Saturday, January 28, 2012

What editing is

I often see misconceptions about what editing is. There's a tendency to associate it with proofreading or copy editing, which is the phase of editing that focuses on grammar, punctuation, spelling, basic consistency problems, word repetition, and the like. Copy editors know the difference between faze and phase. They know that you can't have two Saturdays in a row (unless that is one of the quirks of your invented world).

But this is not the whole world of editing--far from it. Applying only this layer of editing to a manuscript is like frosting a bowl of cake batter, instead of waiting for the cake to come out of the oven.

Editing is about looking at the manuscript on a global level as well. Does the pacing work, or does it drag in some places and race in others? Is there a central conflict, and is it resolved? Are there subplots, and do they relate to the central plot in a meaningful way, or are they just kind of stuck on as extras? Will readers become invested in these characters? Does the plot make sense; is it believable? Is there a theme or some answer to the "so what?" question? Is every scene necessary? Are we missing part of the story? And so on. This is the kind of editing that may result in adding or subtracting characters, moving scenes or chapters around, rewriting whole sections, chopping out other sections, adding scenes, introducing new events or deleting old ones. Yet a good editor doesn't impose a vision on a story, but rather suggests approaches that could enhance the author's vision. A good editor is open to the multiple approaches that an author can use in fixing a story.

I never hand in a manuscript until I'm confident in it, until it has no flaws that I can see. And then the editorial letter opens doors in my mind. What I thought was a smoothly painted surface turns out, on closer inspection, to have chips and scratches and uneven spots. And sometimes I realize that the whole wall would look better if painted a different shade.

8 comments:

  1. This post made me smile. After I finished the first draft of my first novel, I thought I was editing when I went back and made sure the spelling and grammar were correct. ^_^ Back then I knew nothing about the art and craft of good storytelling and the importance of having many other "eyes" in the process. BTW, my copy of TRY NOT TO BREATHE arrived today. Isn't that exciting???

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    1. It took me forever to learn how to structure a story in an interesting way. (And here's hoping the book that just arrived in your house is one of them!)

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  2. "like frosting a bowl of cake batter": what an awesome way to explain it! I'll have to refer them to you next time someone asks why I don't just run spellcheck and call it finished.

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    1. Once in a while I would write a short story where the first draft didn't need any major work. It happened about 5% of the time, or less. And novels are so complex!

      Glad you liked my analogy. :-)

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  3. Oh, love this! I have to step back from a finished draft for months at a time so I can edit it with fresh eyes. I like to think of the large-scale edits as major revisions. Line-edits are a breeze compared to those! I do know one thing - I'm very grateful for my editor. :)

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    1. I'm grateful for mine, too. And I'd still rather do line edits any day. ;-)

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  4. I'm pacing myself right now before I begin my edit/revision phase. While I have my plan in place, I'm scared to death of what I'll find in my piece. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of the journey I am about to embark upon.

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    1. It can be scary to look at the big picture, but then in fixing it we go back down to the micro level, and it's one scene at a time, one page at a time, one sentence at a time.

      Happy writing!

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