On Editing: How to edit your novel the professional way

H Corner-Bryant and K Price (John Murray, 2018), 304pp, £14.99 (pbk)
ISBN 978 14 73666 68 6

Reviewed by Carrie O’Grady

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‘Blockbuster’ isn’t a word you hear much any more – not since the ignominious failure of the DVD chain. But eight years ago, Helen Corner-Bryant, the founder of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, did very well with her book Write a Blockbuster and Get It Published, co-authored with Lee Weatherly. This new book follows closely in its footsteps.

The first and principal part, ‘Editing your novel’, is written by Kathryn Price, chief editor at Cornerstones. She starts off on square one, suggesting you ask yourself, ‘What’s my book about?’ and ‘What’s my genre?’ Both are excellent questions, but odd choices for a guidebook ostensibly about editing. After all, no amount of revision is going to turn that trans-galactic space opera into a cosy mystery.

And so it goes on, with plenty of sound advice that will be enormously helpful to a new writer but may prove frustrating to the author (or editor) who thought she was nearly out of the woods. The chapter on viewpoint begins, ‘One of the first choices you’ll make is what viewpoint to tell your story from.’ Price provides a sterling summary of the pros and cons of each type of point of view (POV). What she doesn’t do, though, is show how to redraft a text from one POV to another – no easy skill, but essential to a developmental editor or a more seasoned novelist.

The examples given are superb, whether they’re from genuine blockbusters (e.g. Stephen King’s Misery) or are made-up snippets to illustrate a point. Fiction editors will learn from these examples, but are unlikely to use them as templates to copy. The revisions that Price suggests are often drastic: more like total rewrites. Yes, the book is improved afterwards; but is this a level of editing that we contractors are able, or expected, to take on? Better to simply absorb the thoughts behind the changes on a general level.

Price also breaks down elements of fiction: the four types of plot twist, nine types of overwriting, ‘tension troubleshooting’ – a list that could be titled, ‘Just why is your book so boring?’ Editors will find these helpful when pinpointing problems for clients. People who work with independent authors submitting to agents may also benefit from the second section, although again it’s aimed at the writers themselves.

The last chapter deals with ‘show not tell’ – the very point where the standard text, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (R. Browne and D. King), starts off. That’s no coincidence. Corner-Bryant and Price have produced a valuable guide for those hoping to write a blockbuster, but it won’t be much use to those who have already been once or twice around the block.

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