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More Adventures in Editing

December 2, 2010

Now that it’s December a lot of people have either finished their stupid NanoWriMo crap or have made some progress on it.  So an entry on editing seemed like a good idea.  Plus I’m working on some editing right now, so it’s fresh in my mind.

(Of course if you slopped your way through NanoWriMo, probably the best idea would be a complete rewrite, but let’s not worry about that for the purposes of this entry.)

Basically when you’re editing there are in my mind two main types of editing.

First are the technical edits.  These are the basic things like typos, comma splices, and all that other stuff that’s only fun for a few sick people.  That’s the pretty obvious stuff that MS Word or some grammar junkie can point out to you.

The second kind of edits are the subjective ones.  These involve the overall content.  That’s mostly what I’ve been doing for the last 10 days or so since I finished my last story. This entails the plot holes like a guy being named Bob at one point at Steve at another or at one point you say Bob is 27 and the next you say he’s 32.  That happens to me a few times because my memory sucks.

Or maybe you just decide after giving it a read through that you really don’t like how a scene plays out.  Like with this story (skip to the end of Chapter 26) I was just this morning working on rewriting a scene where one of our heroes dies because I didn’t like how it worked the first time.  It seemed too forced and as my note says, if it was so easy for them to escape, why didn’t they already?  Duh.  Actually the last 5 chapters of that story have a number of things that really need rewritten because I don’t like how they played out.

Of course when you’re doing 8 stories in a series like I am, there’s the added thing I call retroactive continuity.  It’s like when I decide in Volume 8 to change something, which in turn affects something in Volume 3.  In this case too it was the prequel story I wrote about the witch coven that had to be incorporated into previous stories.  That can be a real pain in the butt, though you have to wonder if JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer or any of them ever wish they could go back and change some things.

In editing a lot of people talk about “killing your darlings” as in the parts of the story you really like.  Of more concern really is to kill the things your bothers.  You know, when you go back and there’s just a line or scene or something that just kind of bugs you or strikes as being a bit off.  Chances are if you think that, so will any reader.  Like the following exchange from this story:

“Yeah, well, you don’t look it.”  To her surprise, the girl dropped to her knees and began to sob.  Renee reached out and put a hand on the girl’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean—”
“No, you’re right,” the girl said.  “I’m still just a little girl. I miss Mommy so much.  Why did she have to go away?”
There, I highlighted in bold the part I didn’t like.  For some reason that line just smacked me later of being forced.  I could have left it in because there’s not anything really wrong with it, but since it bugged me, I took it out.  Because really anyone reading this is not at the level where they can hide anything.  Once you’ve sold a few books then you have carte blanche to do whatever you want and not have anyone call you on it.
What you probably should do though before you start editing anything is to wait a couple of months.  That usually helps give you a little mental distance, at least for a day or so.  There are critique groups and stuff, but that’s probably something that could be discussed better in another entry.  The short version of that would be to take everything people tell you with a grain of salt.
Finally as an annoying traffic reporter used to say, take the patience with you when you decide to edit.  Personally I think editing is about the most boring part of the writing process.  It’s a lot more fun to write stuff and then brag about how many words you typed than to go back and read through all those words looking for typos and stuff.
And a bonus tip is that I find loading my stories into blogs is helpful to the editing process.  That way if I’m at work or at Panera Bread or at home I can still easily read the story and comment, so long as I have Internet access.  No having to worry about having the latest version of the file with me and so forth.  Then I just make comments on what I’ve read and go back through them later.  (Maybe this whole Microsoft “Cloud” dealie could help with that by letting you access your file anywhere, but I don’t have Windows Vista let alone Windows 7, so screw it.)  And if you’re one of those dorks who says, “But if I put it on a blog it’s considered published” then just set it to private.  I know you can do that on Blogger; haven’t checked here on WordPress.
Now you know.  And knowing’s half the battle…
That is all.
(PS I’m not editing this entry so it could have all sorts of typos.  Enjoy the irony.)

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  1. Lisa Potts permalink

    Ugh, NaNo. I might be able to keep a paragraph out of all the crap I wrote, but I’m glad I tried it anyway. I’m one of the weird people who enjoys technical editing, and I love the fact you didn’t edit the post!

  2. Yeah the lack of editing was obvious in the last part of the post. Not sure why it stopped putting spaces between the paragraphs.

  3. Ethan Cooper permalink

    An interesting commentary.

    But what about another problem? Let’s say a writer has a character that hasn’t come to life or a situation that’s flabby or not interesting. And, in order to fix these problems, the writer adds details that necessitate more explanatory details that require more details until the writer has created a lifeless mass of interlocked description. Can this be edited, I wonder? Or does this need to supply endless detail really reflect a boring underlying story or a subject beyond the writer’s reach.

    Anyway, gotta go back and add some details to my current opus but I’m interested in your opinion.

    Turgidly yours,


    • At that point you might need to consider deleting it or replacing it entirely instead of trying to patch it.

      • Ethan Cooper permalink

        Alas, I lack the strength to do so.

        Have you ever tried the William Burroughs thing? Throwing the manuscript into the air and then reassembling the pages in a capricious manner. Do you think that would work?

        Bloatfully yours,


  4. You might be on to something there. I’d try it with mine, but throwing my netbook into the air would be dangerous–and costly.

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