Saturday, May 8, 2010

Guest Blog: Marie

I had two really incredibly people who helped me edit TANGO, and I'm afraid to think where my novel would be without them. They spent so much time helping me turn my terrible NaNoWriMo draft into something I was really proud of. Marie was really great about picking out all of my typos and unnecessary repetition (snapping twigs, anyone?), along with inconsistencies and countless other issues. She did professional writing and editing at university, and I can't thank her enough for all the work she's done. I really can't. She's just that fantastic. She was kind enough to write up a post on editing, which I hope you guys find useful!

You can follow Marie at her journal, HERE.



There are two great truths about editing:

1) You have to have a solid grasp of grammar and language, and
2) It's not for everyone.

Just as being a guitarist doesn't make you a drummer, so too does being a writer not make you an editor, though the crossover isn't unheard of.

Editors are, for the most part, perfectionists in every sense of the word. They are thorough, usually well-organised, efficient time managers and have an irrational love for the way changing the place of just one word can create an entirely different effect in a piece of fiction.

Writers and editors require the same sets of skills: knowledge of how sentences/paras/scenes/chapters/entire plots are constructed, understanding of grammar, awareness of fictional tools such as character/setting/point of view/etc, amongst other things. But writers use these skills in different ways than editors do. Writers immerse themselves in the creation; editors must remain removed or run the risk of missing what needs to be changed or fixed. Which is not to say editors shouldn't enjoy the piece they're working on, but it's easier to edit a piece if you're not holding your breath about what's going to happen next. If deadline permits, it's more than okay to read the work for enjoyment first, and then set to work editing it. But if something pops out at you while you're reading for pleasure, make sure you mark it! You might not pick it up next time.

There is no right or wrong way to edit. Every editor works differently, has different methods, it's just a matter of figuring out what works best for you. You should also find that most of your editing method can transfer from paper to screen. Communicating changes is different, and differs depending on where you're editing (Word documents/GoogleDocs/etc); screen editing also requires more frequent breaks to prevent muscle and eye strain. But for the most part, the way you go about the work will remain the same.

When I edit, it generally takes a few paragraphs to immerse myself in the work, to get myself to the point where the real world is background noise and all that really exists are the words and language. Once I reach that stage, I go back to the beginning and begin making changes. Singular words are usually what I notice first, where they appear in the sentence and then if they've been used recently, whether they sound similar to other words being used. As I go, I begin to take note of what I call the author's "Go to" words, those being words that the author uses all the time. The author is usually doing this unconsciously, so I highlight rather than change them, to make the author aware of what they're doing and help them prevent it in the future.

I gradually sink far enough into the role of editing where I can see the sentences as wholes, as well as parts of paragraphs. Once I reach that stage, I begin making changes to the sentences themselves, such as switching clauses and cutting entire groups of words. As I go, I also make notes of facts that have to be checked. You can assume that, if the author is writing about it, they know a fair deal about the subject, but it's possible they don't know everything. If something feels off, or something doesn't ring true, check it yourself or notify the author, just in case. Length is another thing to be aware of as you go. Weaker descriptions require more words than strong ones do, so find the strongest adjective (and avoid adverbs) or verb and use that, rather than a string of qualifying adjectives.

For the most part, editing can be broken down into four levels: light, medium, heavy and structural. Each level focuses on different things and the author will tell you which they want you to complete. In a paying job, heavy editing will earn more than light, because more work is required and more hours put in.

Light editing should include:
- spelling, grammar, punctuation
- incorrect usage (may/can, numbers in figures or words, etc)
- checking consistency (spelling, hyphenation, etc)
- paragraphing

It may include:
- checking sequences in lists, tables, etc
- checking cross references
- recording first references to figures, tables, etc

Medium editing should include:
- light editing
- rewriting sentences for greater coherency
- parallel structure changes
- passive to active voice
- inappropriate figures of speech
- confusing or incorrect statements
For fiction:
- continuity of plot, character, setting, etc
- consistent style of collaborative manuscripts
For non-fiction:
- check chapter previews, summaries or questions reflect chapter content
- key terms used consistently and vocab lists and index meet publishers criteria
- language suits audience

It may include:
- typemarking (headings, etc)

Heavy editing should include:
- light and medium editing
- improve text flow
- reduction of wordiness and cliches
- moving text
- reorganising heading levels
- suggesting additions or deletions

It may include:
- complete rewriting
- reducing word count

Structural editing should include:
- change structure and substance
- change content and organisation
For fiction:
- check characterisation, plot, etc
For non-fiction:
- check content against purpose and audience, chapter organisation, accuracy, etc.

Remember, though, it is possible to over edit. You are not the author of the work, just its editor. As such not only are you supposed to fix spelling errors and make sure the piece flows properly, but you also have to ensure the voice of the author and essence of the story shine through. Think of editing as polishing. Someone gives you a mirror, maybe with fingerprints or grime on it. You take a cloth and clean that mirror until it shines, and then present it back to the owner to do with it what they will.

Remember too that authors aren't going to agree with everything you say and it's their right to. All you can do is suggest and make your point of view clear. There will be difficulties but don't argue. You both have the same goal: to make the story the absolute best it can be.

If there's one thing every editor needs, whether they're working on hard copy or screen, no matter what level they're editing at, it's a style sheet. Style sheets are tables broken up into letter groups and are used to note down how something appears in the work to maintain consistency. You can find an example here and a blank here, though you can easily draw up your own, and change it to suit you.

As with everything, the more you do something, the better you get at it. Start small and don't pressure yourself. Try to enjoy it too. The satisfaction of knowing you've contributed to something like a book or story is immense and completely worth the time and effort.


  1. I found this through randomlaughter's link. It's very helpful! I'm not quite sure I buy the "editor's are for the most part perfectionists" just because I feel like that it generalizes a whole group of people with one trait (i.e. all doctors are smart, all lawyers are liars, etc.) Do you find it best to reread the chapter 3 or 4 times to separate yourself from the work and look at it critically? And what's the best way to improve your editing skills (I'm not an editor at all, I would love to better my skills though).
    Thanks for the amazing post!

  2. This was interesting and informative, not to mention illuminating. And yes, I just used three "I" words in a row :)

    I find that I do approach editing differently than how a true editor would do it, I think. I tend to visualize the story as a whole and then attack the "large-scale" problems, but as you've reminded me, editing is *both* large and small-scale.

    Just shows you that I need my editors. They're currently making me want to hide, so they're doing something right ;)

    Good one, again.

  3. Whoa. This is so intense.

    I don't use a style sheet! Does that make me a non-editor???? What is a style sheet anyway????

    You are magnificent though, chica! Well, both chicas actually.

    And this is so involved. I always do heavy editing, because I know I'd be worthless at anything else, especially cause I get so frustrated doing just light editing (because usually I do it for people where it's just so bad that you can't even look at the page without cringing....or crying).

    Yay for guest blogs!

  4. I've been wanting to know more about editing actually, I've been considering going into editing lately. I wanted to ask Marie about everything, since I heard she's a professional editer(right?). So thank you, Marie! This was really insightful and helpful.

  5. A very informative post on editing! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.