Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Editing - Phase 2

What I'm reading: Blood Hunt, by Ian Rankin

Thanks to Mona for sharing her editing techniques. I’m going to add my thoughts, but if you haven't read hers yet, scroll down. I can wait.

All right. I've already addressed my story board technique for keeping track of plot points and characters when I write, which is just a different way to accomplish the same goal we all have. Making sure our manuscript gleams before we turn it in.

Now, on to the next step. The publisher wants your book. You have a contract in hand. That gleaming manuscript now goes to an editor. And then it comes back. All scratched and tarnished.

First – if you get a manuscript back that is NOT marked up, or only has a few comments, don't feel proud. Don't dance for joy. It's more likely you need a better editor. There's nothing out there that can't be improved. But that doesn't mean you should click on "accept all changes in document" either. There are some editors who prefer a 'hands off' policy, who don't want to change the author's story or voice. That's all well and good. But letting sloppy writing get published isn't helping anyone. A good editor can keep the meat of the story and let the author's vision shine through while still trimming the fat and suggesting improvements.

Second -- Your relationship with your editor shouldn't be adversarial. You have your ideas about the book. She has hers. But you've also got a common goal. Make the manuscript as good as it can be. Swallow your pride, your indignation. Find some chocolate, or wine, or take a hot bubble bath. Shoot some Snoods. Sleep on it for a day. Or three. Then open up the file again and get to work.

Keep Reading...

My recent manuscript, as I mentioned, came back 10,000 words shorter than the one I sent in. Sure, it's an ego-deflater, but no matter how magnificent the words were, if they didn't advance the story or develop the character, they probably didn't need to be there.

There are lots of editing workshops, each with its own system and methods. Far from me to say there's a 'right' or a 'wrong' way to edit. Or even a 'good' and a 'bad.' In the end, we all do what works for us, so I'm just adding a few possibilities to the mix. My "system" for dealing with edits at this stage:

Go through the manuscript for the easy fixes. I look at her 'deleted' and 'inserted' changes first (all the while ranting about using Track Changes. I'm a 'fiddler.' As I write, I and love moving things around, changing a word here and there, playing trial and error until it flows for me, and all those colors freak me out. Plus, half the time I can't remember to check to make sure TC is off or on.)

Here, you might notice some editorial biases. Do they matter? Ideally, an editor should think only of the story, but sometimes their personality might bleed through. It could be minor, such as using "asked" instead of "said" when there's a question. Both are acceptable.

Maybe she objects to a specific word a character uses. If it's because she doesn't feel it goes with the character, consider it. Let's say she has a bias against a specific profanity. In that case, maybe she's going a little too far. There's a difference between, "Don't use "*^&*" and saying, "Your character swears too much", or "He swears in inappropriate places", or "All your characters use the same swear words." Those are legitimate and should be addressed.

Okay, so you've made all the quick and easy fixes. If you're lucky, your editor has also left comments as to why she's suggested the changes. Look at them. Deal with them. Get out of your own head for a while and think of the overall story. Did you stray from your plot? Are you letting secondary or tertiary characters take over scenes because they're fun to write?
If you can handle it, deal with the reasons behind the cuts, and if they make sense, bite the bullet and accept them. You'll have another chance to see if you made the "right" decision.

Did she point out a glaring plot hole? This is a good time to start fixing those, because they might lead to major rewrites. Those aren't really "edits", they're revisions. My editor caught a spot where my heroine wasn't behaving in what she considered an honorable fashion. It worked great for adding conflict and sexual tension, but when I looked again, I had to agree. I either had to shore up her reasons for behaving unethically, or find a way to get my plot points across without that scene. And after checking with my cop consultants, I decided the latter was the wiser choice. This meant ripping out a chapter, rewriting it, and then going back to weave the dangling threads I'd created back into a smooth fabric.

Now you're ready for the next phase. Did you reweave seamlessly? What other clunkers appeared while you weren't looking? This is where I need a hard copy, but if you prefer the computer, the technique should still work. But I highly recommend a paper version. Why? Come back tomorrow and I'll have more. I'm out of time and space for today.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Terry,

When you have time, please drop by my blog at to pick up your Honest Scrap Award for bloggers who post from the heart.

Cate Masters said...

Great advice, Terry. Edits can be grueling, but in the end, they make your manuscript shine. Setting a story aside for awhile helps bring back perspective and makes errors more obvious than while writing (with those stars in our eyes) :)

Lynnette Labelle said...

Great post. I'm glad Patricia send me over here.

Lynnette Labelle

Mona Risk said...

Terry, you are absolutely right. When the editor asks for a revision, her very polite request is a demand not open for discussion!!!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Patricia. I'm honored.

Cate - be sure to come back tomorrow for more tips, especially if deadlines don't give the luxury of setting aside the story. When those edits come back, the editor might say, "you've got a week."

Lynette - Welcome, and I hope to be seeing more of you.

Mona -- yes, the revisions are a 'demand', although how it's done, and how far to take them, is definitely something that should be open for discussion.

Sheila Deeth said...

I shall certainly be back tomorrow. I guess I did have a real editor for a short story that's coming out soon, and I did get real changes, and mostly I glowed that she thought it was worth editing. Still dreaming when it comes to anything longer, but your suggestions will help with self-edits too.

Mary Ricksen said...

I've had to drop and rewrite chapters so I know what you mean.
Good advise as always Terry!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Mary - it's more of an "I've learned this the hard way, so maybe if I share, it won't be as hard for someone else" thing than actual "advice", I'd say. I'm always happy to share, as so many have shared with me.

Pay it forward.

Debra St. John said...

HI Terry. Great advice. I actually enjoy the editing process, as it really helps me dig deep into my story and make it the best it can be. And it helps me to become a better writer all aroud. The relationship between an editor and writing is truly an important one.

Anonymous said...

Hello Terry,
Wonderful advice! I totally agree about using 'hard copy.' I find mistakes and inconsistencies that way SO much easier, where as on the computer, they just don't seem to jump out at me. I look forward to reading more. :)

~Tess Thieler

Terry Odell said...

Debra - once you get the 'me' out of the edits, it does improve the work. And the first pass with a new editor is always a period of adjustment.

Tess, thanks for coming by. Hope you'll find tomorrow's post useful as well.

Becca Simone said...

I'm going to have to do a search for your story board technique. I'm trying to be more of a plotter.

I had to laugh when I read about your recent manuscript coming back much shorter. My ms going through revisions right now is the same way. At first it's hard accepting those deletions, but in reading it later, I realized the pacing was much better.

Thanks for a great post.

Terry Odell said...

Becca -

If you can't find the storyboarding series on the blog (and I hope the 'search' box at the top right will lead you to them), I have a handout that summarizes it on my website.