Top ten editor rants - number 1

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I'm a developmental and content editor. I see the same problems from new authors all the time. It's venting time... :) Check it out.

Submitted: August 02, 2018

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Submitted: August 02, 2018

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I’ve previously worked for a publisher as a Developmental and Content editor. I’m currently working freelance. Over the last four years I couldn’t count the number of manuscripts I’ve read and worked on. I thought I would throw random wordage rambles at you about my experiences, so this will be the first of a group of opinion pieces about the top ten mistakes I’ve seen from new authors over the last four years. Hope you enjoy and get some benefit. So, in no particular order, let us begin. Warning – I talk about sex in this one.

Conflict does not equal tension.

Many new authors make the choice of starting their novel with a fight, a chase, or some other kind of high intensity scenario. I get the thinking, you want to hook the reader. Give them something they can get their teeth into.

Yet doing so in a way that engages a reader is a challenge. For the reader has no context. Why are the characters fighting? What are the stakes involved for whoever loses? Why should I the reader, care about the outcome?

Fight scenes when done well are written just like sex scenes. Before the characters insert Tab A into Slot B (or whatever floats your boat), there needs to be some build-up, some sexual tension.

The same for a fight scene. Before the Elven Ninja Pirate Archer known as The Dread Pirate Fingers Mac Duff slaughters the entire village of Suxtobeyou, the readers need to know why. Why does Fingers want to kill an entire village? The dirty little orphans with their apple-hued cheeks. The old homeless man named Hu who pees in the village well. The blacksmith with his fifteen-year-old wife. Snuffed out in a hailstorm of arrows that darken the sunlight.

The reason may be as simple as: Fingers is batshit crazy and he’s doing it for the luls. I mean, after a thousand years life is pretty boring and you need to spice it up every so often. Also, I drank from that well before I knew about the homeless guy.

Now we have context. Give me some context (buy me dinner) before you shag me with action scenes.

One of the other things I’ve seen (and dread) is constant action. The typical Hollywood rollercoaster ride where the main characters careen from one fight scene to the next. Loose cannons bent on destruction and revenge without any regard for public liability insurance.

Why is this bad? This is fun right? Seeing the good guys kicking butt and taking names. I mean it looks so cool inside my head.

I’m going to use the sex example again. Imagine your fight scenes are sex scenes. Just constant butts and names. Erm, yeah. Do I need to say more? Unless you are aiming to write fight porn, you need to have those periods after a fight where the emotional impact is felt in some way. This is the cuddling part of the sex scene, get it?

So, if conflict does not equal tension, how do we as writers achieve tension?

Tension (and conflict) is born out of opposing goals.

Fingers wants to kill the village. The village would much rather live thanks anyway Fingers. Ruh roh. We now have the circumstances for tension to exist. Will Fingers slaughter the village? 

Yet to really make it tense what we need is uncertainty. Fingers does not know that Hu is homeless because he’s lost his memory…after fighting another demigod.

Dun! Dun! Dun!

Who is going to win? In the left corner, with no memory of his awesome ability to turn into a thirty-foot-tall stone titan, HU! Hu Hu. In the right corner, the elven master of disaster who can desex a fly at a hundred paces with his bow, FINGERS!!! Fingers fingers.

The other element that creates that tension, is the stakes. In this case the village…and it’s importance to our two fighters. For Fingers, bloodlust sated. Mark that down as a fun time. For Hu the stakes are a little more personal. There are the orphans, that sneak him apples stolen from Farmer Jones. The fifteen-year-old wife of the blacksmith, who scolded the baker’s boy when he chucked rocks at him. He has a deeper connection, and something to fight for.

But unless you tell me all of this before the fight starts, you didn’t buy me dinner, you just shagged me with action.


© Copyright 2018 Julian St Aubyn Green. All rights reserved.

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