Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Art of Editing


There is a reason the number one rule for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is to silence your internal editor and get going with your first draft. The primary rationale being—editing is time consuming.


It is a time-consuming task for the editor you’ve hired, whether for content editing or line editing. And doubly time consuming when you are sitting in front of a marked-up manuscript wondering How am I going to handle all this? Because if you have a good editor, in the top of his or her form, you’re going to be faced with a lot of decisions. That’s the mark of a good editor. They ultimately leave it for you to interpret what will best serve your story.


Your editor will nudge you here and there with questions such as: Is this needed? Comments like: I’m confused. How do we know this is supposed to happen here? Some of my favorites start with a simple: Why? Then there are suggestions for punctuation, especially, in my case, with dialog tags. Which leads into the ever-popular passive verb usage issues of limp sentences. Easy things to blow past on a first draft when you’re trying to get a daily word count in. Or, if you’re a pantser, like me, you start with a concept and figure things out as you go. The result is the same, more work later on. (Dangling prepositions: check.)


Misty Urban did my content editing this time around, and I have to admit I was initially stunned with her attention to detail. I didn’t harbor any allusions about my manuscript being perfect, far from it, but that first impression was Wow! It gave me pause. I had to come up with a system to manage it all. I settled into marking all her balloon symbols with a XX in the text. XXs are easy markers for edit searches to find. I’d mark up a chapter then go back to the beginning and read through until the XXs came up, evaluate her comment, then decide how to implement it to my advantage. Sometimes it was something easy like spelling. The more compelling comments involved going back to previous chapters to make the story’s continuity flow better; make a subplot clearer, cleaner; or a character trait more detailed. The head-thumping moments came with the catches that saved me from certain embarrassment. (Bless you, Misty.) Rarely came the ones that I could classify and dismiss with an easy: Yes, I meant to do that. I was, after all, paying for her expert advice.


Then there was my ending.


I purposely avoided reading Misty’s comments of the last two chapters until I had written, or rather, rewritten, my text. Waiting until I knew my manuscript in its new and improved *74,400-word entirety was paramount. In the terms of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, I had to refine my Final Image. I ended up deleting a huge chunk of the last chapter and tacking on what remained to the previous one. I enhanced sections with dialog from the principle cast of characters, losing lesser ones. I tied up loose ends. I added support for my major themes: preservation, family, forgiveness, and the legacy of Pippi Longstockings.


Will that be enough? That judgement will have to wait for the next phase of manuscript editing—reading the whole thing out loud. One can catch a lot of problems with that trick.


Is editing ever done? No. Must there be an end? Yes.


A special THANK YOU to Misty Urban.


*68,700 words at beginning of content editing.


(P.S. Present errors are all mine.)