This is topic How do you edit? in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by LAJD (Member # 8070) on :
In R Stegman's 'Did you write' post today, Aspirit mentioned that she used an editing strategy of highlighting every line in a story for action, dialog and exposition.

I think this is a really neat idea. My editing strategies mostly rely on changing the format of the document (e.g sending to my kindle or printing-which I do find very helpful) then reading with much gnashing of teeth and eyerolling while I highlight painfully awkward phrases. Usually about midway through a story I become too horrified to continue and I head back to the computer for a full re-write. As you might imagine, this does not always work well.

So, anyone want to share their more or less successful editing strategies?


Posted by dee_boncci (Member # 2733) on :
Sometimes I do a similar thing, based on Jerry Cleaver's methodology. I highlight where the elements of dramatic conflict and dramatic action show up. If there are big gaps of white space when I'm done, I know where to look to shore things up. This is more of a rewriting/revision exercise than line editing or "polishing".

The hard thing is being objective in doing the exercise, and not reading more into the page than I've actually put there.

Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :
It depends on the revision. The first couple of revisions tend to be general. After letting the story rest, I read it through to see what it needs. Sometimes I find an awkward phrase. Often in the early revisions I find places where I subconsciously used placeholders--I didn't really fill out the scene because I wasn't comfortable with it or because I was more excited about the next one. Those have to be redone. And sometimes I find that I need to add or add to scenes to make something clear.

The latest revision on Book Two was for consistency, because I reorganized some of the plot elements. I needed to make sure I didn't have a character taking part in a conversation who wasn't supposed to be there, etc.

Later revisions, like what I'm doing now on Book One, tend to be targeted. I go through looking for one or two specific things, like adverbs and POV shifts. This time, I've been looking very critically at some of the slower parts of the story to see what I can cut, or else redo to give it more life and importance. My other objective is to look for places where I can go deeper into the character's POV and let you know more of what he's really thinking and feeling.

Between edits, or sometimes when I start an edit, I make notes in the text of things I think I need to add or change. The notes are red. Areas of text I think need to be redone or cut are turned blue. Then I work my way through the text, but paying special attention to those places I've already marked.

Then, of course, there are the chapter by chapter edits whent the critiques come back.

Posted by Denem (Member # 8434) on :
I use highlighting for areas of concern as well. Another things I do is I turn everything to red text and after I've gone over it and edited it, I'll turn it black. Once I have gone through the document completely I'll turn all the text red again and repeat the exercise.
Something else I do, which may seem a little strange (but it works for me) is I'll put page breaks after every paragraph and I'll edit one paragraph at at a time that way. I find it difficult to focus on one section sometimes when the page is full of other stuff. This helps me identify where my paragraphs are too long or short as well as other typical revision targets (grammar, POV shift, etc.). I'll delete the page breaks as I go along while checking the pace.

[This message has been edited by Denem (edited March 31, 2009).]

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Besides mechanical and structural editing, another editing area I focus on when reading for analysis, developmental editing, or writing, is what's been done before and found wanting. The guidelines I've found most instructive on that front are ones that are intended for writing workshops. Applied to my own writing, anymore, I've found they are more useful than workshopping a story, or actually, I now prefer being the workshop critiquer of my own work.

The Turkey City Lexicon and David Smith's "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" are particular to fantastical fiction peccadilloes. I don't agree with several of Smith's points, and find that he's somewhat biased against literary genres.

Another SFWA article by David Smith is also helpful, "A Checklist for Critiquing Science Fiction."

Then there's James Patrick Kelly's essay on the utility of workshopping in general, fantastical fiction less generally.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited March 31, 2009).]

Posted by Merlion-Emrys (Member # 7912) on :
Well I guess it depends on your definitions...I use "editing" and "polishing" interchangeably...

Usually I open up the two or three best crits I've recieved on a piece along with the main manuscript and implement whatever changes are suggested that I agree with and feel will improve the story, fix typos etc etc. Depending on the story and the feedback I may move things around or add or remove a little here and there.

Thats usually how I do it, unless I'm actually doing a total from the begining starting over re-write (like the one I'm working on right now.) In that case I tend to simply keep feedback in mind though I may some times refer back to crits or the previous version.

