Tips from a professional editor, part one.

This week I’m doing a special series of tips I picked up from workshopping with Claire Eddy of Tor. This is part one. For an explanation of how I got to pick an editor’s brain in the first place, here’s part zero. What does an editor look for in a novel submission? Here’s what I learned.

Does the story have heart? 


In my workshop we happened to have two submissions that opened with the protagonist suffering from amnesia, They were both exceedingly well written. But Claire talked about what a tricky setup amnesia is. While sure, when you purposefully jettison a character’s entire life you’ve created a huge mystery to propel the plot, but…

…you have also removed any cause the reader might have to relate to that character. Why should the reader care about your hero? There’s nothing there for them to latch onto.

Backstory (or I guess in this instance you could call it “character history”) is hugely important to the reader. It is what gains their initial sympathies. Take away the backstory and you take away much of the heart of the story.

Yes, backstory is also something we writers are currently taught to delicately drizzle out over the pages, and that’s fine. But, it’s a big handicap to have nothing to drizzle at all. (Doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It’s just hard as hell to do right.)

A reader might be curious about the amnesiac protagonist, but it’s going to be hard for her to fall in love with that protagonist. And you’ve got to make that reader fall in love, or they’re not going to buy your book.

And that’s it for Part One. Tomorrow, Part Two!