When all rewrites have been completed and you are happy with the structure and story content of your book, you'll be ready to move on to the copy-editing stage.
Many authors think that after the intensive examination at developmental level, all they really need now is a proofread and they’re ready to go. But I can’t emphasise enough what a difference the copy-editing stage can make to the quality and readability of your manuscript.
A developmental editor will not have paid too much attention to the sorts of issues a copy-editor will look for, nor will a proofreader be able to make changes outside their remit even if they do spot copy-editing errors. In fact, skipping the copy-editing stage causes all sorts of problems for a proofreader who would prefer a fully edited version to work on, and some proofreaders may even decline to work on your manuscript if they feel it’s unethical to do so at this stage.
So why is it so important? Well, during the copy-edit the focus moves away from big issues of plot and structure towards a sentence-level examination. This is where the 3 C’s come in and it's these that will make your novel stand apart from the ones that have skipped this crucial stage.
The 3 C’s will make your narrative: Clear, Concise and Consistent, and its priority is to help you tell your story in the most effective way possible so the reader doesn’t even realise they’re reading.
What a Copy-Editor is looking at:
Before we get to Point of View, I just want to quickly reiterate here that narrative voice doesn’t simply mean what point of view you choose to write in. Your narrative voice will reflect the tone of the whole book, so a copy-editor would be checking to make sure it ‘fits’ well with your story and that it’s consistent throughout.
If, for example, you are writing in first-person POV, this narrative voice will belong to one character and one alone. While this sounds straightforward, this voice will need to fit its character as well as deliver your story in the most effective way according to your intentions.
If you are working with third-person omniscient POV, you will need to decide how much of a role your omniscient narrator is going to play in the novel – from entirely neutral to an extra 'character' who influences the reader’s perception of events unfolding.
Point of View (POV)
Many authors underestimate how tricky point of view can be. Even the editor must pay close attention to ensure the POV established at the beginning of the novel is the same one maintained unwaveringly throughout.
It’s always a good idea to take time before you begin writing your novel to run through a range of POV possibilities, perhaps even testing a few sentences in each voice to see which feels ‘right’ for the telling of your story.
The ‘right’ point of view is not simply the one you prefer to work in, but the one that tells your story in the best possible way (i.e. from the most effective perspective).
My blog, Points of View: A Short Guide, has some guidance on the different types of POV to help clear up any confusion you may have in this area.
To avoid the pitfalls of inconsistent point of view, make sure you have a clear understanding of what your chosen POV does and doesn't allow you to do. Bear these boundaries in mind as you work through the novel on your copy-edit.
For example, your third-person limited POV character will not know what someone else is thinking unless he is told or he is guessing.
Carl had just about had enough of all this background chatter. He slammed his glass down on the bar. The barman let him get away with it this time; he’d been watching Carl for the past hour and knew when a guy was down on his luck.
This sentence potentially reads fine if the POV is third-person multiple but in a third-person limited to Carl POV, it’s an impossibility. Instead it would be better as:
Carl had just about had enough of all this background chatter. He slammed his glass down on the bar. The barman looked as if he were about to say something, but for whatever reason chose not to.
This sounds and feels much better. The barman remains an external character viewed from Carl’s perspective. Carl gauges the barman’s intentions from his demeanour as opposed to knowing what he is actually thinking.
Another common issue related to this is a character knowing something they weren’t witness to. In the example below you will clearly be able to see what I mean:
I close the door of the restaurant behind me, glad to be away from there. But as I do, I fail to see the look on his face, the one that says, ‘Don’t go.’
So, when you’re paying attention to the POV (as we are here), the problem is clear, right? How can this character possibly know she has failed to see the look on his face and what that look implies? She’s already gone! She would have to either see it for herself or be told about it:
But as I do I catch the look on his face…
“You should have seen his face after you left,” Becky said the following morning.
Head-hopping is another common issue, one which is guaranteed to confuse your reader and turn reading your book into more of a chore than the seamless, pleasurable experience it should be.
If your narrative has multiple character POVs, make sure you make it clear to the reader when you are switching and who you are switching to. Vivid and varied characters will make it easier for the reader to separate one personality from another, as will devices like dialect, mannerisms, or even alternating chapters for alternating points of view.
Point of view is not always as clear-cut as it first seems, and it’s very easy to miss things, especially when you’re close to the story. A good break before you begin copy-editing, or a fresh pair of eyes altogether, will help weed out any inconsistencies in this regard.
In Part 6 of the series we’ll take a look at characterisation, setting and timeline during the copy-editing stage.