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Freelance Editing Sample: How Scribendi Responded to my Story

The freelance editing results I received online from an editor at Scribendi exceeded my expectations. First, I sent my story to them and they returned it within 24 hours, as promised. Nice.

The company employs only experienced editors to comment on creative work, business documents, and academic essays, and this is evident in the quality of the response. I have included below the full text of the short story evaluation Scribendi did for me, as they provided a quality freelance editing service.

SAMPLE OF FREELANCE EDITING FROM SCRIBENDI.COM

Opening

Your opening is strong—immediately you lay out your primary characters (Miriam and her mother), the setting (the kitchen), and a sense of the conflict—Miriam's mother needs help although she's loathe to ask for it, creating an uncomfortable situation for both of them.
In addition, you relay facts such as both characters' ages (the mother's directly, and Miriam's inferred) within the first couple paragraphs. All of this is accomplished organically, with none of it feeling like an "information dump." The one place where there seems to be a bit of unnatural authorial intrusion is right after Miriam's mother shakes her head, "as if she still couldn't believe she needed anyone's help." This feels overwritten, as if you as an author are trying too hard to assign an interpretation to the mother's actions. Cut this line and let the reader infer on her own why the mother shakes her head, or be more explicit and have her mutter something about "never needing anyone's help before," in a way that feels in-character for her.

Conflict and Plot

As I mentioned above, a hint of the conflict is present immediately in the opening. As the story progresses, the conflict deepens to a level that is appropriate in a story of this length. The tension between Miriam and her mother, Miriam's desire to be a "good daughter" conflicting with the history of their relationship, and her father's role on the fringes of her life serve to make the conflict more complex without overburdening the story. Moreover, the resolution addresses the conflict in a way that feels natural and hopeful without being overly contrived. As Miriam listens for signs of her mother's life through the night, the reader gets a sense of her love and attachment, despite her difficulty showing them or despite lingering resentment. And when she steadies the bowl for her mother in the final scene, we see her loving her mother in a way that is absolutely appropriate to the situation, even if she's unable to love her in more "idealized" ways (rubbing oil into her shoulders, etc.)

Setting

The limited "stage" upon which this story takes place is fitting for a story of this length. I got a clear sense of the different rooms within the house (kitchen, storage room, bathroom, mother's bedroom). You described Miriam's night on the cot in the storage room especially well, using details of the setting (such as her mother's snores, the ticking clock) to evoke the tension of her night. The details missing—such as exact time, where the house is located, etc. —are not necessary at this level of story-telling.

Characterization

Most literary journals prize characterization above all else, and your story doesn't disappoint in this regard. Although tension between a mother and a daughter is a universal theme, you don't reduce Miriam or her mother to stock characters. Early on in the story, you do a particularly good job of giving us a glimpse into Miriam's life when she's not with her mother, as Miriam remembers the litany of her mother's "usual" complaints about her. Óname The character revelation that Miriam's mother had once hit her with the depression glass really jolted me, but it's the kind of surprising detail that makes an impact without feeling gratuitously shocking. In addition to Miriam and her mother, you've hinted at the character of Miriam's absent father by the way the mother talks about him, and the glimpse into Miriam's relationship with him. This latter point is one place where I feel the story needs to be deepened. Although the story is ultimately about Miriam and her mother, you dangle a few details about the father that beg follow-through. For example, on page five you reveal that Miriam lies about her father saying he's sorry about her mother's illness. Since we know it's a lie, this brings up the question of how he actually did react—unless Miriam didn't tell him at all but considered it "less dangerous" to tell her mother she had, in which case that should be made clear as well.

In addition, we know that Miriam talks to her father four times a year—and one of those times is her birthday. Although she took the initiative to contact him, did he then make an effort to keep the contact up? Did she have any memories of her father from before he left, or did he leave when she was a baby or when her mother was pregnant? What were her impressions of her father, and how did they reflect or differ from the picture her mother painted of him? And the remaining question, which is less important, is whether the mother always felt contemptuous of her father. For example, did they marry against their will because she was pregnant? Or was he a charmer who made her mother believe he was a different man than he ultimately ended up being? As I mentioned, these questions are less important than Miriam's impression of her father, but I do find myself wondering, when a couple has such dislike for one another, what circumstances drew them together in the first place.

Dialogue

In a character-driven story like this, dialogue is of the utmost importance. You skillfully build the dialogue in a way that seems real and that also invites one to "read between the lines." I was particularly struck when her mother snaps, "Who cares how long it takes?" (pg. 5). It's clear in this question that something else is being said: "Stop fixating on my weakness," or "Stop criticizing me."

Mechanics

Your grammar, spelling, and other mechanics are smooth, which allows the reader to focus on the story you're telling. There are just a few moments when mechanics cause minor confusion or awkwardness:

On page 1, when describing Miriam's relationship with her mother, you say, "they never comforted or hugged. . ." Without a direct object ("they never comforted one another"), the verb "comforted" makes the sentence feel clunky and overwritten. "They never hugged," is sufficient—or, even better, give a brief example to prove your point (i.e.: "They never hugged, not even when Miriam discovered her mother had cancer.")

On pg. 2, you write, "Everything in her mother's house depressed her." Although I assume the second "her" refers to Miriam, it could technically refer to the mother, too. A simple fix is, "Everything in her mother's house depressed Miriam." Similarly, on the top of page 8—"She squinched her eyes," it's not immediately clear that this refers to Miriam and not Miriam's mother. A quick fix: "Miriam squinched her eyes." This pronoun reference confusion is common in stories told in the third-person, with multiple characters of the same sex. Usually, making sure the proper character is referenced is a quick fix if you know to watch for it.

There's also a bit of confusion when mentioning Miriam's relationship with her father: "until Miriam tracked him down in her early twenties, married again, with two more daughters." It feels like "married again" is referencing Miriam, even though I know it's not. Try, "until Miriam tracked him down in her early twenties. He was married again. . ." (pg. 4).

When Miriam is dreaming about the type of daughter she should be, she imagines she would "read her the kind of story she liked" (pg. 5). It's not clear whether she's thinking of her mother's true preferences, or the preferences of the "type" of mother Miriam is imagining.

Grizzly Adam should be italicized both times, not just the second time it appears in the story.

There's also some confusion on pg. 6, as Miriam remembers her mother's food intake for the day: "She calculated the food her mother had eaten over the day: two teaspoons of strawberry Jell-O for breakfast and a half cup of tea, which she had brought up fifteen minutes later." Do you mean that Miriam brought the tea up to her mother fifteen minutes after the Jell-O, or that her mother vomited up the tea fifteen minutes after she drank it? In the same paragraph, it isn't clear whether her mother throwing up "all of it" refers to just the mashed potato and peas, or whether it refers to all the food that has been mentioned thus far.

Style, Narrative, and Tone

Your writing is sparse, precise, and elegant. Your prose is full of unique, vivid descriptions, such as Miriam's hand being like a "bundle of bones wrapped in cool silk" (pg. 3) and "the air smelled like the inside of an old shoe" (pg. 7). You include enough detail without bogging the story down with descriptions; I particularly like that Miriam notices her mother's hiccups lasting for four hours (pg. 6). Your tone fits the tension and relationships in the story perfectly. Just as Miriam's relationship with her mother is devoid of niceties and frills, but still strong and capable of doing what's necessary, so is your writing.

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Based on this edit, I have been recommending the freelance editing provided at Scribendi whenever I am too busy to take on a new client. As a first step in the editing process, however, I recommend the low cost Quick Look service I offer.

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