While getting my daily blog fix this morning (I am a blog junkie!) I found a fantastic blog post that put something in my head that nagged at me til I realized it was a subject of its own begging to be explored.
The Unseen Character in your book. The one who crawls into your story and fouls up all your lovely work.
You know this guy. He’s so rotten he stinks on ice. He trots along behind you through the manuscript as you polish your story, knocking knickknacks off shelves, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, and belching obnoxiously after draining yet another beer and tossing the bottle on the floor along with all the others.
He particularly enjoys executing a well-timed fart (and an evil snicker) just as the reader you really want to impress turns the next page.
He scratches himself, digs in his ears with your car keys, and drops his cigar butts in your reader’s cup of fresh, hot coffee. Now and then, he decides to make you look silly by misplacing something or replacing a word with a word that sounds the same but is spelled differently. (And therefore has a different meaning, making you look not only sloppy, but, well, silly.)
The word is spelled correctly, so neither you nor the spell checker notices it. However, your Unseen Character does, and he quivers with silent glee and rubs his hands together in anticipation of the moment the reader sees it and laughs their head off at you.
Who is this Unseen Character? What could possibly wreak this much havoc on a good story while you don’t even notice? And what is he doing in your story anyway? You didn’t put him there. You never saw him slither in unannounced. Yet there he is, slipping and sliding in a puddle of goo that he squirted all over your book, just for fun.
What do you do about him? You know he’s there, but he’s a tricky little dirtbag. He can creep unnoticed into dark corners and hide, happily waiting to exasperate the agent or editor to whom you have submitted your manuscript.
He can blend into the background and disappear into your book, choosing the exact right moment to pop out and yell “Gotcha!” in an unsuspecting reader’s face, which then earns you a snarky review.
By now, you’re in a cold sweat, right? Your picking apart you’re manuscript (whoa . . . there he went! Smack him!) to try to find this Unseen Character and throat-punch him before he dirties up your lovely book any further, aren’t you?
Never fear. A good Unseen Character Hunter Team, or as I prefer to call them, Editors and Proofreaders, will track him down and trap him for you. (Don’t worry about what happens to him once he’s in the trap. It’s not pretty and there are some things you just don’t need to know.)
A good editor is gold when it comes to Hunting the Elusive Unseen Character. Just ask anyone who ever had the little rat bastard muck up an otherwise excellent story.
Ask me, I’ll tell you. I once wrote a story about a duck I rescued from a pack of dogs that were using him for kickball. Eventually I took him to a nearby lake and released him. In the story, I wrote that I drove by a few days later to check on him, and he was happily swimming along with the other dicks.
And did my spell-checker catch that? It did not. It was not a misspelled word! But oh . . . my readers. My readers caught it.
What’s that you say?
- Quit whining. Like it or don’t, you are now running a business. Find a way, especially if you plan to publish your book on your own.
- If you land a legitimate publishing contract it will probably come with an editor. But without preliminary editing before submitting, you may not get that far.
- If you self-publish a book without solid, tight editing, your readers will find the Unseen Character in the first three pages and they will butcher you in reviews.
“I don’t know where to find an editor.”
- Look harder. Search through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. That’s what they’re there for.
- Google “freelance editors.”
- Ask your published friends where they found theirs. Make it happen. It’s part of your job as a writer.
“My critique partners/best friend/mother didn’t find an Unseen Character, so I probably don’t need an editor.”
- “Probably?” That’s the keyword, darling. Don’t. Just don’t.
- Your critique partners are exceptional at critiquing, and there is no doubt they made your good story a brilliant story.
- Of course your mother and your best friend didn’t spot him. They are not editors or proofreaders. They are people who know you too well to do this job for you. (They are also afraid to hurt your feelings. Or they are not, which could be worse.)
In addition, no doubt, they spotted the Unseen Character now and then as he ducked behind furniture and peeked around corners. They may have even heard (and smelled) his farts. But I guarantee you; they did not trap him and get him out of your story. That’s not what they’re there for. You need a serious exterminator, and confirmation that your book is varmint-free.
Now, go over to Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog and read what an editorial director at a major publishing service has to say on the matter. It’s an older post, but it’s still the best one I have seen on the subject.
Have you worked with any good editors you would recommend? Please share experiences and names of editors with your writing community through your social media, or with a bullhorn form a rooftop, whichever suits you. We’re all in this together.
Good (or bad) typo stories are always fun, too.
Now get to work. You have a book to finish.