Posted by Jeff Baerveldt (Member # 8531) on :
I always edit first with a view toward the story itself. Does it make sense? Is it coherent? Have I left out any important scenes? Which scenes do I need to cut? Are the main characters sufficiently developed? Etc.

Once that's done, I turn my eye toward a line-by-line edit. I focus on words, sentences, and paragraphs. What words can be cut? Can a sentence be rearranged to make is clearer -- to make is sound better? Can I make a long paragraph into two shorter ones? Can I make two short paragraphs into a longer one?

A macro edit, then a micro edit -- that's how I do it.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Well, first, I write one draft and then write it out again---I think this forces me to consider each and every word and sentence and detail as I go along.

Then I take advantage of what I can do with a computer and go through looking for certain verbs and adverbs. "Ly" adverbs get rewritten to remove them. (Lately, all of them.) I try to make the verbs as immediate as I can by going through and getting rid of "was doing" and "had done" and such. (I leave some in place.)

Meanwhile I'm considering all the sentences and I rewrite them as I encounter them.

Posted by Starweaver (Member # 8490) on :
I tend to work in three passes, although in a shorter piece I may consolidate some of them.

In the first pass, I'm looking for gross structural issues: does each scene carry its weight? Do I need to chop out a section, or add a section? Is the opening engaging? Does the character arc make sense? At this stage, I might move things around, combine scenes, delete scenes, or even write a whole new scene.

In the second pass, I'm focusing on paragraphs, rather than scenes. For me, this is usually about adjusting the amount of description used. (I often neglect description when I write the first draft, or else put too much in the wrong places.) I also work on ensuring that the paragraphs hit the right emotional or dramatic note.

The third pass is the line-by-line work on word choice, sentence structure, fixing typos, etc.


Posted by Natej11 (Member # 8547) on :
Well first off my style of writing is to go as if it's the first and final draft. I have an okay head for details so even if the plot is being formulated as I write it tends to work good overall.

Then I edit, and find whole pages that don't fit in anymore with the stuff I added later. Usually at that point I swear and get off the computer for a few hours, simmering the entire time about how much effort it's going to take to fix it so it works. Then I soldier through the revision, pat myself on the back, flip to a passage I particularly like and end the day feeling like a winner.

Or I do nothing for a few days, dreading the prospect of slogging through pages and pages at a snail's pace, then put an earmark in and skip ahead hoping it will all go away.

I like the idea of using highlighters to mark different things like action, description, dialogue, etc, and seeing how they balance.


Posted by BenM (Member # 8329) on :
Looks like most of us are multi-pass editors.

Being a rank amateur I have the leisure of no writing deadlines, so can finish a story and then ignore it for a while before editing. By the time I'm ready to edit, I've partly forgotten the effort it took to write in the first place, and I can be a lot more honest about what I think of it: editing it is more like critiquing another author's story.

Posted by TaleSpinner (Member # 5638) on :
One technique I use is what I call "voice edits."

When the story is reasonably firm I edit for MC's voice, putting myself into the character's mind and heart, reading only her dialogue and ignoring all else, thinking, "Would she say that? Is that how she would say it?"

Then the same, in a separate pass, for the next character, until all the characters have their authentic voices, as near as I can get them; then finally the narrator.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Of course my editing---and the technology with which I edit---has evolved over time. I started writing on a typewriter, and wrote one draft, then retyped it as final copy, only going over it again if I thought I'd made an awful mistake. (As opposed to writing what I wrote in the first place.)

(In those days, and essentially now, I learned to write in my head and then write it down. The words would vary as I put them down, but the essentials were there from the beginning.)

For a period of, oh, about two years, I wrote one draft only...then I reverted to rough-draft-final-copy.

Then in the early nineties I got a one-lung word processor, and in the late nineties finally got a computer. Gradually my editing shifted to the more labor-intense form I mention above.

Posted by LAJD (Member # 8070) on :
What great comments. It does look like most of us are multi-pass editors. Until recently, my multiple passes were a bit random. I was a bit glib in my opening comments but actually not too far off what I had been doing.

Now I am starting to look at structure in one pass, let it sit an then look at details.

I do like the idea of color coding action, dialog and expostion. I tried that on a story that I knew there was something wrong with and it helped me make sense of what was wrong.

Thanks for all the links, I will check them out.


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