’ instincts. I found often, with both my book and my screenplays, I get to a stage relatively early where I need to get someone else’s perspective on it. Often when it’s nowhere near finished. Even if it’s just a friend giving me their opinion on a chapter or opening scene rather than a proper edit, getting someone’s thoughts (even if just reassurance that you’re not going down a complete dead-end and writing nonsense!) is incredibly valuable. In terms of getting proper editorial input, I usually wait until I have run through it a few times by myself and feel as confident as I can before getting someone else to bring their thoughts to the process. 

M:  What makes a good editor? 

A:  This is a hard question as I can only speak from my own perspective, but I think the trick to editing is making it seem as if you were never there. Your work shouldn’t interrupt the voice or the intent of the piece – you’re there to support the writer rather than influence them. 

M:  What must an editor do or not do to prevent overriding the writer’s unique voice? What boundaries must the writer set to prevent losing their voice during the editing process?

A:  I think this is all about the writer finding the right editor – a writer should be able to trust the editor to pinpoint their voice and intention and bolster that rather than work to change it beyond recognition. Similarly for an editor, they need to understand the writer’s vision and put aside their own personal tastes. I’d argue there’s a big difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ storytelling and what you as an individual ‘like’ or ‘dislike’. 

M:  What do you think is the one thing a good story cannot do without?

A:  Heart… I’m sure many will disagree, but for me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a drama, comedy, or sci/fantasy piece, if your characters are likable or even human – for me, a bit of heart grounds everything. 

THE END.

Click Here for Nonfiction Manuscript Editing Tips

Developmental Editing – What a Novel Idea: Part 1


My Novel Writing & Editing Journey…

I remember when I wrote my very first fiction book – over ten years ago. I was so proud of it. I must have produced about 50,000 words and I could not wait to unleash my ‘masterpiece’ on the world…🖋️

I did actually submit it to one publishing house (this is such a funny story – I might share it one day). I received a standard, polite rejection i.e. “…Keep writing. This story isn’t there just yet…” So, I listened to the advice and continued to write. I even got myself a bunch of writing and editing jobs at various UK based publications. It paid off. Today, I am a much better writer than I was 10 years ago. Although, hopefully, not as good as I will be in 10 years from now… We should never stop growing…

Anyway, the above-mentioned manuscript was the first draft of what could have eventually become a good book. Now I know what I didn’t know then – first drafts are not final products… First drafts are basically writers telling their stories to themselves… Books need to be edited – over and over again. Good writers are re-writers… This post is about what I have learned (so far) while developmentally editing my first novel.

If you’re after non-fiction editing tips – please read my previous post HERE.

Developmental editing is the very first editing level. As the name implies, it is meant to develop the heart of a story. It is about the big picture too. And, it is the most time consuming and labour-intensive editing level. Although, I find it to be quite creative and fun – at least, in fiction.

Most self-published authors do developmental edits themselves because paying someone to do them can be very costly. Plus, most editors in the marketplace are copy-editors. Whereas, those who provide developmental editing services usually do not do the work themselves. They just show the writer where their manuscript falls short and how it can be improved.

Personally, I would not even let anyone make arbitrary changes to my fictional story because it is my story and I am the only one who knows its core. With that said, I did hire an editor… So far, I have used some of her advice as well as a few suggestions by another storyteller whose professional feedback I respect. However, none of them made the changes. Both gave me ideas and showed me where the book (chapter one actually) was not working for them… Some of their advice rang true hence I embraced it and made the changes accordingly. I did touch on that in my other post titled,‘Creative Writing – Novel vs. Non-Fiction vs. Poetry.’

One of the observations my editor made was that my protagonist’s internal conflict was introduced too early and with too much emotional intensity. The reader hadn’t been given enough time to get to know or develop empathy for the character… In consequence, they could not feel nor understand her pain. To fix it, I was advised to take the reader back in time  which I did (with flashbacks). I spent some time introducing the character’s likable personality traits and her emotional motivations too. One suggestion was to take her back to her childhood which I did as well – watch my  brief book reading excerpt here – 1 min video.

