So I started reading Painted Moon, which is my fifth published book. I feared that in the intervening years the story had grown dated, or that my growth as a writer would have me itching to rewrite every other sentence. To my relief, both the story and my writing held up to my critical eye, though I found a tweak here and there that was essential. To be sure, there were passages I would tackle differently now, but overall, I was pleased. Well, except for the ellipses.
Apparently, 15 years ago, I was in love them. I’m sure that the editor removed 90% of them from the manuscript, with me grumbling all the way, but 200 survived. When I got through with this proofreading, only a few survived. As it turns out, most were absolutely unnecessary, something every writing manual will tell you. It’s also true of exclamation points, which another writer, who also just underwent this very same process with her own 10+ year old texts, took completely out of her early work. Not one was required.
It’s not as if we weren’t both well-read, and hadn’t taken classes or studied. A great deal of what I knew when I began writing lesbian romance I learned from osmosis, and the excellent writers I had read already knew that ellipses were almost never essential.
Bottom line: What’s not essential shouldn’t be in the book.
That reality, however, was completely lost on me. My editor did her best with what I had written, too. Which is one reason why everyone needs an editor. Osmosis can only go so far–only geniuses spring from the forehead of Jane Austen, fully formed. No genius here, as my affair with ellipses proves. Even today, some 1.5 million words later, I still make mistakes. They may be more sophisticated, but editors still find them and I still learn from them (the mistakes and the editors).
I’m happy to report that a mere two books later, Embrace in Motion, I’d gotten over my crush on ellipses. Not so my admiration for brand names, many of which no longer exist. Talk about needlessly making a book dated!
You would think I would have learned after book four, when I mentioned with admiration a celebrity who turned out to be a double murderer, that pop culture references are usually not essential to my kind of storytelling. There’s a fine line and I left it way, way behind me.
This fall, both of these books will be available from Bella in new print editions and, for the first time, as eBooks. Giving them a final polish was a lot of fun and I hope readers enjoy them as much as I have.
On a corollary note, I’m often asked what resources I use for self-editing. Recently on the Bella Forum, JE Knowles and I compared notes and we both named the same book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King. It has proven an invaluable resource and explains the structure and components of popular fiction writing. Had I studied it earlier than I did my love affair with ellipses would have never made it to print.