Sunday, November 28, 2010

Editing Fast & Dirty

The blog returns! Wednesday was a bit of a different critique night - instead of critiquing a page of writing, we talked about the editing process. Though editing can be a long and arduous process, it doesn't have to be painful. The following can be used to edit something that needs a hurried edit. I like to use this process as a starting point to anything I edit.

I look at this initial (or fast) edit in the following four steps:
1. Removal of Extraneous Words
2. Restructuring of Verbs
3. Story & Plot
4. Character

1. Removal of Extraneous Words
This sounds much more complicated than it really is. There are many words that generally speaking are just unnecessary (that, those, this, these, etc). Watch out for adverbs, adjectives, and time constrains as well, such as "as" and "while." Re-read the words, make sure the words are doing what you want them to do. This is a little bit backwards from what you might normally hear: that grammar is the last thing to fix. However, by tightening up your prose just a little bit, finding the bigger problems because easier, as the prose becomes easier to read.

2. Restructuring of Verbs
Verbs are one of the two strongest words we have available. (Nouns are the other). When restructuring verbs, don't get too lost. Stay simple. Remove the passive voice (the verb "to be" - "is, are, were, was, etc."). Instead of forcing your objects to carry action, let your subject do the work. Subjects want to carry the action in English. Let them do their job. In addition, remove the subjunctive (would, could, etc.), except where necessary to indicate the uncertainty that is inherent in the subjunctive. Again, fixing this amount of grammar will help make the prose that much more read-able, which makes the entire editing process simpler, more possible.

3. Story & Plot
Now that you've tighten up the prose, it's time to get into the nitty gritty: story and plot. Find your major plot holes - continuity issues - etc., and get rid of them. Make sure your character always drives the same car (unless, of course, the character sold the car at some point), and that the grief stricken queen dies of grief and not of poisoned soup.

When it comes to story, be sure your reader as all the points to get to the end. Think of the story as the alphabet: a, b, c, d, etc. all the way to z. Not every letter has to be in order, but they all have to be there for the reader to make sense of the story. Does a character suddenly appear in a desert, when just a paragraph earlier they were in the forest? An explanation is needed!

4. Character
When going for a fast and dirty edit, character is hard to attack. Look for consistent names and character traits (spelling of names, red hair versus black, etc.). When completing a speedy edit, the necessary time to spend on editing for character isn't available.

Going through these four steps is just a beginning. Going through them a second time will yield even stronger prose, and allow you to focus more on plot and story. A third time through is more superficial grammar. On a fourth pass, the character starts to come out more, and spending time on character becomes more and more possible.

In December, we'll spend more time with editing character.

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