Sunday 25 February 2024

The Joy of Editing


Reading stories all day long

“I actually enjoy marking,” I said to one of my colleagues when I was a lecturer at the University of Salford.

He raised his eyebrows and then grinned. “Ah, I suppose you get to read stories all day.”

I suppose I did and to some extent I still do: I still read stories for leisure, during my own writing phases I’m sometimes editing and a good deal of my publishing time is spent on editing other writers’ work.

Always new

Here’s the surprising thing: I often don’t remember any of the stories in detail, not even the ones I’ve written myself, even when I’m reading them for the umpteenth time.. I guess because in the editing process, and in the marking process,  you’re really looking for different things.


I edit my own short stories five times and my novels eighteen times.


Marking and editing are quite similar but there are differences.


Whilst marking I will make both positive and challenging comments. Yes, I  annotate the text but I don’t point out every typo or punctuation mistake. I certainly don’t correct all of them. 


In editing there is more emphasis on what’s not working. You have agreed to publishing the text so that is an affirmation that it mainly works. Different if you’re offering editing as a service; then you might take more time pointing out the strengths of the piece. In editing for publication you have to catch everything – every typo, every punctuation mistake, every spelling mistake and every bit of awkward phrasing. The better the writer has edited their own text the more chance an editor has of catching everything.

Three stages do editing

Stage 1

For publication the first stage of editing is a structural one. Even if the text is basically sound there may still be something:

  1. Is the overall structure sound?  - hook, inciting incident, increasing complexities, crisis, climax – story arc
  2. Does the overall time scale work?
  3. Is the format and length right for the target reader?
  4. Are the characters consistent? Are they rounded? Do they develop? Do you know everything about them that you should?
  5. Is the story convincing? Is there cause and effect?
  6. Is the resolution satisfying?
  7. Is there conflict and tension? Are there peaks and troughs?
  8. Does the pace vary?

Stage 2

This is more of a copy edit.

1.      Dialogue is important.

a.       It should not be too natural

b.      It should only say important things

c.       It should differentiate characters' voices

d.      When angry, becomes childish

e.       Should take 2/3 of popular book

f.       Should convey mood, character and reaction

g.      Every speech should give information

2.      Detail and description should be slipped in small chunks.

3.      Is the writer telling when they could be showing? (and perhaps surprisingly, showing when they should be telling?)

4.      Are there darlings that need killing?

5.      Are there any clichés?

6.      Does the text flow well?

7.      Is there any awkward expression?

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