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5 Writing Tips I Learnt From My Editor

Karen Osman reading The Home

Fun fact: Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald shared the same editor, a man named Maxwell Perkins. You’ve most likely never heard of him but it’s probably true to say, that without him, famous works such as The Great Gatsby, may not have become as iconic as they did. The author / editor relationship is a delicate one and I’ve been lucky enough to have a fantastic editor for my novels. With each round of edits, I’ve learnt something new so in this post, I’m sharing five pieces of editorial advice I received during the editing of The Good Mother, The Home, and The Perfect Lie, and how to implement it.

1. Develop your characters’ internal journeys

In my first novel, The Good Mother, the character arc of the protagonist Alison went from confident child to nervous first year university student, from excited teenager in love to confused victim, before finally becoming completely broken. To show this, I needed to help the reader understand the effects of what was happening to Alison by drawing her character arc more clearly. The overall thinking is the more an author can get underneath the skin of all the main characters, the more invested readers will be in the ultimate outcome.

Action point: map out the arcs of your main characters and ask yourself: are the actions and motivations in line with their internal journey?

2. Ensure your story is credible

Any story has to be credible but it’s easy to get lost in our work and forget about the reader. As writers, we have to be extra careful not to test reader’s suspension of disbelief. If you break the spell by stopping readers in their tracks to question something, then the magic of reading the book and trying to figure it out gets broken too.

Action point: for each major scene, question whether the actions and reactions of each character are convincing. If you have doubts, your reader will too.

3. Write strong chapter openings and endings

It’s easy to lose readers, especially if they are reading on a device rather than a good old-fashioned book. As a result, the skill of hooking the reader into each chapter and luring them to the next one has never been so important.

Action point: review each chapter in turn paying attention to the opening and closing lines.

4. Develop secondary characters fully

While the focus is usually on the protagonist, it’s also important to create well-rounded and authentic secondary characters. All the characters must feel three-dimensional to the reader otherwise they’re marked out too early as plot devices which will leave the reader feeling cheated.

Action point: create character profile sheets for secondary characters and do specific writing exercises to help develop them further.

5. Build the tension

Even if you’re not writing a thriller, creating tension in your manuscript is still a valuable tool in your writer’s kit to keep the reader engaged. With ever-decreasing attention spans, it’s important to build in more tension in your work, to keep the reader turning the pages and lead them to a powerful climax.

Action point: map out your story onto the narrative arc making sure key plot points build to a peak with a good pace.


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I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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