October 13, 2010

Ask an Editor

Are you a freelance editor wondering
  1. how to find a good source of information on poisons for your mystery author?
  2. what makes an effective scene in fiction?
  3. how dialog should be broken up?
  4. what libel laws your memoirist should be concerned about?
  5. how you can learn more about maintaining boundaries with authors?

Our new Q/A feature is here. Each month we’ll pick five questions to answer about developmental editing and working with authors. Send your questions to info@authoreditorclinic.com. We can’t help you find work or decide how much to charge, but we can offer advice on many topics and suggestions for further reading.

(a.) Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons, by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner, will tell you all you need to know on the subject of exotic toxins. We suggest you don’t ask your local pharmacist lest she get the wrong idea.

(b.) Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book is an excellent starting place for looking at scenes to see how they function and how they can be improved. She writes: “Scenes are those passages in narrative when we slow down and focus on an event in the story so that we are ‘in the moment’ with characters in action…Essentially, something must have shifted in your understanding or feelings about a story if a scene has done its work.” (pp.12-13)

(c.) Dialog is often broken up by “beats” to increase tension and develop character. According to Renni Browne and Dave King of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: “Beats are the bits of action interspersed throughout a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes—the literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as ‘stage business.’ Usually they involve physical gestures, although a short passage of interior monologue can also be considered a sort of internal beat.” (p. 143)

(d.) Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington has a very useful appendix, “Your Memoir and the Law,” which explains defamation and invasion of privacy.

(e.) Check out Chapter 11 in An Editor’s Guide to Working with Authors for a discussion of the editor’s role and how to keep good boundaries for yourself.


  1. This seems like a great resource. Are you planning to archive the Q/A posts into a searchable database after you've compiled a few months' worth?

  2. We will work on that. I think it would be useful.