Thursday, March 13, 2014

Write Away with Jeannie Watt -- Things My Editor Taught Me

After I sold my first manuscript, I thought I had it made and all I had to do from that point on was write. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about writing until I started dealing with revisions and line edits and a very thorough, yet patient editor. What follows are the five editing comments I saw most in my early revisions, followed by a brief explanation:

1) Head and shoulders. All the action during conversation is limited to the head and shoulder area. I had to learn to think beyond the neck, to let my characters grip the back of a chair or rock back on their heels or hook a thumb in a belt.

2) Reaction? During important points in a conversation, such as when a bomb is dropped, an insult flung or a secret revealed, the other character needs to react. Sometimes I get so caught up in the dialogue and repartee that I forget to add reactions.

3) Repetition – Usually I get a favorite word that I overuse in a story. I tend to change up from story to story, so in one book it might be the word “amazing” and in another it might be “surprising”, etc. But more than that, "repetition" meant that there was repetition on the page. I might have used the same word or form of a word several times in just a couple of paragraphs. I’m sensitive to this now and when I read anything, repetition jumps out at me.

4) Can this be done differently? This often referred to introspective driving-and-thinking scenes, or coffee-with-friend/sister/mother scenes, both of which are usually passive information sharing vehicles. Once I had a scene that ended with “All he wanted to do was drive. And think.” My editor added a note that said, “Thanks a lot.”

These scenes can be done in a more unique manner, but the solution is not to have the characters cook instead of drink coffee. (Guilty.) In a sisters-make-lasagna–and-talk scene, my editor mentioned that she’d like it so much more if the sister had a secret agenda. Yes. That would add to the tension and make it more than an information-sharing scene. 

5) Trust the reader. Yes they will remember things. No you don’t need to hammer a point home three times. Example, “Oh yeah, the meal was awful,” he said, teasing her. “That’s why I had thirds.” Guess what? You don’t need “teasing her”. It just clutters up the page with unnecessary words.

So there you have it--the five biggest hurdles I encountered as a newbie author. Thank you, Victoria, for all the help and guidance!

Harlequin Superromance author Jeannie Watt lives in rural Nevada and writes fast-paced, character driven stories set in the western United States.  Her latest book Cowgirl in High Heels is a January 2014 release.


  1. Thank you for a wonderful post! Love the heads up.

  2. From MarcieR

    Love these tips!

    Also love your cover for All For A Cowboy!!

  3. Glad to help, Crystal.

    Marcie, I love that cover, too!

  4. As always, great tips, Jeannie! I especially like #4! I think that's the toughest one :).

  5. This was a great post thanks Jeannie! I always want to drop in backstory far too soon and really have to remind myself the reader is smart! They'll come along if I build it. :)