Friday, October 19, 2012

Week 43 - Editing

21 Oct - 27 Oct:

You might not write well every day,
but you can always edit a bad page.
You can't edit a blank page. Jodi Picoult.

Julie Luek is editing, rewriting, reviewing, updating... whatever you want to call it. She asked for advice on how to go about it; I understand this, as I have also sat down with my completed draft and muttered, 'Now what?'.

I can't offer much from experience (obviously), but I like to steal the ideas of those who do have experience.

The technical stuff is down below and includes both general and specific advice. But first, I found an interesting psychological tip about editing in Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow.

Elbow says: "learning to throw away more ruthlessly comes from learning to generate more prolificly." In other words, if we're scared we can't produce more and better, we will have a problem getting rid of weak work. Elbow's solution is to write like the clappers. 'Start writing and keep writing.' For those who think blog, journal, letter, review, and prompt writing threatens real writing, think again. The more confidence we have to produce, the more ferociously we can edit, and the better our writing becomes. Or so Elbow seems to think, and for what it's worth, I agree.

Have a look at Writer's Digest revision tips for more ideas about how to get the mind keen on editing.

Okay, now on to the stuffy technicalities. If you've read these a million times, reading them again can't hurt (or save your soul and skip it). If there's something new to learn - great.

50 Essential Tools for Every Writer by Peter Roy Clark, suggests:
  • Cut big, then small, that is, prune the big limbs, (blocks of text), then shake out the dead leaves (individual words);
  • Cut out blocks of text, whole scenes if necessary, regardless of how pretty they are, that do not support the focus. Convince yourself that they can be used in a different story if you need to;
  • Cut out weakest quotations, anecdotes and scenes to give power to the strongest (this is perhaps more relevant to non-fiction);
  • Cut anything written for a critic rather than a reader;
  • Assess each word and sentence for usefulness, and then treat them appropriately;
  • Never invite others to cut for you.
Okay, so my story's probably half of what it was. Here's more from Clark:
  • Cut adverbs that intensify rather then modify (just, certainly, entirely, extremely, completely, exactly);
  • Cut prepositional phrases that repeat the obvious; e.g., in the story, in the movie, in the city;
  • Cut phrases that grow on verbs; e.g.,  seems to, tends to, should have to, tries to.
  • Cut abstract nouns that hide active verbs; consideration becomes considers, judgement becomes judges, observation becomes observes;
  • Cut restatements, e.g., a sultry, humid afternoon, and tautologies, e.g., final outcome, rise up.
My Delete key is starting to look a bit shabby. 

Bruce Caplan has a whole book of these in Editing Made Easy. These are some of his thoughts from a life of professional editing, newspapers mainly, so read with caution:
  • Write and edit to express, not to impress;
  • Beware the split infinitive;
  • Clutter slows pace. Try to avoid of the such as in, the cover of the book (the book cover), the captain of the team (the team captain);
  • Avoid overusing others and both. See if the sentence makes sense without it. e.g., A car crash killed two people and injured four others;
  • Try dropping that;
  • Avoid there were, there are, there is;
  • Know the difference between which and that;
  • Use short and simple over long and complex;
  • Be clear when using pronouns. e.g., He told Bill he thought he was going to the shop. Repeat nouns, reset the sentence or punctuate;
  • Be consistent with style;
  • Watch out for see (or saw), such as, January will see the start of work on the road;
  • Do not use contractions except in dialogue.

After considering these pointers (and a billion others - The Elements of Style is a favourite source), I am expecting my 80,000 words to whittle to 30,000. So that's what they mean by rewriting.

But I'm not scared. I can generate endless material, and it will be better.

Won't it?

Exercise 85. Microexamine a scene or a short story. Look specifically for adverbs and adjectives that could be replaced with more effective verbs and nouns. Look for other extraneous words such as those mentioned above. Look for passive voice and change it to active (unless passive serves a role).

Exercise 86. "Write a short story on any topic in 500 words. Then write the same story in 50 words – this is called a mini-saga." (From Joan Rosier-Jones, So You Want to Write).


  1. Hi Egg-- thanks for the nod AND the advice. Good tips-- no, great tips. I'm going to bookmark this post. I had to quit looking at the whole of revision and just go chapter by chapter. Right now the goal is to up the intensity a bit, correct massive POV mistakes, and get the chapters in the order/arrangement that works. The next read through will be for some of the finer details you mention including cutting, cleaning and adding. When I get the approximation of what I want, then I'd like to reread and really examine the craft and quality of my writing. Whatta process. Do you have a game plan? If so, how are you tackling it?

    1. I didn't know it, but yes, I do have a game plan - it sounds similar to yours. It's in two parts: A - the story; B - the writing.

      A. The Story:
      1. MS Time Out for at least 3wks (I didn't read it during my vacation, will use NaNoWriMo, and prob xmas to do it again).

      2. Read quickly from start to finish. I tweak (sp., grammar, scene cut n paste) if it's quick and easy. I jot down the bigger stuff.

      3. Fill in obvious gaps. I have major plot holes to plug (am being lazy). POV is an interesting one - I'll comment separately on this.

      4. Correct smaller stuff I noted in 2. Facts, names, description consistencies, lots of Google searches. Story details (I do bits during the tweaking stage if it's quick).

      5. MS Time Out.
      I'm repeating this process until the story makes sense, scenes flow, facts are straight, and things are consistent.

      and then...

