Editor Notes Sample # 3
Putting readability first...
Accuracy vs. readability is a dilemma every author faces when writing stories that have specific historical or cultural characteristics they want to incorporate into the language of their novels. Storytellers must find a way to balance both, because accuracy doesn't matter if readers can't understand your story.
NOTE: These samples are only sections of a longer editorial evaluation, and most identifiers (such as character names) have been changed.
Overall, the issues I had with your novel are minor, and they are more related to readability than anything else.
First and foremost is the frequency of the word ‘and’ in your manuscript. To me, ‘and’ signals a break in flow, it requests a new thought, creates a new fragment. In general, when it occurs in the middle of a sentence, many times I believe it is a subconscious request for a new sentence.
I understand your overuse of the word ‘and’ (to a point…) because it does lend a certain conversational tone to the letters—which helps give your characters (specifically XXX) a distinctive voice. But when I’m reading ‘and’ fifteen-plus times on a page, it starts to stick out.
And the interruption to the reading flow becomes so frequent, it requires re-reading sentences more than once to figure out what’s actually being said. ‘And’ specifically stands out when you use it to start more than one sentence in a paragraph. And the same goes for ‘but.’ (See what I did there? Lol!) I’m not recommending that you remove them all as sentence starters, however I’m recommending that you use it sparingly, so that the ‘ands’ truly add dialectic flavor instead of devolving into distractions. The ‘buts’, too.
The second major readability issue I had was with the lack of identifiers to separate the dialogue from the prose.
I understand that perhaps these characters aren’t the type who would necessarily use proper grammar or feel the need to use punctuation in their letters to one another. However, I think that there’s a fine line between serving the world created in your story and serving the reader. In this case, I think it might be better to err on the side of readability so that we know who is speaking the dialogue.
It’s quite frustrating for readers to have to go back and reread sections after discovering that we originally read it in the voice of the wrong character. Then we need to reread and reinterpret those words from a different point of view, which completely pulls us out of the story. Once or twice I didn’t mind it, but when it kept happening, it became frustrating to have to reinterpret sentences I’d already read. ...in short, it interrupts the flow of the story, pulls me out, and reminds me that I’m reading, when all I want to do is lose myself in the world of the words.
In the end (after a lot of work figuring out who was saying what), I feel like you’ve created a wonderfully rich story about keeping secrets, crippling shame, and hard-won redemption. That you were able to accomplish this in the form of a series of letters without the entire tale getting completely away from you is impressive.
And the way you were able to keep the mystery of XXX’s secret compelling was amazing. I rarely felt overwhelmed or hit over the head with the ‘clues.’ For the most part everything fell just right. Any time I did feel confused, it was usually only on a specific sentence or paragraph where it wasn't clear what was happening, or who was talking, or the scene structure wasn’t quite right.
I think if you figure out how to separate the dialogue so it doesn’t run into the prose, clean up some of the muddled sentences, and rework the arc of AAA and BBB’s relationship (They’re too ready to find each other. Where’s the, “I’m being fixed up against my will,” reluctance and stiffness?), then this novel will be ready to publish!