I’ve been writing for over ten years and intuitively know when a story is missing something even if I don’t know what it is… yet. But I have not published a novel yet, so apart from working with an editor, I have been researching successful novelists and listening to their teachings on what to pay attention to – during the developmental editing stage. I recommend that you do the same.

Story structure is one of those important things… And, I realised that I needed to re-arrange a few chapters so that the inciting incident can happen when it’s supposed to. According to my brief research, it should occur somewhere within the first 20 – 30 pages of a novel. Right now, mine happens somewhere between pages 40 and 50. Hence, my plan’s to change the order of chapters three and four… It’s a good thing that, although subsequent events must make sense, they don’t have to be introduced in a linear order (again, that’s something that my editor reminded me about).

According to my understanding, the inciting incident is that point in your story (usually an external event) that sets the plot in motion. After it happens, your protagonist’s life changes and it will never be the same, at least not until their problem gets resolved or situation changes. I’ll just use an example we can all relate to now (sadly). If I was writing a novel about the pandemic, my inciting incident might be – a scientist releasing the virus (from a laboratory)… Its release (the inciting incident) causes many deaths, and the world in which my protagonist lives goes into a global lockdown…  

The verb ‘to incite’ means ‘to stir up’ or ‘to encourage’ – it comes from a Latin verb meaning ‘to move into action’… So, the inciting incident forces your protagonists to “spend the rest of the novel” trying to find their way back into the old or a new normal.

The inciting incident doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the above mentioned i.e. nobody has to die. It needn’t even be a negative one, but it should hook the reader by creating conflict, high enough stakes and unanswered questions that set the story in motion like never before. The inciting incident is a big topic amongst novelists. Most of them agree that it should happen asap because if it’s introduced too late readers might lose interest…

Back to my example, if I were writing a fictional story about the outbreak: prior to the incident, I would spend some time introducing my protagonists in their normal environment. But I might also want to leave some clues about the virus’ lethal power while foreshadowing the possibility of its unleashing on the unsuspecting world… All this should be done at the developmental editing stage, at the latest…

So, that is where I am with my novel, now – restructuring, adding, and taking away… And learning a lot, along the way… I am going to write more about my editing journey in part two and maybe even part three. If you’re interested in all that, please do stay tuned… One thing that remains certain about developmental editing is that it is not a novel idea at all. Every book needs it – although some need it more than others do… 🙂

Monika Ribeiro © 2020

 

Manuscript Editing Tips – Nonfiction


Nonfiction Manuscript Editing

Nonfiction manuscript editing can be challenging if you aren’t sure what to look out for. Yet, the better your manuscript is before you pass it onto a book editor the better the final product will be.

So, where should you start self-editing?

Structure

Focus on story structure, its clarity and flow. For example, when I edit my articles or blog posts, I want every paragraph to be a logical follow up to the previous one. The same goes for chapters, etc. Moving from one concept to another should make logical sense… When drafting, I’m not too concerned about what goes where. Drafting is a little like scattering your puzzles on the floor. Editing is like getting rid of the puzzles that belong to another set, finding those that got misplaced and then putting the right puzzles in the right places…

Rhythm

Read your writing out loud and hear what it sounds like. When you find problems with its rhythm you will be able to make the changes you need to make. Better yet, get someone else to read your story out loud and see if and where they get stuck or lose the plot…

Verbs

When self-editing, pay attention to verbs like ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘has’, ‘had’, ‘can’, etc. They get overused and they’re not the most descriptive. I tend to google word synonyms to find more descriptive ways of saying what I want to say. You can use a dictionary too. The bottom line is – we don’t like non-descriptive words and we don’t want to repeat the same words over and over and over again.

Simplify

I keep having to remind myself the K.I.S.S. formula (keep it simple, stupid). If you’re naturally inclined to long-winded writing, you will understand this strange tendency to use 10 words in order to write 5-word sentences… Oops! I’ve just done it here. Anyways, “long-windedness” can be a good thing, sometimes. E.g. when you want to slow down the pacing of a novel to accomplish a specific goal like building suspension (for instance). However, in non-fiction – within this context, less is usually more. So, do remember to K.I.S.S.