      B. The Writing
      I don't have to worry about the story, so I can start making things better, reading line by line, word by word.

      The first sentence, the first chapter - does it pop?

      Vocabulary (have the thesaurus ready); 2-3-1 sentence structure; original imagery (artistic coma); repeated words or phrases; the points raised in the post.

      I want to transform it from okay to very good, or do I dare dream, excellent.

      So that's my plan.

    2. POV is more challenging than I expected it would be. It's so easy in shorts, after all.

      Brande's advice is constantly in my head: make the decision about whose POV it is, jump into his or her skin, and stick with it.

      P.D. James handles POV the way I would like to do it. I plan to study her style a bit more in case something rubs off. (I have no fear of my style bending towards her. It would be nice if it did though.)

  2. great tips! i like reading things that definitely are useful ;)~

    1. I'm glad you found something of use.

  3. Goodness, Egg, these were great picks to share with us, and I admit, I've been guilty of all of them...still am, but some were at least already learned and incorporated into the writing process.

    I like Exercise 86...will try to do that with one of my prompt shorts.

    These have been excellent articles and exercises, btw. I liked and agreed wholeheartedly with the paragraph about Elbow's advice. I need to do that! Yes, it's that week two issue! Inner critic.

    1. That darn inner critic. What a pest. And yes, I am guilty too... but getting better.

      I'm glad you're having fun with the exercises. The prompt stories are perfect for ex.86. I'd like to read what you come up if you want to share.

  4. Thanks Egg,

    I have been thinking a lot about POV lately. I finally decided to focus on third person limited for every scene. I will separate the scenes by using a simple

    … (much larger font)

    Then start with a different character while holding a strict third person limited POV. I guess the biggest problem is that the reader will at times have more information than the character and I will have to ensure that I stay honest to the story and the POV. Additionally, I am keeping a tight time line/location for each character. This will help the reader move between scenes with relative ease.

    I would love to get some feedback from you guys on this technique, both good and bad.

    1. Using a simple what? Oh, the suspense.

      It sounds like you're beavering away on your masterpiece. Your POV approach sounds good to me (I'm doing much the same), and I agree, balancing the information release to the reader is a real challenge.

    2. Ooo...third person limited. Difficult. I was reading that, for new writers, third person omniscient is probably the best, although the narrator has to have a sense of credibility. In other words, he can't be a wino who sees all that goes on around him and tells about it. Well...he CAN be, but then it taints his narration as coming from someone who might have it confused.

      TP limited. I don't envy the task ahead of you, Rob.

      Egg, I will pick out one of my prompts and cut it down to bring here. Don't know when...suddenly getting incredibly busy!

    3. Interesting. You could argue that third person limited is just like first person - the beginner's safety net - without the I, couldn't you?

      Sounds like you'll be flat out in Nov, Mike. You're WriMo'ing, right? Me too. Can't wait.

    4. The third person limited is a step above first person and below third omniscient, but I guess it's really a personal preference. I like omniscient and feel confined with limited. Ha! I guess I feel limited with limited! LOL! For me, limited is difficult, but omniscient is not.

      GREAT that you're doing NaNoSecondsToWrite! I don't know how to add buddies, but the link to my participant page is:

      It is getting rather busy in preparation. I think I'll only be able to blog once a week...keep it to the Sunday Inspirations...I'm sure I'll need that the most!

  5. To answer the question of what is simple.

    Just as it read except it didn’t transfer vie the comment.

    The simple … to indicate a new scene

    A key to understanding me is to look for the simplest answer first. I am not smart enough to trick anyone. Ha Ha.

    I don’t know if third person limited is east or hard. What I do know is that I understand it and I feel like I can work with it. I tried to use the third person omniscient and my problem was that I really don’t know who to use it.

    In my first attempt, which held many issues beyond the POV problem. But in regards to POV it was correctly pointed out that the POV kept switching around from a dog the main character to…I thought that I was using the omniscient but all I really accomplished was to confuse the reader. I understand their person limited and I can work with the fact that the character won’t know anything that what they already know or can sense. I feel more comfortable with this and hopefully I will be able to focus more on the story and less on keeping the POV honest.

    Love the blog and thanks for the comments

    1. Ha ha. I get ya now. When I looked at transitions, I started to notice just how many authors use the ... technique.

      From what I've read of your story, I think Eddie is, or could be, such a powerful character, and the limited POV will serve him well. This is a brash first impression, of course. (As much as I love dogs, dropping the canine POV was a good move, I think. Eddie commands the spotlight in my opinion.)

      Thanks for the discussion. It's interesting to see how others are handling things.

    2. I noticed the ... transition as well. It seems so simple, effective and used very often. If published authors use that technique, who am I to create a new and improved mousetrap?

      Thank you for getting Eddie. He is going to be a wonderful character, full of possibilities. His grief will provide a fantastic canvass to develop his character. Highly competent in some areas, he will find himself over his head in others. His learning curve will be steep and will be littered by missteps. Poor Eddie, he is going to have a tough life.

      My goal is simple. Find a simple, effective way to tell the story. A simple POV, simple transitions between POV, clear time/date transitions and tell a good, solid basic story about the struggle between good and evil.

      If I do those things, I know I may not be received as the next Hemmingway or Faulkner. To be honest, that isn’t my goal. My goal is to tell a great story, make some people feel good when they put the book down, and maybe be an agent for good in the world.

      I can’t wait to get a sneak peak at what you, Mark, and Julie are cooking up.