Friday, January 1, 2010
There's Editing & There's Editing...What's Your Process? By Robert W. Walker
I won’t catch every misplaced modifier or weak metaphor or missing comma or apostrophe, but I know for a fact that I am too close to the trees to see the forest, or too close to the forest to see the trees, or both since like a client in a courtroom who represents himself, I have a fool for an editor. I know it needs a judicious second and even third eye; in fact, better than most, I know I need all the help I can get. To this end, I have cultivated close friends whose advice and editing eye are spot on—folks I can rely on. Such friends can drive you insane as they are so detail conscious, but they are, as I said, spot on.
I have seen errors in my finished books, however, and this after I have written and rewritten the story to exhaustion, and it has been vetted by my readers, and it has had a thorough going over by my editor and a copy editor as well, and guess what – still typos and words like Lamb for Lame filter in or are crammed in by the ink gremlins (creatures that abound in magazines, playbills, brochures, how-to’s, and novels). Still we try and try and try.
No novel in the history of novels has been rewritten more than my Children of Salem and yet my hero, Wakely gets spelled as Wakley at least once, and tomb should have been tome in the first chapter. So it goes, but we must strive to make the version that goes to an editor’s desk as clean and error-free as we can possibly make it, as this is a major part of the job at hand.
TEN items I edit for as I write (in fact both sides of the brain can work in tandem with experience)
1 - Edit for LY words and other modifiers, adjectives, adverbs to hug the word they ‘modify’.
2 - Edit to catch pronouns that are ‘fuzzy’ or confusing for whatever reason and in need of being replaced by naming the person, place, or thing the pronoun is standing in for. Constantly ask who are they…what is it…who is he/she.
3 – Edit out as many prepositions and prepositional phrases as possible as in switch: ‘stood up from the chair’ with ‘stood’ – and such phrases as ‘out of the back of the car’ with ‘from the car’ and excise so many sentences that unnecessarily end with ‘to me’. Anytime you can replace two or three prepositional or directional words with a single word that is a WIN.
4 – Omit as many of the word VERY as you can find along with many another qualifier in the narrative; look up the part of speech that is called a qualifier and avoid them like the plague; they are related to adjectives, adverbs, and modifiers and are often meant to emphasize but instead they manage to de-emphasize the otherwise strong subject and strong verb they qualify or modify.
5 – Put in as many ‘absolutes’ as you can, often replacing the qualifier with an absolute word or phrase. Instead of VERY replace it with an absolute as in: ‘The swiftly flowing wind roared very loudly’ with ‘A swift bearlike roaring wind peeled its anguish’.
6 – Edit out trivial matter in both narrative and dialogue. Trivial matter is such material as is metaphorically spinning wheels and not moving the story along. That is description that serves no purpose or has no connection to your character(s), and/or dialogue that fails to illuminate character or push the story along.
7 – Make sure that all description of people, places, and things are filtered through the five senses of the characters.
8 – Make sure that all description of people, places, and things come about as thought and speech while your characters are involved in some action or actions. Avoid whole paragraphs of simple passive description or thought or inner monologue.
9 – Edit for whole paragraphs and scenes that fall into telling only and no showing; rewrite these by dialoguing the same information, spreading out these “telling” lines to various characters who may speak them aloud inside quotation marks. In other words: Dialogue dull scenes into walking, talking, doing scenes that involve the five senses of your characters rather than the speechifying of your narrator.
10 – Make certain each character has his/her own speech patterns, mindset, psychology, props, ticks, and anything that sets each apart. The worst thing your novel can do is have every character working in similar tone and attitude. No two can walk or talk alike unless you’re doing twins.
It’s not by any means an exhaustive list but these are major items and issues editors will be dealing with when autopsying your book, and the worst sin of all is the sin of being unclear. All of these steps help me in self-editing even before they are dealt with by your first readers, critique group, agent…editor. I hope the list is helpful; I use it all the time with my own work and when I am acting as an editor for others when wearing my freelance editor’s cap. Bringing this back around full circle, if you are first starting out as a writer, you may well prefer and want to get the entire book out of your head before you begin a serious, all encompassing rewrite – unless you find it easy and fulfilling to edit scene by scene as you go. Find what works for you as we all must find our own working methods.
I welcome your comments and we at ACME have made making comments a walk in the park; it’s that easy, so don’t hesitate. Meanwhile, find me on facebook, at Twitter, on Myspace and for details about my editing service visit me at www.robertwalkerbooks.com
Happy New Year of Writing and Reading,
Robert Walker, author of Dead On & Children of Salem, the INSTINCT and RANSOM series
http://www.robertwalkerbooks.com/ and find me on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and Google me!