On this note, you may have read one of my recent posts about publisher/editor Barbara Campbell (by whom I was trained). “I remember proudly presenting my first feature to her. It was embellished – quite “flowery”. She cut so much out. I got upset thinking she took my soul out of the piece. I then showed it to my friend who had read the original. She didn’t hesitate to tell me that Barbara’s pen made it better. Quote by me, Voice Newspaper Online.

Typos, Spelling and Grammar Mistakes

I won’t talk about them much because we all know that they must go. So, look out for well-known baddies such as typos, spelling and grammar errors. Goal: eradicate as many baddies as you can.

Writing might be an art not a science, but editing is… both. The final goal of manuscript editing is to produce a great read that’s tailored to industry standards. If you’re writing a book, I recommend that you hire a book editor. Even the best writers “commit” typos and “abuse” sentences, sometimes. Plus, you can’t see what you can’t see…

When you have done all that you can let a good editor help you do the rest… Keep reading to learn about different levels of professional editing. This info should help you decide what book editing services your manuscript requires.

Developmental editing

The very first level of editing is developmental editing which comes before copy editing and proofreading (the last two are not the same). As the name implies, developmental editing is meant to develop the core of your story. It is the most time consuming and labour-intensive part of the editing process. Developmental editing considers your audience and/or target market. Many self-published authors do developmental edits themselves because paying someone to do them can be costly. Plus, most editors are copy editors who don’t do developmental work. However, a good editor should be able to give you developmental guidance and offer suggestions on how to develop your manuscript before moving onto the next stage…

Copy editing

Line and copy editing are about the language. Quite often, non-fiction is written to impart knowledge and/or convey a message. Typos and grammatical mistakes will impact on your reader’s confidence in your knowledge (even if writing isn’t your area of expertise). Hence, copy editing is necessary to help your manuscript stand out.

Proofreading

Proofreading should come at the very end of editing process – when all other changes have been made. It is not the proof-reader’s job to correct your story structure. They are after missed typos, punctuation, misspellings, bad grammar and/or other language mistakes e.g. UK vs. US English, etc.

So, usually that would be it. However, there’s one other level of editing that’s not commonly known but is worth mentioning (I think). This one too should come long before proofreading, of course.

Sensitivity editing

I’ve recently had a consultation with a potential client. During our consultation, I discovered that he had a decent message. However, the audience whom he was trying to reach did not want to hear it… I believe that’s because he conveyed it without sensitivity to their culture and understanding of life. Sensitivity editors search for unintentional misrepresentations, bias, racism, and/or stereotypes. Sometimes, they’re called diversity editors. Oh, how we need them…

So, I hope this helps you self-edit your nonfiction manuscript with a lot more confidence – word by word, page by page and chapter by chapter. If you are looking for a good nonfiction editor, however, feel free to contact me at monika@monikaribeiro.net

Finally, I have a treat for you 🙂 – an expert interview with a TV script editor! She has worked with BBC4, Sky One, Sky Atlantic and other visual storytelling pros. We will be talking about script and novel writing, editing, storytelling, etc. Coming up next… So, please stay tuned.

Creative Writing – Novels vs. Nonfiction vs. Poetry


Creative Writing - Novel Writing
Creative Writing – Novel Writing

I’m a trained non fiction editor and journalist. I’m also a self-taught poet with two poetry books to my name. I enjoy locating problems with non fiction pieces and love seeing the fruits of good editing.

Non fiction writing and editing are relatively straight forward. They’re all about reality and research. You don’t have to remember made up characters nor look for creative ways to make things happen. In non fiction, things have already happened (most of the time). Your focus is on conveying your knowledge in the most interesting and factual way. Poetry and short story manuscripts are fine too. They’re relatively short and sweet (in the context of editing). You begin to see results relatively fast which encourages you to press on.

