#011 - To edit or not to edit is the really tricky question.
Yes, this is the really tricky question ... and one that any writer has to resolve with care! If you are lucky enough to have an agent and a publisher, the tedious but necessary function of editing is done for you. If you are a lonely, up in the attic or on the kitchen table E-Book or self-published writer, then you will have none of this expertise at your disposal. However, editing of your final work might be seen as an absolutely ESSENTIAL part of the publishing process and will be the deciding factor as to whether your labor of love is to be a success or failure. Editing is not simply pushing your finished words through a spellchecker, although that is a fairly obvious function to attend to early on in the editing process. So, what are the essentials ... assuming your writing is in the English language?
What Language Are You Writing In? - We are assuming it's English, so now you have to decide whether your book is to be spell-checked in American English or British English. There is a substantial difference as in 'labor' and 'labour' or 'recognize' and 'recognise'. No matter what your feelings on the matter the simple answer to the problem is the enemy of all writers - TIME! If you are happy with American English then fire up the 'Word' spell-checker and off you go. If you wish to stick to the British way of doing things, then be prepared to update your spell-checker to accept the British English spelling and grammar. If you are writing in any other language you will need to double check with a translator program such as 'Babylon' to check for spelling, although you will not find any useful grammar corrections.
What About Grammar? - This is always a problem area as anyone who went to school fifty years ago would simply not recognize what appears to be acceptable written grammar today. For example, fifty years ago it would be an absolute sin to start a sentence with 'and' or 'but'. However, today, as instigated by lazy copy writers and journalist's, starting a sentence with 'and' and often with 'but' appears to be perfectly acceptable.
are the old favorites such as 'have got', 'you and me' instead of 'you and I'
and 'earnt' instead of 'earned', so in effect, the field appears to be wide
open for your own take on putting down the written word. Does it matter much?
Probably not, as long as the reader is not put off by your version of grammar.
How Many Words? - This is also an area of contention. Most would look for around 80,000 words or more in a good novel. Within the psycho of the publisher the all important 'cost' of a printed book will be paramount, especially the first edition. He needs to get your book out there with the lowest production costs and the best selling price. He is in the business of making money and long books cost much more to print than shorter books.
The market for the final product may well have a standard retail value affecting the maximum price your book can be sold for. Publishers are always playing this juggling act and that is why they employ highly paid editors whose job it is to slash as many words as possible out of your novel, without losing the story-line or affecting the style of writing.
This is the point at which most authors with a publisher start to pull their hair out watching their 150,000 word thriller re-appear from the editor's desk in a much slimmer volume of maybe 90,000 words or less. If you asked the author, he would not have lost one single word from his carefully crafted masterpiece, but the editor will sell him the fact that the work is now 'faster paced', contains 'more tension for the reader', and 'cuts out' a load of unnecessary 'descriptive narrative'.
As an E-Book writer, you are blessed with not having to listen to reasons why your book has been nearly cut in half at the whim of the editor's blue pencil. That is because this responsibility is now yours. So, you will have to steel yourself, and with the electronic equivalent of the infamous 'blue pencil', begin to take out 'unnecessary narrative'.
The way to do it is to let two or three people read the manuscript first and then ask them for an honest opinion about how they thought the book actually 'flowed'. Were they so enthralled they could not put it down? If so, you must have it about right. Did they read it in several sessions but thought it was OK? Then you may have a problem with 'pace' and not being able to hold the reader's attention. Investigate, question and re-visit! These are the by-words needed to gain the most from the opinions of others. Don't wast such an opportunity.
The basics of all writing skills need detailed attention such as, spelling, simple grammar and punctuation. If you proofread, do it from a hard copy and we can guarantee you will catch all the really silly mistakes and even some of the less obvious ones. If you have a publisher, a galley proof will be provided for you to check. If you publish in paperback with an on-line service such as Kindle, you have the opportunity to order a proof for a few dollars. Make sure you take up such an opportunity. Not only will you be able to proof read the actual copy as it will be laid out in the published work, you will be able to judge the impact of the cover and the associated 'blurb'.
By making sure your book is proof read and all suitable corrections made, you will sound more praiseworthy to your audience and more invested in your title of 'Author'.
Many Words - This is the key element; simply too
many words! A famous writer somewhere once said something like: write your
story, leave it for a month; go back to it, re-read it, then cut a third of it
out. What's left is what you meant to write in the first place.
