Monday 28 September 2015

Atlanta Nights: Self-editing

By Iola Goulton

This post is part of a series illustrating some of the common fiction editing issues I see, using Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea as our example. For those of you who didn’t read my post introducing Travis Tea and his illustrious novel … you might want to go back and read the post.

The first obvious error in this passage is around the use of point of view, specifically, headhopping. We discussed this in a previous post, which you can find here: Interior Monologue.

There are also creative dialogue tags, which we discussed here, here and here, and last week we talked about description, and you can read that here. Today we're talking about self-editing, because good editing can be the difference between success and failure.

From Chapter Ten:

Irene Stevens starts to pertly walk into the Polo Club. She had long blonde hair and a voluptuous body. She was about 20. She was dressing in an expensive designer cerulean gown and not a bit of jewelry; her beauty needed no jewelry. She tried and signed the guest book.
She had come there from her hotel, where she had checked out that morning. She had driven here down the tortuous roads by all the Civil War monuments and past the pastures where they get the polo horses. They were all thoroughbreds and very beautiful. There had been flowers all along the way: roses and tulips and asters and crocuses and lilies and magnolias. She had managed to park her vehicle in the newest parking lot but she had been compiled to park it where the ferocious sunlight would infernally heat it up while she was leisurely enjoining the Polo Club. The soaring oak trees and maple trees had gloomily, dismally shaded the parking lot.
Elegantly, She walked up the stairs. The gown swished mysteriously about her legs. The sparkling mirror in the stairway considerately let her prudentially endeavor to carefully check her hair and jewelry. The artificial, incandescent light did not become her. It unflatteringly made her verdant dress and gold necklace look ghastly unbecoming.

This passage would make a great editing test. It’s 216 words, and has at least twenty errors. How many can you find?

Really. Reread the passage and count the errors. Write them down if you have time, so you can compare your list to mine.

Done? Then here we go.
  1. “Starts” in the first line should be past tense, not present.
  2. “Pertly” is a perfect example of why authors are encouraged to avoid adverbs: because so many use them badly. Delete.
  3. There’s a point of view slip, from third person into omniscient. Women don’t walk around thinking of themselves as having long blonde hair (hey. We know what colour our hair is. We even know the real colour). We think of ourselves as “voluptuous” even less. Nor would we consider ourselves so beautiful as to not need jewelry. Delete.
  4. Twenty, not 20 (spell out numbers under one hundred).
  5. Order of adjectives: It should be an (determiner) expensive (opinion) cerulean (colour) designer (qualifier) gown (noun).
  6. Better still, be specific. Have her wear a vintage Oscar de la Renta gown.
  7. She “tried and signed the guest book”. She tried to sign? She turned and signed?
  8. It’s morning? Why is she wearing a gown? Aren’t gowns evening wear?
  9. Six sentences in a row starting with “she”. Starting consecutive sentences with the same word or words can be an effective rhetorical device (anaphora), but it’s hard to make that work with sentences starting with common words like he, she or the.
  10. “Where they get the polo horses”. Keep? Pasture?
  11. “Very beautiful”. Rather than using filler words like very, just, only, really or quite, find and use a specific adjective. Try breathtaking.
  12. “Complied to park” her car. Required? Forced? Requested? This is why authors need beta readers and human editors: spell check picks up words which are spelled wrong, not correctly-spelled words used in the wrong context.
  13. “Leisurely enjoining”. Enjoying. Again, the word is spelled correctly, so it’s not something spell check will pick up.
  14. If the maple and oak trees are sheltering the parking lot, why is her car parked in the sun?
  15. The way the "maple trees had gloomily, dismally shaded the parking lot" is two more reasons to bad adverb.
  16. The second paragraph is too long (115 words). It should be shortened, or split in two. I'd delete the last two sentences, because they are unintelligible and don't add anything to the scene.
  17. "Elegantly, She …" Another unnecessary adverb. Delete.
  18. "Elegantly, She …" "She" shouldn't be capitalised.
  19. "The gown swished mysteriously about her legs" is another POV slip (unless she's so vain and self-centred as to actually think this). And, yes, another adverb.
  20. "The mirror let her…" Is this Harry Potter, that the mirrors have the right to allow or not allow people to use them?
  21. "Artificial, incandescent light" is redundancy. All incandescent lights are artificial.
  22. "[The mirror] unflatteringly made her …" Cut the adverb—it's the wrong word in this context.
  23. "[The mirror] … made her verdant dress and gold necklace look ghastly unbecoming." Either ghastly or unbecoming, not both. Or put a comma between them (to indicate the dress looks both ghastly and unbecoming).
  24. Her dress started off as cerulean (deep blue), then becomes verdant (green). Later on, it’s described as vermilion (red). I know shot silk can look different colours from different directions, but this?

Most of these errors are errors the author (or his/her beta readers) could have picked up. Some authors don't bother going through to edit for errors such as these, thinking their editor will correct them. I don't believe this is a good idea:
  • If you submit writing like this to an agent or a reputable publisher, they'll reject you (a vanity press will probably accept you … and offer you an overpriced "editing" package which may or may not identify the problems).

  • If you submit writing like this to a freelance editor (like me), they'll quote you a higher fee than if you had a cleaner manuscript, simply because it's going to take them longer to fix. And while they are focussing on the small errors (like compiled), they may well miss larger errors.

    As an example, it's taken me over an hour to note the mistakes in this short passage of less than a page. If you're paying your editor by the hour, that's a lot of time spent on things you could have fixed yourself. If you're paying your editor by the word, he or she or she would only have picked out the most obvious errors (e.g. 20, She) and moved on. Some editors charge as little as one cent a word, which means $2.16 for this passage … which means it's not going to get the level of editing it needs.

However, it’s not all bad. There are some things “Travis Tea” has done well:

  • The scene starts with the name of the viewpoint character, so there’s no confusion over who is the POV character.

  • The author uses polysyndeton, another rhetorical device in this sentence:
There had been flowers all along the way: roses and tulips and asters and crocuses and lilies and magnolias.
This may have been an accident. The sentence could also have been written using asyndeton:
There had been flowers all along the way: roses, tulips, asters, crocuses, lilies, magnolias.

If you'd like to know more about using rhetorical devices to improve your writing, I recommend Margie Lawson's Deep Editing course or lecture packet. For people wanting to self-edit their fiction better, I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Revision and Self Editing for Publication.

Have I missed any editing issues? Do you have any questions about what I have picked up? Let me know in the comments.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest  or Tsu.

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500.


  1. Wow, I've got to admire Travis Tea for being able to fit all those errors into so short a passage. I'm sure others who attempted it might fall short.

    1. Yes, writing this bad is a true achievement!

  2. Yes, it's relatively easy to spot mistakes in someone else's writing, as long as you know what you are looking for (e.g. many people don't understand point of view, so don't notice POV slips). It's another matter to see the mistakes in your own writing.

  3. This is a great advertisement for using an editor, Iola. Your articles are practical, helpful and packed full of great advice.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.