Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Editing is Like Sculpting a Masterpiece

Editing: Finding beauty in chaos. sxc.hu/andyvu
Editing is an art every bit as much as writing is. It takes a careful hand to shape a book to be its best self while maintaining the author's voice and staying true to her original vision.

When I edit, which I do almost as much as I write--some days more--I try to address the story on several levels.

  1. The story level. Does everything make sense? Is the structure compelling, leading the reader from one scene to the next without confusion? Does it meet the requirements for the genre? Are the characters consistent?
  2. Story detail level. Here's where I look at things like description consistency--eye color, clothes, hair color, spelling of names--things authors sometimes change by accident as they're writing.
  3. Grammar and clarity. This can be tricky, as this part of the process drills down to the author's choices word-by-word. Sometimes markup here is easy--if a sentence is grammatically incorrect, or the author uses the wrong word, changes need to be made. If a sentence throws me off as a reader, so that I don't understand what the author is trying to say, then that too should be addressed. However, if a sentence structure, word choice, or grammatical construction is integral to the author's voice, then changes should be carefully considered. Sometimes there's a find line between a stylistic choice and an easily understandable sentence, though, and it's important to keep the author on the right side of that line, for the sake of the reader.

In many ways, this process is like carving a sculpture. Anything that gets in the way of the story itself is removed or modified. Large issues come first, then lower level issues are carefully chipped and carved away.

Unfortunately, this can't always be accomplished in one editing pass. Sometimes it takes one pass for the larger issues and other passes for the fine-tuning. Then the editing really becomes like sculpting--taking away the larger bits first, then working down to the details. When this takes severla passes, it can be frustrating for the author, but the best editors always ahve the best interests of hte story at heart, even when it feels like they're being overly picky or obsessing over every detail. In the end, if you and your editor work well together, your story will be the better for the hard work.

Next time: Why Being Edited is Like Getting Your Eyebrows Waxed.