We’ve come to another segment in the ongoing series, effective editing. It’s the next-to-last one, hard to believe we’re into November already!
Two – rhythm and reason
Three– challenge, compare, and contain
This section will deal primarily with polishing and clarifying meaning. I’m summing it up in two words: Rhythm and Reason. I want to first focus on Rhythm or pacing. How can you tell if your writing needs additions or cuts? To begin, ask these questions: Is everything balanced? Does your piece unfold without gaps? Are you choosing the best words, words that meld well with the story and sound correct to the reader? One way to check is to read your writing aloud…slowly. Do you trip over any words? Then it’s almost a sure-fire bet your audience will.
Highlight any words or sections which cause you to pause. As you labor, apply different colors, highlighting each character, whether working on computer or with ink. If you’re using a digital copy, don’t use your original one, copy the whole document and save in another file.
A visual representation enables you to view the piece without getting caught in the story. Check for missing transitions. Highlight characters issues and target additional areas for attention. When you are done, your main character should be the dominant color. If not, something is off. Don’t worry if you’re marking large amounts. But do be concerned if you’re not marking anything! 😉
The technique works hand-in-hand with checking for inconsistencies in dialogue. We’re still in the Substantive/Structural Editing phase, parallel to Developmental/Project Editing and Rewriting on the other pyramid. Through the process you may believe you’re examining the manuscript like it has a disease. Yes, you are! The problem, with most writing projects, is that writers are too close to the material, emotionally bound by the output. Only when there is distance, even self-imposed, can we effectively edit. Targeting problem areas as they have infectious maladies generates distance. What it also accomplishes is chunking or sectioning the work.
As you edit, you will see chunks you may not need, or it will be clear you are missing transition phrases. The focus will shine on sections which may need pepping up. Offer a shot of Vitamin B-12, adding a natural element such as sound, curing the ailment. Maybe you need to reduce the clutter around the main character, keeping a steady story arc.
Other thoughts: Did you reveal enough about the ending to keep readers from shaking their heads and muttering, “I never saw that coming, impossible!”? How well did you form tension, and then release it?
Besides Rhythm tethered in transition, writing needs to be Reasonable. Whether you are world building in a fantasy piece, stretching the truth in a fiction work or just penning informative passages, the writing should be Reasonable. Advice I often give my clients is about the reader: if readers pause, we want it to be a positive experience. The last thing we need is for readers to stop reading, shake their heads, and lose interest. Our job is to be as compelling as possible. Everything pushes the Action forward. Actions Benefit Characters. If it doesn’t, then cut it.
Sometimes we need to cut sections we adore, though aren’t good for the whole work. It is akin to surgery. Major surgery. No one goes to the doctor and says, “Hey doc, I hear you’re a genius with the knife. I’d love for you to remove a toe, just to show me how talented you are!” On the contrary, when faced with surgery, we ask, “Is it really necessary? For the good of the entire body?” Same with editing. Cut it out if it’s good for the rest of the manuscript. It may hurt, especially if you really ‘like’ the material. Do it for the good of your writing.
Often I hear writers worry an editor will alter a piece so much that it won’t look anything like the original. When an editor doesn’t recognize the voice of the writer, it is a legitimate concern, and one I hope you can avoid. Which is why I began this series: to equip writers with editorial tools. Imagine knowing where you want to hold your ground, what you’re willing to cut and why. If you have knowledge, you have power, to craft a great piece, thereby preserving your voice.
Here’s a perfect example of a sentence where the voice of the writer has been preserved, “And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning.” excerpt from Enderby Outside (1968) by Anthony Burgess (read more about Burgess here).
Read the sentence again, aloud and marvel. Do you hear all the soft s’s and hard t’s? The Rhythm and Reason are unified beautifully. Burgess’ voice is intact, his style is unique, and admired decades later. Isn’t that what we all shoot for? Good prose is captivating, and that’s the goal.
Use all the tools available, including your ears. Most of the time, you will know what ‘sounds’ right. But in those other cases, rely on reference guides. On my desk I keep a few essentials: Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Merriam-Webster), Collegiate Thesaurus (Merriam-Webster), Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory ( Penguin), Rhyming Dictionary (Merriam-Webster), The Poetry Dictionary (Drury), The Thinker’s Thesaurus (Norton), A Writer’s Reference (St. Martin’s), A Dictionary of Made-Up Languages (Adams Media), and The NY Times Guide to Essential Knowledge (St. Martin’s). These are all well-used, along with countless bookmarked websites I turn to.
If you’re laboring diligently on your craft, why not create the very best you are able, refining and revising until it really does shine from all your work? Rhythm and Reason, make friends with them and hang out together every chance you get.
Until next week, I wish you renewed joys of editing 😛
What’s the great giveaway? An editing package will be awarded to a few, are you in the running? Check out the rules here…
Next week: Three – challenge, compare, and contain
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photo by Roxie Hanna: all rights reserved