Tag Archives: editing

Reconsidering Editing.

Proofreading? Line Editing? Structural Editing? Copyediting? Developmental Editing? 

Editing seems to be a mysterious, fearsome process that many Indies cannot afford to hire out, yet they recoil from doing it themselves. This would not be as big a problem as it has become (as evidenced by the mass of disappointing dreck that’s been published) if there was not a dictum out there (possibly traceable to NaNoWriMo) of “ignore your internal critic.” For that is what editing really is: a critique of a product of written art. And who likes criticism, even if self-inflicted?

There’s also a lot of confusion about what constitute the steps and process of editing. Even persons who do editing for a living admit that the lines here are blurred. In addition, the “rules” for editing fiction differ from those of non-fiction, and there are a multitude of “style” guides to consider, as well.

To demystify and draw the teeth of this monster, I propose an alternative paradigm for editing fiction: the Iceberg Approach.

If we can write, we can edit.

As Indie Authors, we’ve had a lot of practice with writing. In childhood and youth, we were gradually guided through the steps of recognizing words (spelling), understanding their meaning (vocabulary and context), and stringing them into sentences that made sense (grammar and punctuation). We learned how to combine sentences into paragraphs which supplied more detailed meaning (usually in the form of essays), and by young adulthood, we had been instructed in the organization of multiple paragraphs into coherent arguments, primarily in informational (research) papers, but also in persuasive articles (opinion pieces) or brief entertaining stories (creative writing). If we attended university, by that time we were expected to be capable of carrying on accurate research reporting accompanied by extensive nuanced analytical arguments, as well as producing plausibly plotted short fiction (each being different forms and lengths of manuscripts). At almost any point in the process, we were taught the principles of outlining, probably first in the context of learning to read, and later as a preliminary to writing pieces longer than one paragraph. (I disagree with the practice of outlining in preparation for writing, and find it more useful as a tool to analyze a completed work.)

Whatever adult stage of life you’re at now, if you’re reading this, you’ve created a full-length work of written art, and need to prepare it for publication. You may have been editing throughout the process of writing your book, or you may have saved that effort until the first draft was finished. (I think editing is easier and more effectively performed in the creation phase, during which it serves to prevent “writer’s block” and lightens the editing load at the end, but those are topics for other blog posts.) Either way, you’re now in a prime position to apply everything you already know about words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and manuscripts to polishing your opus.

This doesn’t mean that you have to do it all yourself. Many Beta readers will report issues at the Word level (commonly known as basic proofreading), and others will provide feedback at the Chapter and Manuscript levels (things that may be considered structural and developmental editing). If you can get it, this information is more valuable than the gushing praise, “I loved it!” without any reason given as to why.

The composition of a written work of art may founder at the Word level, but Iceberg editing doesn’t necessarily start at the tip and plod in lockstep downwards, into the deep. Problems with the basic stuff in a published book can be a cover-closer for a reader, but like the iceberg that wrecked the Titanic, even worse trouble for a novel can lurk below the waterline.

Before active editing occurs is the best time to do an outline, which will reveal where your story needs help, and that will probably be at every level. Once you know where the trouble spots are, you can start editing wherever you like, to fix them. You’ll ascend and descend the Iceberg throughout the process, and eventually all the zones will be completely edited. You’ll have fixed more than 90 percent of the problems, and will likely be ready to progress to publishing. That formerly formidable Iceberg will have melted away.

I’ll be examining this concept in more detail in later blog posts, but don’t let that stop you from implementing it right now. If you have a novel to edit, by all means try the Iceberg paradigm, and weigh in with comments about your experience with it, pros and cons.

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Another Author’s Insight: Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

I made my own experiments in the weights, colours, perfumes, and attributes of words in relation to other words, either as read aloud so that they may hold the ear, or, scattered over the page, draw the eye. There is no line of my verse or prose which has not been mouthed till the tongue has made all smooth, and memory, after many recitals, has mechanically skipped the grosser superfluities.
~ Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, Chapter III. 

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Indie Author-Publishers: Talent Unbound! (Part 5)

You May Write Better Than You Think You Do.

If you’ve done your homework (see my series of posts on The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing), and have put enough effort into proofreading and editing your rough draft (see The Joys of Editing), you can with confidence release your manuscript to your Alpha Reader and your Beta Readers, in preparation for its final polishing, before taking the plunge into publishing.

