A good editor — an experienced reader who understands ALL aspects of a book, fiction or nonfiction, as specified by his particular expertise — will be able to look deeply into the story, right down to the sentence level (the prose). This is “close reading” — and for a good “reading” of your work, you’ll need to pay. In fact, a good editor is worth the money. But finding a good editor is difficult.
Now what I mean by “all aspects of the book” includes far more than structure (in fact, structure is merely a look at the surface, and, frankly, a close-reading high-schooler can do this well). The seasoned, sharp, intuitive-minded editor will understand each of your characters and his/her position in the book. He’ll be able to tell you which character is the most useful, and perhaps could be given more page time, and which character(s) can be excised. This editor will be able to direct you to your best pages of dialogue, and then compare that to your worst pages (the best editor can NEVER tell you how to write, or be a better writer, per se). The editor will be able to look deeply into your narrative abilities and (again) point out the strong vs the not-so-strong. The editor will be capable of feeling your theme and seeing where it can be strengthened through strong imagery, dialogue, metaphor, foreshadowing, the odd phrase and off-hand (seemingly so) comment by narrator/character. And then, the editor will be able to look at your structure and tell you if there’s a possibility to shuffle chapters (not like a deck of cards, mind you) to get more punch up front and better drama at the end.
All that I’ve said here is but a fingernail’s scratch against the breadth and depth of the value a good editor can bring you. Of course, if you’re a capable writer, you can see into your own ms for starters. Being (or becoming) your own best editor is about being able to, firstly, identify all aspects of your story, and, secondly, understand how each fits—as a puzzle piece or an intra-related part (from a distance or page-by-page)—and then, thirdly, when you spot something that’s “wrong,” being able to fix it. Let’s face it: if an editor can show you 5 things that are “wrong” but you can’t fix any of them, or the most important of them, then the story is no good. This can be a real problem, and there are so many ways to get oneself into a problem like this if you, the writer, are not careful with your story all the way through the writing process.
Good luck, everyone, and … Keep on Writing!
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.