Notes on Editing

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These are draft notes from the DucKon 19 Editing Workshop led by Tom Lee, 18-20 June 2010

Copy editing

There are two types of people in the copy editing world:

  • Descriptivists - accept whatever people say or write; just capture what they do. No attempt to say what is right or wrong.
  • Prescriptivists - no--these are the rules. They are the ones who write the style manuals.

W. F. Buckley said that language is for communication -- getting the ideas across. If what you write is going to interfere with that, then you need to rewrite it.

Turning off the internal editor

Each person has their own ideal writing process. The trick is discovering what it is.

Substantive editing

  • Reading out loud to see what they come up with (or to see how it sounds).
  • Multi-pass: get rid of the copy-editing errors.
  • Write a synopsis--distill your story to what is happening. See if the story makes sense.
    • one way to distill out the analysis of your story
    • Are your conflicts as strong as they can be?
    • Is the conflict occurring when you want it to?
  • Pacing: jot down the feel you get from each chapter (e.g., graph out the level of tension chapter by chapter).
    • The biggest thing they hit on in commercial short fiction: really, really important. Have to hook people by the first paragraph
  • Story arc: what is the overarching arc of the story. Does everything support that arc?
  • Character arc and character consistency/growth through the novel. Problem to find: characters who are out of character.
    • Is every characterization section advancing/supporting the plot -- avoid overcharacterization (will slow down pacing)

Online editing communities

Write by scene

  • Some people write by scenes
  • Really short chapters (Agatha Christy did this)

Writing mysteries

  • Leave something unsaid/undiscovered in every scene
  • Use an outline to draw out the rough shape of your story arc

Getting distance from your work

  • There is a tendency to look at your own work as the idea that you have in your head (not what is on the page).
  • Time is a good way to put distance between what you've written and what you are critiquing.
  • "No new babies have warts." Rest your baby in the drawer until you can see the warts.
    • Don't wait until it is decomposing!

chapter level scale

  • Flow of ideas or action

Next year: Editing a novel

  • Show an example of the process of editing a novel, the decisions that were made and why
  • Have people bring:
    • First three chapter
    • Outline/synopsis
  • Each author can focus on editing their own work (without taking the class time to have people critique their work because the workshop is too short to critique anything but the shortest snippets) and then share with the class their editing process and decisions at a high level
  • What about aspiring authors without any work to edit?
    • Maybe they wouldn't be signing up for an editing workshop
    • Maybe there could be a separate one hour overview of how to edit (copy editing)
  • "You can't edit your own work" -- you have blind spots
  • (however) You still need to edit your novel before you hand it off to critiquers


Some editing references