Editing. Why It Matters.
I woke up way too early this morning, thinking and thinking and thinking about a recent book talk I gave at a regional library. A reader was fighting his way through Saving the Ghost and was stopped, not by the character’s painful story, but by her lashing out. At one point, she is in a shouting match with her loving and so patient husband who is finally shouting back. The reader wondered at how she could go after her husband.
“No one should have to experience what she did, but there was no cause for her to talk to her husband that way.”
“The nicest guy in the world, right?” Was my response.
What woke me this morning were churning thoughts about what I might have said to my reader. It’s likely that this man is an American Christian, familiar with the Holy Bible and the New Testament. Jesus, on the cross, near death, did what? He cried out. “Why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:37, “And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost.” Maybe I should have talked about that.
The Path to Transformation
Emotional, mental, even physical wounds can cause unimaginable pain. The only way to heal from such pain is through transformation of body, mind, and spirit. That is the story of Ellen McInnis in Saving the Ghost. Transformation occurs by cutting the cord to the old life—old ways of thinking and being and believing. To rise up into new life, an authentic life, requires recognition that the old can be put away. The old ways have no value to a transformed life.
But that would have been a lot, too much, to say to my reader. So instead, I let him have his feelings about the matter. How much of what would it take for the reader to understand that there is no line Ellen McInnis can cross that is out of bounds on her path to healing?
Wolves of Heaven and Hounds of Hell
These are the wolves of heaven and hounds of hell that we unleash when we write. Not every book or story or article is as difficult as Saving the Ghost, but everything we write is an expression of our authenticity covered up with analogy, metaphor, and parable.
“What do you think the author meant when…?” is a common book club question. Readers are provoked by a writer’s words in ways they may not understand. The writer doesn’t always understand. This is why editing matters.
Editing Matters. A Discussion With My Writing Mentor.
The truest story is not discovered in a first draft. Writers can leave breadcrumbs for themselves to follow to lead them into the depths of the story. When it’s time to work that first draft into a second, the story will be transformed as the breadcrumbs are discovered and examined.
One simple character statement like, “That was a big leap of logic!” when examined, can blossom into one or more additional chapters. There was a great deal of material left out between that statement and the opposing character’s response.
My genre writing mentor, Lyda Morehouse, called attention to that situation. I told her, “Oh, that was a note to myself!” I didn’t know that when I wrote it but when I circled back to it, I could see how much more writing could be done, should be done, to build on the “big leap of logic” idea.
There are hidden clues about our stories that we leave for ourselves in the first draft. In the second and third drafts we should find most of them, work them out, and be in good shape to start the refining, writer’s editing, process.
Pulling it All Together
The writer’s editing begins when the word-sifting and clarifying is done. Should this sentence be moved? Does it make more sense to say it this way? Don’t confuse this process, which can result in two or more draft rounds, with a professional editor’s role.
At this stage, it’s good to take time away from the work so you can return to it with fresh eyes and a clear head. When you come back to it, read it aloud to find grammar errors, dropped words, typos, and other issues. If there is nothing screaming for a fix at this point, it’s time to turn over the manuscript to a professional editor.
Editing. Why It Matters.
There are three types of editing that may be needed.
- Developmental—Less experienced writers may want to begin with a developmental edit to expose structural issues. Once the rhythm and flow of the story are refined, it’s time for a content edit.
- Content—This form of editing addresses formatting, style, finds content inconsistencies, and arrangement problems. Sometimes referred to as heavy editing, a good content editor refines, by suggestion, the content of the manuscript.
- Copy—A copy edit focuses on grammar, punctuation, calls out factual errors or questions, and is considered the final polish on a well-edited work.
Why does all that editing matter? If your writing is going to be read by other people, editing makes reading easier.
Consider your writing to be new construction that needs sign-off by inspectors. You want the electrical and HVAC systems installed correctly. You want the plumbing to be where it should be and functioning correctly. Is everything in its proper place and performing as expected? An editor signs off on the build before your project goes on the market.
The Patience of Readers. Final Thoughts.
In our most recent mentoring session, Morehouse told me that sci-fi and fantasy readers are patient. If a writer gives them something to wait for, they will do the waiting, in full expectation of a payoff of course. I found that encouraging, nearly inspiring.
Not many people are digesting words anymore. “Give it to me in a podcast.” That’s what the people want. “Give me a video.” The push is for more material, faster, and at the middle-grade level. I wonder if we are numb to learning.
My dark fantasy work is populated by wolves of heaven and hounds of hell. By the time it’s finished, will there be anyone left with an appetite and the patience for discovery?