Sensible and Sensitive: Making Your Manuscript More Desirable Through Sensitivity

by EilisFlynn

Elizabeth Flynn, who writes as Eilis Flynn, is an editor and writer. Find her on social media.

October 10, 2019

Today’s writers know at least these two things: Good writing demands creating authentic characters that aren’t versions of the same character with different names, skin tones, and hair color. And there’s money in writing books that appeal beyond a particular group.

One of the services I offer my clients is sensitivity reading. This is a thorough read of their manuscript with an eye and ear out for writing that doesn’t reflect real people beyond the mainstream audience (you know, white people).  Indian women aren’t just suburban white Americans wearing saris; black women aren’t just “tall drinks of chocolate”; Asian women aren’t just 1950s suburban white housewives with “almond” eyes and math skills. (For example, my math skills aren’t great. 😉 )

Given that most people – even writers (and even writers of color) – have few friends outside of their social group, this is a skill that every author needs. While there are many similarities, sensitivity editing approaches manuscripts from a whole different perspective than editing for structure, grammar, style, and dialog. It’s like recasting Pride and Prejudice with Mrs. Bennet as the protagonist instead of Elizabeth. The events are the same, but the viewpoint is wholly unalike. In both cases, you want to ensure the things in your manuscript are correct. For structure, the important elements are the inciting incident, the turning points, and the characters’ motivations. For copyediting and even proofreading, it’s spelling, tenses, subject-verb agreement, looking for changed character names that haven’t been caught, and plot points that weren’t set up.

For sensitivity, it’s whether your characters are authentic to who they are and that you aren’t reducing them to pat and stereotypical descriptions of external features. When you do that, you’ll find your existing readers love your work even more, and you’ll appeal to a whole new group of readers looking for characters like them.

For examples of the differences and the similarities that will help those already working on a manuscript aimed beyond a small audience and to inspire those who are looking for a way to add dimension to their work, I’ll be at the 2019 Emerald City Writers Conference at the Westin Hotel in Bellevue, WA on Sunday, October 20, at 9:00 am. My workshop, Sensitivity reading vs. editing: What’s the difference? will provide authors with the tools they need to create more realistic characters and plots and send them home with a worksheet for avoiding mistakes and getting underway.

Maybe I’ll see you there?

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