Fiction writing and editing though… That’s a whole ‘nother story…

The first draft of my novel is done. I’m thrilled about that, but first drafts are soooo imperfect. In my experience, most of the work happens between the first and the final draft of a book. Here are three things that helped me so far…

Planning My Novel (A Rough Outline)

I’m a pantser – not a plotter. Meaning: I let the story lead the way and allow characters to show me who they are and where they want to go. I figure stuff out as I go along. That’s just my natural inclination which is fine. With that said, I’m discovering that it is beneficial to plan my novel, even if it’s just a rough outline…

The average novel wordcount falls between 60.000 – 90.000 words. That’s a lot of words. It’s easy to lose the plot (literally and figuratively speaking). Again, collections of poems and/or short stories are different in that respect. Individual poems/stories should be connected thematically somehow. However, you don’t have to remember details of poem number two or story number three to nail the ones in the middle of your collection. Poems and short stories are standalones. Chapters of your novel – not so. They’re interdependent. You need to remember what your characters have gone through at the beginning of your book to be able to take them all the way through… to the end.

Ultimately, every project is about crossing that finish line. For an aspiring novelist, that line is the final draft of their novel. It’s about getting there a little faster. Writers are re-writers. Editing, re-writing, revising, re-writing, editing and revising some more are unavoidable… But, a plan can save one a few rounds of hovering over their manuscript. As they say, who fails to plan plans to fail.

Asking for Feedback

Novel writing is a new territory for me. I’m sure it will become easier if/as I continue to write fiction… However, to make this process a little smoother (now) I ask for feedback, every now and again.

You have to Be Careful Whom You Ask Though. Not everyone’s qualified nor responsible enough to speak into your story. The person/s should be competent and able to provide their observations in a constructive way. But then, there’s also the right and the wrong way to receive feedback. Be open-minded. Don’t be afraid of critical evaluation. Embrace what resonates with you. 

creative writingThe “critic” whose advice resonated with me the most is a former journalist/newspaper editor. Her honest feedback helped me acknowledge that I started my novel in the wrong place. I’m using the word ‘acknowledge’ because I kind of sort of knew that my beginning could be problematic. My main characters’ conflict was too intense, introduced too soon, etc. I think I might have been secretly hoping to get away with it… A competent, well-meaning critic will not allow you to get away with things. They’ll tell you how it is… So… Reiterating… Good feedback, however heart-breaking it may be, is your friend. Welcome it and… Start Your Novel in the Right Place.

As you may already know, I went back to the drawing board. And now, my opening is sooo much better. So much so that English teacher and bestselling author Desiri Okobia asked if she could use my first page for year 11’s creative writing lessons… Whaaaat? It’s a big deal – especially that this is my very first opening to my very first novel… I know I’ve digressed a little, but novel writing is a quest, so it’s important to Celebrate Small Victories…  

Letting IT Rest

Another thing that has always worked for me, with poetry and now with my novel manuscript too, is letting it rest for some time. If you’re working to a tight deadline, that may not be possible. However, if you can, leave your first draft alone for a month or even longer… Don’t edit, don’t re-write, don’t even re-read it. Distance yourself from your AAAMAZING story and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. Bear in mind, once your emotions subside, the story might seem a little less aaamazing. It is a good thing though because now you’re able to see what needs to be changed… The opposite of that might be true too. You might come back to your manuscript and find that it’s good enough (first drafts never are though).

I know… Letting it rest might be annoying when you just want to get on with it,

or… like me… you’ve told the world,

“Hey! I’m writing a novel!”

And now, the world keeps asking,

“Hey! So, when’s the novel coming out then?

“Errr… Soon.”

Sometimes, “soon” is all there is to say… Personally, I prefer to take my time and produce an excellent piece of writing rather than produce something mediocre quickly…

There’s so much more to be said about this novel writing process, but I’ll end here for now. If you have just began or you’re thinking about writing a novel, I hope this is helpful…

Let’s write this novel, shall we? Yes, we shall! 😉

Please SUBSCRIBE HERE to receive the first chapter of my novel… soon.:)

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