Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Almighty Edit

A popular post from March 2013

by Julie Wright

As an editor, I get to ruin a person's day. As a writer, I get my day ruined by editors.

I know it's important, the job of an editor. I know I'm helping other writers. But as a writer, I don't know what I'd do without a good editor. A good editor is what saves you from yourself. He or she will save you from certain embarrassment if that scene or sentence actually makes it into the final version of your manuscript.

This post might seem a bit like an ode to editors past, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the editor who changed my life as a writer.

Kirk Shaw was/is (he's at law school, now) a great editor. I owe many thanks to him for saving me from myself. He told me what scenes were lame and needed to be cut. He told me when I was going too easy on my characters and in what ways they could stand to suffer a little more. He taught me several comma rules. I still don't know all the fickle ways of the comma, but that's merely because we didn't have enough time together. The man was a genius at his job.

Some good things to keep in mind when editing your own manuscript
  •  Make your characters work for it. If the quest is too easy, it's not worth reading about.
  •  If a word is not a contributing member of the sentence, then it needs to be evicted. Make sure your words all have a specific function.
  • If a sentence is not a contributing member of your page, then it needs to be evicted.
  • If a page is a not a contributing member to the story, then it needs to be evicted. Don't let the dead weight take up residence in your story.
  • Cutting hurts. But a tight and tidy package looks nicer and is better received than the one hastily slapped together with a few errant pieces of tape and rumpled wrapping paper.
  • There is a difference between the words lightening and lightning. Make sure you used the word you meant to use. Spell check doesn't catch this.
  • There is also a difference between a nice dress and a mice dress. Sometimes you hit a wrong key, but the word still fits well enough in the sentence that spell check doesn't see it. Make sure you are reading your story out loud during your final editing stage. You catch so much more when you're reading it out loud and having to say every word as it is written.
  • Do your characters have a goal they're working toward or are they just playing around?
  • Avoid passive language--especially in a book meant for action and suspense. The active voice makes the scene more immediate and urgent. The passive voice slows everything down.
  • Editors never use the phrase "Show, don't tell" because they think the words sound pretty together. When you see that phrase, take it to heart. Showing versus telling makes the difference between meh and amazing. It is the plastic roses bought at a dollar store on clearance versus a fresh bouquet from one of the nicest florist shops in town. Always act on this directive when an editor tells you it is needed.
These are just a few things I've seen needing fixed over and over during my time as a writer and editor. When you get an editorial letter, it isn't a time for weeping and feeling terrible. It's a time to be excited to jump into your work and make it better than it was before. I love that Kirk was such an amazing editor that he inspired me to be better than I was. Thanks, Kirk. I know law school was the right choice for you, but that doesn't mean you aren't sorely missed in my life.

CS Lewis has this quote:

“Imagine yourself a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping up the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that these jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and seems not to make sense. What on earth is he up to?
The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought. He is throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace."

Your manuscript is your house. Build a palace.


J. said...

This was very helpful. Thanks.

Heather Moore said...

Agreed! Taking the time to edit is so essential!

Diana said...

Boy, did I need this post. Today of all days! How did you know?! Thank you!