Friday, July 22, 2016

Mail Bag: Being an editor, choppy writing, and brand names.

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Normally Shannon posts on Fridays, but I'm stepping in for her this week. If you're missing Shannon, here's a post of hers from a few months ago that I'm particularly fond of: Write Stories That Excite You.

Today I'm doing another Mail Bag installment where I answer questions that have been sitting in my inbox for a really sad amount of time.

What's it like to be an editor?

This is something I was asked during a mentoring appointment last month. Jillian Manning with Blink YA Books wrote a post about "What Does An Editor Do All Day?" so you can check that out if editing is something you're interested in pursuing. (Though it's also valuable information for a writer too!)

Ciel said, "I've been noticing my writing is super choppy. It seems like all that happens is "I did this" and "I did that" and it prevents my story from moving forward. I've just started my 1st rewrite, and I don't know what to do."

I recognized this in my own writing when I was still getting the hang of writing complete drafts but still hadn't learned how to edit a manuscript. I felt like I handled dialogue pretty well, but the flow of everything else seemed off. Here are a few thoughts on how you can start to fix it:
  • Reevaluate your content. One of the reasons I used to struggle with prose was that I hadn't yet learned how to balance action and thought and description and weave them through paragraphs. That often left me with several sentences in a row that were action sentences, then a paragraph describing where we were, then a few lines for inner monologue, and so forth. As I learned to edit these different elements into better flowing sentences and paragraphs, I also learned to just write with a better flow as well.
  • Focus on sentence structure. Falling into a habit of writing our sentences with similar structures is a very easy thing to do. Something you could try is taking a page of your  manuscript and diagramming your sentences like you learned to do in elementary school. Seeing it laid out like that could help you see ways to rearrange sentences so that they mesh in a more interesting way.
  • Be kind to yourself. While it probably doesn't feel this way, just being able to look at a paragraph and think, "This is choppy" is a great step to fixing the issue. Learning how to edit your writing so that it reads smoothly takes time, so try to be patient with yourself as you learn.

Hosanna asked, "I am editing my first novella. But I have had some questions about copyright that I've had trouble finding answers to! Do you know if I would be allowed to reference "Google Earth" in my novella? I wouldn't be including anything else that might have copyright, just the words "Google Earth." And is it okay to mention Nancy Drew and a scene from one of her books?"

Absolutely. Brand names and characters from other stories are totally on the table. Your character can drive a Honda Odyssey (if she's cool like me, that is), wear Cover Girl, and enjoy taking pictures with her iPhone.  

What you wouldn't want to do is imply bad things about those brands. She should not, for example, think, "This Cover Girl makeup is really giving me a rash. Next time I'm going with L'Oreal." Not only does that just sound like it would be terrible and boring pacing for your story, but portraying a company in poor light like that could get you into some trouble.

Have a question? Leave it in the comments below or email me!


  1. Oh, that's awesome to know about brand names & characters from other stories! I'd always figured it was probably okay, but now I know for sure.

    Thanks for the post, Mrs. Morrill--I'm really enjoying the Mail Bag series.

  2. I have always been super confused on copyright things. I'm so glad this question was asked.
    Thanks for the post!

  3. Copyrights can be confusing! :) But that makes sense ;)

  4. Oh my gosh, thanks for answering my question!
    My writing is starting to get smoother. I was fixing it by reevaluating it. That has helped. It's not quite there yet, I will try the sentence stuff.
    That's so funny. I saw the post title and it made me remember how I sent an email about choppy writing months ago.
    And I was also wondering about copyright. My friend also says "you shouldn't mention this because of copyright."

  5. Thanks for answering the question on copyright! It seems like my editor was always changing things for a while there (we must have a list of everything up front for the copyrights page, then we must only have companies and not pop culture stuff, then the reverse of that ect, then nope we need nothing) and now that I'm thinking of moving into self publishing it's nice to have an actual answer besides "house rules" to go by. So many many thanks!