The Editing Process

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In today’s post, I’ve decided to share a couple of examples of the editing process for Disappearing in Plain Sight. In the first paragraph below, an editor has very kindly and with great tact pointed out some needed changes. Think about whether you would have noticed the need to make the type of changes she suggested.

On her first evening at the A-Frame, Lisa-Marie grabbed a novel from the coffee-table (remove hyphen) and flopped onto the sofa. She began to read, which (faulty pronoun reference: to which word in the main clause does this “which” refer?) wasn’t so bad (perhaps: and she didn’t mind spending her time that way) since she loved to read (repetitious: books?), but she usually got to pick reading over other options. Here there were no other options – no TV, no internet, and no phone. It was like being captive on an episode of Survivor. The dogs were curled in a ball (faulty image: sleeping? lying?) beside the sofa and Lisa-Marie stretched out a foot every now and then to rub each of their bellies in turn. The inside of the cabin was eerily quiet – in fact the whole area around the cabin was dead quiet and dark. Lisa-Marie had never seen it so dark outside anywhere (redundant: omit) in her life (misplaced phrase: never in her life).

Here is how that paragraph now reads in the completed manuscript.

On her first evening at the A-Frame, Lisa-Marie grabbed a novel from the coffee table and flopped onto the sofa. She didn’t mind spending her time with a good book but she usually got to pick reading over other options. Here there were no other options – no TV, no internet and no phone. It was like being captive on an episode of Survivor. The dogs were lounging comfortably beside the sofa and Lisa-Marie stretched out a foot every now and then to rub each of their bellies in turn. The inside of the cabin was eerily quiet – in fact the whole area around the cabin was dead quiet and dark. Never in her life had Lisa-Marie seen it so dark outside.

Editing is hard work, as anyone who has done some knows.  I really struggled with the final line, but in the end I made the suggested change. In some ways I still think – Lisa-Marie had never seen it so dark outside anywhere in her life – sounds better.

The above example paragraph didn’t appear in earlier drafts. The next one did. Here is how this paragraph read in the March 2012 draft:

Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head and tumbled down over one bare shoulder. A number of small, white roses wove through her hair and a large pair of silver hoop-earrings danced around her face. She wore a softly feminine, off-the-shoulder, white, cotton dress, with a tight-fitting bodice of embroidered shirring attached to a flouncy skirt that fell well above the knee. Her hair and dress combined with her bare feet made her look like a dark, garden Goddess. Though Lisa-Marie sat right beside Justin and he turned to smile at her often, seeming to include her in everything he said, his eyes were on Izzy so often a painful lump lodged in Lisa-Marie’s throat.

Below is the same paragraph, streamlined slightly, as it went to the editor. Lengthy descriptions of what my characters were wearing got weeded out as I rewrote and rewrote. Still work to do, though.

Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head and tumbled down over one bare shoulder. (faulty structure: either: curls were piled high (passive) on her head and they tumbled down (active) or: Although Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head, some of them tumbled…)A large pair of silver hoop-earrings danced around her face. She wore an off-the-shoulder, white dress. Though Lisa-Marie sat right beside Justin and he turned to smile at her often, seeming to include her in everything he said, she saw that his eyes were on Izzy so often it made a painful lump lodge in her throat. (awkward distance between “though” and “she saw”/faulty construction: try two or three sentences here)

And finally, the finished product:

Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head and they tumbled down around her face. A large pair of silver hoop-earrings danced and sparkled whenever she turned. She wore an off-the-shoulder, white dress. Lisa-Marie sat right beside Justin and he often turned to smile at her, seeming to include her in everything he said. Still, she saw that his eyes were at least as often on Izzy. A painful lump lodged in Lisa-Marie’s throat.

What I have learned of editing is that good writing is stripped down to the basics. I needed a multitude of detail to write the story because it helped me know the characters inside and out. As it turned out, the reader didn’t need to experience the characters in the same way that I did. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these examples or your own editing process – the struggles and the things you’ve learned.

9 comments on “The Editing Process

  1. They may be subtle differences, but they have certainly made all the difference! I may not have much expertise in the area of editing myself, but I guess if I edit my blog that counts? I’ll read out the passage I have written in my head and if it just doesn’t seem to flow well, then… something needs to be tweaked! No one may know, the original version, but at least I know I changed it for other’s benefits. A great post 🙂

  2. indytony says:

    I share some of your frustrations with the editing process. I think this is why I gave up writing fictional novellas and turned to essays. It is a great paradox. On the one hand, details about such things as dress, weather, lifestyle, etc… can “illuminate” a character, they can also clog up the flow of the narrative. I have no good suggestions, just a word of encouragement to keep at it.

    • Thanks for stopping by and weighing-in on this topic. You are so right about the paradoxical nature of the details – paint the picture but don’t overdo it. Certainly a learning process.

  3. Christine says:

    After reading this I have to admit how ecstatic I am that I do not write fiction. I do not think I could stand editing the worlds and characters I envision in my head. With this new insight into the writing process I think that you are even more brave than I first thought! Editing papers is difficult enough. Deleting or altering any word that I have anguished over always makes me slightly unbalanced. I worry that your writing is losing some of its originality and magic as it goes through such a strenuous editing process. In my opinion “never seen it so dark outside anywhere in her life” is much more unique and interesting. I think you should change it back. Do not let the editing process remove you from your writing.

    • You know what, Chris? I actually found it far harder to cut academic work than I do fiction. Not sure why. Losing bits and pieces of research papers and journal articles that were so long in the planning and researching stage and then intricately woven together like a tapestry felt like betraying the vitally important points I was so sure I needed to make. With fiction it seems like there is always another way to skin the proverbial cat – to get what you want to say across. It just doesn’t feel half so traumatic.

  4. Louise Butcher says:

    As a beginning editor I have learned that possible changes need to be expressed as concrete suggestions that are supported by good reasons. If you, the writer, know why a suggestion is being made, your writing skills can actually improve through the editing process. However, only you can decide whether or not to revise any given passage, and intuition is probably your best guide. After all, the book is your creation

    I like your conclusion that good writing has to do with economy – keeping the reader interested without overwhelming him or her with too much detail. There’s a balance to be found in describing things for your reader and it’s up to you to set it.

    I think you have come a long way when you are able to question an editor’s suggestion and then make the conscious decision to follow your own instinct instead.

    • I agree – the concrete suggestions really do move the learning process along and the good editor knows what you are describing here – the book is the author’s creation and though an author may lack objectivity at times and can lose the forest for the trees or the tree for the forest – ultimately he or she must decide how a given passage should sound. But you editors take on a bit of a god-like stature for us authors – when we aren’t trying to turn you into a straw-dog we can rip apart. It is a sign of confidence and maturity to ignore an editor’s suggestion – when it isn’t plain-old stubborness! By the way – you sound like an experienced editor 🙂

I would really love to hear what you think about this post . . .

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