Two of my former students have decided to set themselves up as publishers. They want to publish a collection of short stories. I’ve given them quite a bit of advice as a publisher and they’re now going ahead.
Except that there was a sudden wobble.
Could they edit? They asked me for help but between duties for the university, my own writing and the editing duties I have for the various publishers with whom I work I don’t really have a lot of time. However, I have offered them a two hour tutorial – that will happen tomorrow. So as I have to get something ready for them I may as well share it more widely.
Three stages of editing
There are three main stage of editing:
· The global / structural edit
· The writing edit
· The copy edit
The global edit
Often, when selected stories for an anthology there is little to do here. You’ve chosen this story precisely because it’s pretty well there and to your taste. Nevertheless you may have spotted:
· There are too many characters – can a couple be amalgamated?
· The story resolves too easily or too dramatically. This happens frequently. It’s one of the hardest things to get right.
· A character may not be fully developed, believable or rounded or may act out of character. Or when they speak they may not sound like themselves.
In addition, you might find that you’ve noticed a fault that the writer makes throughout, for example:
· Not setting dialogue out correctly
· Using colons / semicolons too often
· Overuse a particular phrase
When we conduct this particular edit, we tend to use the review ribbon and the comment function within “Track Changes.” We’re not annotating the text a lot. Often the comments will be made in question form, for example:
“Would he really speak like that?
“Don’t you think all of these new characters might be a bit confusing for your reader in such a short story?”
“The resolution’s a little weak. Could you make one more nasty thing happen before the story resolves?”
The writing edit
Yes, this is where we’re looking at the actual writing.
So it will be:
· Is the writer telling where they could be showing?
· How is point of view handled?
· Is the pace right? Does it vary?
· Is there enough tension?
· Is there a good balance of narratives – exposition (the less the better), dialogue, action, description and inner monologue?
· Does the dialogue work? Can we hear the speaker’s voice? Remember it must always show character, propel the plot forward or create atmosphere and it’s actually great if it can do all three at once.
· Are there any clichés we can do away with?
· Are there any darlings we can kill?
· Is the voice consistent and appropriate?
Again, we use the “review” tool and mainly use the comment function. Sometimes it’s still appropriate to ask questions.
The copy edit
We’re more or less down now to what might be described as “word” level. Here we spot the typos, odd or wrong use of words, punctuation mistakes, overwriting, run-on sentences, overlong or too short paragraphs and formatting mistakes. There’s little point in checking any of this before the other edits have been completed as new errors may be introduced.
Here we use a mixture of comments and Track Changes. For punctuation mistakes, typos and formatting problems we’d go straight to Track Changes. We’d comment on run-ons, overwriting, paragraphs that don’t work and clumsy expression.
It’s useful if the author hides the changes and only look at them if their text doesn’t feel right. Otherwise they may agonise over what is actually only a minor change but
The proof read
We do this after the book is “camera ready” in case formatting problems have crept in. They sometimes do as the Word document is turned into something the digital printer recognises.
We get three people to proofread – the author, the editor and one other.