Everything Wrong with Your Novel in 15 Minutes
If you’re an author or screenwriter and you’ve never watched the YouTube series “Everything Wrong with…” by CinemaSins, then I have homework for you.
Scan their offerings, find their review of a movie you loved, and then watch every minute of it.
Watch and learn.
It’s become a tradition for me and my husband after work. He switches on YouTube while we putter around the kitchen to make dinner.
“Oh, look!” he says. “Everything Wrong with Ender’s Game!”
I groan loudly. “Come on, I loved that one! I waited YEARS for a film adaptation and was actually happy with it!”
He chuckles and hits play.
As always, the narrator fast-talks through sin after sin, and I have to give it to him:
“Okay. Well, he’s got a point there. Yeah, I kind of thought that was too convenient. Well, crap.”
By the end, I’m shaking my head and wondering why these gaping loopholes and logical inconsistencies weren’t caught WAY before the producers spent $115 million. (Or before the book was published, in some cases.)
Producers, if you’re reading: HIRE THESE GUYS. Hire them the minute you decide to move on a script or concept and before you spend another penny. Let them rip the script to shreds and help you put it back together in a more believable and satisfying way.
To be sure, when the acting or production quality is high, we may not even notice some of the biggest sins. How many times has Fast and Furious jumped the shark? Yet each sequel still draws an audience.
But type “movie bombs” in the YouTube search box and you’ll be treated to a parade of failures—many of which could have been prevented by a good script critique early on.
Who’s going to trash your book—and when?
Now, what about your book?
Who besides you has read it? Your mom? Your best friend? A writing buddy or professor?
Your book might be just fine, and your family and friends might be excellent beta readers who give you quality feedback. But they might also be Catelyn Stark staring in silence as her sister breastfeeds her six-year-old son in public1:
“What is she doing? Doesn’t she realize he should have been weaned long ago? Somebody should say something…but I sure don’t want to take a dive through the Moon Door…”
Painful as it’s likely to be, you really need someone like the CinemaSins crew to tear your manuscript up—because if they don’t, your audience most certainly will. And those Amazon and Goodreads reviews never go away.
Who can help?
What you need is a good developmental editor (DE), and the earlier, the better. Ideally, you’ll find someone who can help ensure it’s believably crafted from the beginning.
Bringing a developmental editor in at the beginning may spare you major revisions or, worse, complete rejection.
Author: “I want to write a novel about a girl and a vampire boy who fall in love. There will be all sorts of dramatic tension because he can’t even hold her hand without wanting to drink her blood!”
DE: “Stephenie Meyer already did that one. And the vampire thing has been done a lot now—Barnes & Noble actually has a whole section devoted to paranormal romance.”
Author: “Doesn’t that mean it’s hot, and readers want more of it?”
DE: “Could be. But how will your vampire love story be different from Twilight? Or Vampire Diaries? Or Vampire Academy?”
The DE can help the author brainstorm ways to make his or her vampire vision unique so that readers won’t feel they’re just reading Twilight fan fiction. At this juncture, the DE acts as writing coach and even collaborator.
Most often, however, an author presents a completed draft for critique. Those days or weeks between submission and feedback can be excruciating for you. An honest voice inside you might be saying, “Make it better, but make it better by leaving it alone!”
When the file comes back with comments filling the margins, however tactful, your inner Lysa Arryn might rise up and shout for the guards to toss your editor through the Moon Door.
It’s only natural. Betsy Lerner, who has spent her career as an acquisitions editor and agent, has also experienced this process as an author. After delivering her manuscript to a DE, “I was a mess, every fingernail shredded, my face a splotch of anxiety.”2
One would think that her first draft would be perfect as-is. After all, it was a book about publishing, and she’s an expert. She’s also been a DE herself, so surely she’d know how to avoid the pitfalls.
Alas, it was not so: “When her notes came,” Lerner writes, “they blew my mind and not in a good way.”
The editor basically told her she needed to rewrite the whole book with a more positive attitude. It didn’t matter that Lerner had delivered such advice to countless others: when it applied to her own work, she felt that every criticism implied hatred.
After some reflection, however, she realized the editor was right. She wound up rewriting the book and being much happier with the result.
“Love hurts,” Lerner concludes.
But once the author and editor get on the same wavelength, the collaboration can be beautiful.
As Lerner writes earlier in her chapter, “There is no greater feeling for me than when a writer takes my notes, then ups the ante, making the passage or paragraph not just better but brilliant. Author and editor form a mutual appreciation society. The author feels inspired and inspires in return. . . .it’s a love fest.”
So thicken up your skin by watching CinemaSins videos. Eat some chocolate, drink a glass of wine, and then open the file your DE just sent back.
It’ll be okay. It’ll be better than okay. This is your chance to purge the book’s sins before loosing it on the world.
Utopian Editing provides editing services from concept through proofreading. Click here to request a free sample edit and quote.
1 This is a Game of Thrones reference, you sweet summer child.
2 Betsy Lerner, “What Love’s Got to Do with It: The Author-Editor Relationship,” in What Editors Do: The Art, Craft & Business of Book Editing, ed. Peter Ginna (Chicago, IL: U of Chicago Press, 2017).