Avoid The Thoughts Trap - When your characters are having a long and serious thought, make sure it's actually part of the plot. It's all too easy to fall in to the trap of giving out long and rambling thoughts that are not really part of the story line; for example
"He paused for a long moment, his thoughts drifting off to a different time; a time when he had first driven a car as powerful as this. He recalled feeling the pulsating energy of the twin cam, six cylinder race-tuned power plant surging beneath the long, low streamlined hood of the British Racing Green E Type Jaguar. He pushed the floor mounted gear lever forward and released the handbrake in anticipation of a thrilling ride." (75 Words)
A nice thought, no doubt, but is it necessary to the plot and the story line? Unless the Jaguar has some important part to play in future chapters, why is your character thinking about it? The reality is that unless this beautifully crafted thought has some positive influence on the outcome of the current situation, then it stands the chance of diverting the reader's attention away from the action. If however, the 'musing' described as a 'thought' is important, then it could be edited as follows.
"He paused; his thoughts flashing back to a different time; the pulsating engine restless to break free from beneath the long, low hood of the racing E Type Jaguar. He slammed the floor mounted gear lever forward and released the handbrake in anticipation of another similar thrill" (47 Words)
Now we have changed an item of script from something that may impair the process of 'pace' to something that adds to it and pushes the reader forward, wanting to know if the involved character actually did have some sort of 'thrill'!
Too Many Descriptive Opportunities - The short version is that just about every first manuscript for a novel, produced by new or existing and experienced authors, will contain many words of description that are unnecessary. Good descriptions are really good and too many descriptive elements can be really bad. They slow down the pace, make the action long winded and often encourage the reader to 'put it down'! Describing things is one of the corner-stones of writing. However, there are some 'descriptive ways' that need watching carefully.
The Simile Question - Similes are widely used by writers for their expressive nature, such as:
This one: Curley was flapping like a fish on a line.
Or this one: The very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric.
Or even this one: Slipping through his fingers like mercury.
So, where do they come from? They are everywhere. You can read them in other writer's books. You can hear them on TV. You can find them on posters. You can find them in newspapers and you can hear them in everyday conversation. The way to capture these elusive phrases is to keep a record of them. The easy way to do it, of course, is to carry a piece of paper and a pen around with you and write them down. Other ways of recalling these little gems is to have a miniature tape recorder in your pocket, or in the car, and with most mobile phones, you can simply create an audible note and write down your Similes later.
Make sure you keep a master file of them all. You will be amazed at how quickly the file builds up. The 'Analogy' and the 'Metaphor' need to be treated in the same way. Capture them wherever and whenever you hear or see them and build up your file - your secret weapon to be brought into the line of attack when all seems lost.
In the right place, such creative writing can be an asset to the finished work. The secret is not to have them lurking somewhere in every paragraph and whatever you do, don't repeat any particular one when you have used it early on in a manuscript. Even with twenty chapters between Similes, your reader will remember where he read the first one.
To Bin ... Or Not To Bin ... That is The Question!
Please remember the golden rule of novel writing. NEVER throw any of your work away! No matter how hard you edit ... or let others edit for you, make sure you keep every word you extract or change from your original and very first manuscript. The most sensible way of editing is to start with the original manuscript file in a folder and name it 'Original'. Copy that folder and file and rename it 'First Edit'. Now you can start working on that file and when you have finished your first attempt at editing, shut down the file, saving the file within the 'First Edit' folder. Then save the folder and its file as 'Second Edit'. When you go back to the 'edit' process again, you will use this folder and file. When you finish your next edit session, carry out the same file saving action again so that you build up a selection of files that you can find easily on your system, all at various states of editing.
Why, you ask, should a busy author have to go through such a tedious process and have loads of files hanging around an over-crowded 'D' Drive that may never be needed again? Well, sometimes the blue pencil can become a bit of a tyrant and suddenly, you may find that to achieve the status of a 'novel' for example, you may have to add a few words 'back' in to the manuscript ... and if you've thrown them all away, or simply have such a screwed up filing system that you can't find them, then you have to get your writing head on and start filling in and padding out ... all over again.
A good edit should provide a crisp, exciting reading experience in a novel with pace and action right from the start. Remember, you know exactly what is going to happen on each page, but your reader does not! Your cover 'Blurb' and great graphics may lure the reader toward buying the book, but the edit will keep him turning the pages and looking out for your next one.