Written by Lindsay Vermeulen; copy edited by Katie Heffring
Like a well-edited work of fiction, Caroline Adderson’s Editing Fiction workshop was entertaining, inspiring, and meticulously structured. Everything she covered was useful, and nothing crucial was left out.
Caroline has given the workshop a number of times due to popular demand, and she teaches a similar course at SFU for self-editing writers. She is also an award-winning author of novels, short story collections, and children’s books.
Caroline is down-to-earth and relatable as an instructor. She is not afraid to share the challenges and failures she has faced in her own work as examples. The six hours flew by, packed with useful, concrete tips for writers and editors.
Two types of writers
Caroline began by introducing two main types of writers: “First Draft or Bust” writers charge furiously to the end of the work without stopping to make changes. “The Perfected Page” writers revise their work before writing more. Both approaches have advantages and challenges, and keeping these types of writers in mind helps editors to communicate effectively with their clients.
A strong opening
A good opening is crucial—a prospective publisher may not read any further! Caroline outlined the functions of an opening, and elaborated on several common problems and how to avoid them. She used the concept of a train leaving the station: If the beginning is too slow, or if the train starts moving backward too early on, the writer gives readers the opportunity to reconsider their journey and hop off.
Killing your darlings
Making cuts can be heartbreaking but is essential to creating polished prose. Caroline identified seven common offenders to watch for: philosophic rambles, repetition, tangents, useless amplifications, unnecessary and stagey dialogue, dreams (in the words of Henry James, “Tell a dream, lose a reader”), and unnecessary characters and events.
Writing successful scenes
We learned about the differences between a scene and a narrative summary, the appropriate uses for each, and how to tell whether one should replace the other. In one exercise, we marked each instance of description, action, and thoughts or feelings in a short piece of fiction. This provided a simple way of visually identifying potential problems in a scene.
Strengthening characters and plot
Writers know that a story needs a strong cast of characters and a carefully crafted plot to keep readers turning the pages, but it can be challenging for editors to explain why something isn’t working. Caroline listed the qualities of effective and ineffective characters, dialogue, and plot. I found one of her tactics for checking dialogue particularly smart: She suggested pulling a piece of dialogue out of context to check whether it’s still clear which character is speaking.
Wrapping things up
Surprising yet inevitable, a good ending offers some kind of resolution. But it also avoids gimmicks and overt morals. Caroline’s checklist for good endings made it easy to spot problems and resolve them.
The writer–editor relationship
Writers can be sensitive about perceived attacks on their work. Caroline stressed the importance of giving praise, being specific, and making suggestions instead of changes. She shared correspondence that had upset her from various editors and explained how it could have been more considerately worded. She suggested strategies for communicating with writers throughout the workshop, focusing on those writers who are reluctant to be edited or are unfamiliar with the process.
By the end of the workshop, I wished that I had attended it before ever daring to lift a red pen to fiction. All Caroline’s advice was clear, valuable, and easy to follow and remember. The combination of fantastic instruction, networking opportunities, and tasty snacks made Caroline Adderson’s workshop on editing fiction my most resourceful investment in professional development this year. I’d recommend it to anyone who writes or edits fiction, and especially to those who are just starting out.
Lindsay Vermeulen is a Vancouver-based writer and editor who loves travel and dessert. See more of her work at lindsayvermeulen.ca.
Katie Heffring is currently completing the Editing, Plain Language, and Technical Communication certificates at SFU. With four years of experience in the publishing industry and her love for editing and writing, she decided to pursue a career as a freelance copy editor and proofreader. She is also a volunteer copy editor for Vancouver Island’s “Take 5” magazine.
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