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.
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.