What We Do
At Betterwrite our mission is helping writers to write better. We do this in several ways, because editing works at different levels:
The development edit works at level 3, rewriting, and the copy-edit works at levels 1 and 2, correcting and rephrasing. Let’s look at these two separate stages: development editing and copy-editing.
A Betterwrite development edit includes:
1. a standalone editorial report/illustrated critique which highlights general issues of plot, character, narrative, structure or description, for example:
‘Watch out for over-writing. You need to rely on simple use of adjectives to set your scene, eg. with “the verdant lush expanse of the Everglades stretched out…” I’d drop “verdant”. The sentence flows better, the description is more concise, and there’s some overlap in meaning between “lush” and “verdant”.’
2. track-change comments in the ms which exemplify the points made in the critique, eg:
He strapped himself in and the plane took off into the pale blue sky. Down below the lush, verdant expanse of the Everglades stretched out as far as the eye could see.
Track-change comment: ‘You could delete “verdant”, as suggested in the critique.’
So the critique shows why certain changes need to be made, and the track-change comments in the ms show how you, the author, can make the changes.
Here’s another example. A story started with a flat, colourless description of a funeral:
Tears were streaming down their faces. Their sister Bonnie had succumbed to cancer at the tender age of thirty. They huddled together under a garden heater, drinking tea and eating light refreshments.
The editor commented:
‘The phrase “light refreshments” is a bit vague and dull: can you liven it up a bit? And “tender age” is a cliché: can you find a more original expression? Also, can you use the background details to suggest how the main character is feeling?’
So the lifeless passage was rewritten:
Tears were streaming down their faces. Their sister Bonnie had succumbed to cancer at the shockingly early age of thirty. They huddled together, eating meagre refreshments and drinking luke-warm tea next to a half-hearted heater. But its flame couldn't thaw the numbness inside Laura. 'I might as well be drinking iced tea,' she thought, staring blankly at the sad chipolatas and limp vol-au-vents.
More points made in critiques:
- ‘This is a well-constructed story which keeps the reader guessing, but in chapter three the pace has slowed down.’
- ‘The language is straightforward and direct, but the clichés and inconsistencies can be irritating for the reader.’
- ‘You build the suspense nicely in this scene.’
- ‘Check for greater clarity in small points like pronouns, eg. her, which would sharpen up the writing.’
- ‘Try saying your dialogue out loud – it helps you pick out superfluous words which slow down your flow.’
- ‘In terms of structure, your short, snappy chapters make for a great read.’
- ‘Watch out for repetition. Throughout the text there are 14 phone calls and voices that “snap” people out of their thoughts – too many for a book this length.’
When you get your development edit/illustrated critique, study it carefully. Take as long as you need to make changes to your ms, following the guidance from your editor in the report. Don’t just look at the general points in the report, but deal with the particular points in the ms which relate to those weaknesses. For example, in the list above the editor has mentioned 14 instances of the word snap, making the ms too repetitive. You need to hunt these down in your ms – your editor will highlight some in track changes; for the rest, use Find and Replace in Word. Think of a synonym for some of them, eg. ‘jolted’, and make the replacements. So you are doing the rewriting, and you’re still in control of your text.
A Betterwrite copy-edit includes
1. correcting, level 1
This is basic copy-editing: spelling, punctuation and grammar are corrected, and consistent styling is imposed. Which is correct, realise or realize? Both are acceptable, but a good editor checks that -ise or -ize endings are consistent throughout the text. The editor can work at level 1 without consulting the author.
The police should have acted sooner to diffuse the situation.
The writer has confused diffuse (to spread over a wide area) with defuse (to reduce tension). The corrected version:
The police should have acted sooner to defuse the situation.
A Betterwrite editor spotted Easyjet in a novel they were proofreading. It should be easyJet
We saw this headline in a national newspaper:
IF BRITAIN IS READY TO TACKLE SWINE FLU, PIG'S CAN FLY
We contacted the paper, and the editor sent us a nice letter of apology: the sub-editor hadn't noticed the apostrophe in PIGS.
2. Rephrasing, level 2
This includes level 1 corrections and also rephrasing for clarity, flow and style – but not substantial rewriting. Most level 2 changes can be made without consulting the author, beyond a simple ‘ok?’ as a track-change comment.
Sometimes a writer says something they didn't intend to. For example, a jazz singer wrote:
Often drunk and argumentative, promoters stopped booking me.
He wanted to say he was often drunk and argumentative, but he put those words at the beginning of the sentence – editors call this a 'dangling participle'. So the sentence actually says it was the promoters who were drunk. The writer didn't mean to say that.
A Betterwrite editor noticed this line in a newspaper:
The couple had a 30-minute row as they drove home over her father.
You might ask: why was her father lying in the road? Again, the writer didn't intend to say that. They have introduced an unintentional comic effect, which ruins the tone of this passage. An editor will correct the ambiguity by recasting the sentence, simply moving the last three words:
The couple had a 30-minute row over her father as they drove home.