But if miscellaneous doubts and fears inhibit your writing from seeing the light of day, here are a few suggestions to help your story come out of the closet more easily:

If the story seems choppy, there may be too many chapters.

Perhaps the continuity of the story has been fragmented by an excess of major divisions: many of those chapter breaks may actually be scene breaks, instead. A reading dedicated to feeling the rhythm of the narrative may reveal that the chapters are too short. Longer chapters of 5,000 to 6,250 words, divided by naturally occurring scene breaks, can accommodate the flow of most major plot episodes, and take only 30 to 40 minutes to read (easily done during typical bus or train commutes, as well as in bedtime winding-down reading sessions).

Dithering about immaterial material postpones progress.

Finalizing decisions about descriptions of character appearance can fall into this category. For example, unless the color of a character’s hair is an important detail for character development (is s/he in the habit of dyeing it odd shades?) or its length is crucial for plot movement (is this a Rapunzel re-telling?), such characteristics can often be omitted. If necessary, there are many ways to describe hair other than its hue and length: is it curly, greasy, fluffy, plaited, tangled, carefully coiffed but infested with nits, or (as in the case of the main male character in Irish Firebrands) balding?

The same can go for a character’s name. If your story is written in the first person singular, the narrator need not be named, in order for readers to sympathize and empathize with that character. For example, in Rebecca (a Daphne Du Maurier masterpiece), the protagonist-narrator is unnamed throughout, but readers still find her story riveting.

Just be sure that such details are things we really need to know. Otherwise, use your carefully hoarded word count to describe the setting or other sensory experiences.

Trying too hard to vary the vocabulary just wears out your patience and worries the cover off your thesaurus.

There may be a good reason for an author to keep using the same words over and over again. Pay close attention to those words in their context: they may indicate meaningful foreshadowing, repetition, symbolism or parallelisms. These things can arise spontaneously when writing is inspired, and may need only a little gentle polishing to make them shine.

It seems that nothing can be done about awkward passages.

The story may resemble a shipwreck in places, but that could be because of what’s going on inside the characters’ heads (or even because of where the characters live), as the main female character in Irish Firebrands experienced, in this excerpt:

Now Lana gazed gloomily up at the canopy of the four-poster bed. Life itself hardly seemed worth the effort of getting up and living it.

She listened lethargically as the wind picked up speed while it rushed through the orchard– Not another storm! Nature had already served up so much soft weather all summer– ‘Soft’, my foot! Squishy – sodden – seeping – sorry excuse for weather! Ireland was a leaky old tub adrift in the North Atlantic, shipping water faster than Lana could bail it out.

Be careful when editing parts that may not seem to hang together: they may not all be defective. Some may be just fine, although written strangely, because they reflect the state of mind or represent the perceptions of a character. Others may be perfectly good writing, but are misplaced pieces of the puzzle: once they’re relocated to their proper positions in the narrative, they segue seamlessly with what goes before and after them.

What about discouraging news from test readers?

You can’t please everybody, even with the flawless manuscript of a perfectly told tale. Good test readers ought to be able to transcend personal genre preferences and provide decent feedback; not only that they liked or didn’t like a story, but also why. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to do this (see my post on Adler & Van Doren’s How to Read a Book).

Some people just don’t make good test readers. They may be poor readers, or indifferent to reading, or their only experience with writing may be the uninspiring essay topics they were assigned to produce during their early school years, so they don’t comprehend what creative writing is, or what it can do for both writers and readers. They may be envious or resentful of your talent and persistence, or, misunderstanding where writing comes from, they may fear they will find themselves caricatured or ridiculed on the page, believing you couldn’t make it up.”

Choose your Alpha Reader and Beta Readers carefully. They need not be college-educated, but they must love books, and the more eclectic their reading choices, the better. Let them know what you need to learn about their emotional and intellectual reactions to your writing. Particularly valuable is the test reader who may be willing and able to proofread, or give technical advice – especially regarding research and other points of plausibility – which could save your skin, later.

Nobody enjoys receiving criticism – even the carefully delivered “constructive” variety – nevertheless, writing is an Art, and the purpose of art is to communicate. This story wrote itself through you, and that means it has some important purpose: enlightenment, encouragement, entertainment. You owe it to the inhabitants of the Parallel Universe (if not to yourself) to share it with the world.

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