Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Edit

I've been doing a lot of editing lately, on the first (now second) draft of Thunderstruck and on some non-fiction articles and picture books, as well.

First, start at the macro level. Why put your effort into line edits when you have to turn around and cut the whole scene because it doesn't work, after all? Wasted time and effort (if good practice).

I'll post more about the macro approach to revisions when we get to R, but for today, here are some things to consider when editing your work.

Show, don't tell Hopefully everyone knows this by now, but it can be easy to tell without realizing you're doing so. Did you tell the reader a character is angry, sad, puzzled, happy, irritated? If so, you're explaining too much. Their words and actions should get their emotions across.

Use beats in place of speaker attributions I've been reading Roald Dahl's The BFG to my son lately, and each and every line of dialogue has a speaker attribution (Sophie said, the BFG said). I find it distracting and usually end up not reading them aloud. My son doesn't ask "who's talking?" He can tell from the words and the exchange who it is.

Read your dialogue. Can you tell who's talking without the attribution? If you have more than two people, maybe not. But if you have only two people, and if those two people have distinct voices, it will be easy for the reader to follow along without the distraction of attributions.

Instead of attributions, use beats. Do the characters DO anything during the conversation? Not scratching their heads (unless they have lice) or looking around, but movements that provide some punch and a bit of insight into their emotional state. You don't want to overuse beats, since they can detract from the tension of a scene, but beats are a useful component of dialogue.

Read aloud I always read aloud when I'm editing. Why? Because sometimes sentences that seemed okay on the page sound terrible when read aloud. The rhythm of the sentence is off, the word choices poor. In my case, the sentences may be out of order, and reading aloud helps me figure out how they would flow better.

And if you want your work published, you may be asked to read it some day. You don't want to get tongue-tied reading your own work.

Check for white space  Flip through the manuscript. Is there a lot of white space, or do you have page after page of description? White space indicates action; a story that will move along quickly, and will therefore be of greater interest to readers.

If you're looking for a good resource to help with editing, I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. They include lots of great examples and exercises to help you put their advice into practice.

How do you approach editing?


  1. Good tips. I agree there's no point choosing teh perfect wallpaper when you might end up knocking down the whole wall.

  2. Mood: Love the way you put it!

    Ellie: You're welcome!

  3. Sigh... my editing/revisions are hanging over me like a dark cloud.

    Never did them before, so I'm more than a little worried. Thanks for the great tips.


  4. Good tips to know... thanks for sharing! -Tori

  5. Editing is my least favorite thing to do, but it's the most important. Thanks for a great post!

  6. Editing is my challenge in writing, but it has to be done. Nice tips here, thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for a helpful post. I also like the book The Artful Edit by Susan Bell.
    Jan Morrison - come on by for a conversation on elegance!

  8. Great post! And I TOTALLY agree with what you're saying about attribution. I use 'beats' and action words almost exclusively. Why? Because I've seen that the most successful writers tend to, and it also reads better.

  9. Thanks for the great editing tips! I think reading aloud is especially important when you write for young 'uns.

  10. Finished an edit for an author at 1AM today. Ouch! A science writer who pens the marvelous Silver Rush mysteries - Ann Parker. You might enjoy her books.

    Blog Book Tours Blog

  11. I'm going to have to pick up that self-editing book. How much of it do you think applies to PB writing, if any?

  12. Excellent job. Some great points about editing. I have an odd habit of going back to the first chapters over and over again in an attempt to edit them to be PERFECT! I often have much of the first part of the book edited early on just because I need to feel the power. My post today is on editing also. I will be back.

  13. I'm a big fan of white space! Also reading aloud. It comes in handy with my plays and scripts. When the actors are doing a reading for me, I can tell right away if it's awkward.

  14. Great timing! I'm doing edits right now.

  15. Great tips. I'm working on the revision stage of my WIP. Good luck with the challenge!

  16. I'm right in the middle of a third or so revision. Well okay, nearing the end of it. Then I have a 4th revision to do, with some scene changes/additions. THEN it's beta time. :D Can't wait till I'm at that stage.

  17. Misha: You'll get through them. Sometimes painful, but necessary.

    Tori: You're welcome.

    Melissa: I completely agree.

    Myne: you're welcome.

    Jan: Thanks for the tip on another great book!

    D U: couldn't agree more. :)

    Brooke: It is, but it's also important for other work. I'm always amazed at how much the wording can be improved after I've read something aloud.

    Dani: Thanks for the tip; I'll look into them!

    Julie: I think it does help. Not all of it would be useful, but at least half of the chapters will probably help you edit PBs in some way.

    Jeanne: Thanks. I'm gearing up for a third pass through my WIP, too.

    Luana: I've heard that editors will flip through a ms to see how much white space there is. White space = action.

    Alex: Good luck!

    Lynda: Thanks. Me too. Good thing I work at home, so no one but me has to listen. :)

    Laura: Good luck with revisions!

    Trisha: Good luck!