A first-time author asked what changes I would make to improve her novel.
Here was my response:
Hmmm, how can I help? Well, with the book I’ve just finished copy-editing (a massive 600 pages), I found, of course, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and problems with punctuation, but I also deleted extraneous words (‘that’ is probably the most common word I delete), changed humdrum words for more descriptive ones, made the text consistent, ensured tenses agreed, spotted quite a few instances when the author had mistakenly named someone by another character’s name, pointed out that there wouldn’t be hawthorn blossom in April and that a leafy carpet wouldn’t be crunching underfoot in July, that the main protagonist had been mugged and therefore couldn’t buy his new friend an ale, that a major character had changed his accent, that the area a character was headed was on the left bank of a river – not the right (after consulting a map). I researched and replaced some of the author’s words for words of the novel’s era, checked that the Georgian houses mentioned had replaced the slums of Dublin by the novel’s time period, made sure that shortened words had the quote mark the right way round (’ad not ‘ad), etc, etc.
The author of that book wrote this:
‘I love how you use different adjectives and verbs that mean what I intended to say but add vigour and variety to the scenes they describe.’
He has since added:
‘You’ve done some outstanding work adding new nouns from the Regency and Victorian periods. Those places where you marked serious plot problems after I’d moved sections around left me helpless as I realised with horror I’d lost plot thread but luckily you noticed. I think of us as collaborating: this project has become a joint one.’
It is ALWAYS good to have a second set of eyes on your work, and much better if that person is a copy-editor (I’m not blowing my trumpet here, it’s just that I’ve been editing since 1981, and I’m really used to this work).
I find mistakes in almost every piece of text I read: there are mistakes on headstones and cereal packets, on street signs and shop facades. My shelves are crammed with books with marginalia (I adore the natural world, and in the enchanting book Weeds, the author has relocated a river 70 miles south). I once wrote to the author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves – a book about punctuation – about the incorrect use of a question mark. Yes, I’m very annoying like that!
You might find my short blog on copy-editing illuminating (http://www.foolproof-proofreading.com/rude/).
In short, I make (other people’s) text a joy to read.