What is editing?
Notes from the December written by Elena Ornig.
“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
– Arthur Plotnik, author and editor
An Australian author, editor and freelance writer, Candice Lemon-Scott was the guest speaker at the Gold Coast Writers Association meeting in December. Overall, Candice focused on the importance of editing written work and at the same time she answered the most important questions in editing:
- What is editing?
- Why do you need to edit?
- How to edit your work?
Candice started with a perfect example of how to get your message across to your reader by following the simple rule of writing your message to the readers in the best possible way:
As you see, this visual example is quite powerful and that is what editing is all about: helping writers to get their message or idea across as clearly as possible. That is why editing is a complicated process which involves: structural editing and line editing.
Structural editing (developmental editing or substantive editing) is about assessing and clarifying:
- Genre and audience – What is your genre? What are its conventions and are you adhering to them? Who is your audience? Is the language and narrative relevant?
- Theme is the key message of your book. – Do you have a clearly defined theme or intention for your work? What are you trying to say? Is this carried through in your manuscript and concluded?
- Point of view and tense – Who is telling the story: narrator, single viewpoint or multiple viewpoints? Does that work most effectively? Is it consistent? Is it written in past or present tense? Is it appropriate?
- Structure and pacing – Do things happen when they should? Are transitions smooth? Does one scene ends before the next begins? Does each scene or character have a purpose to move the story forward?
- Plot and character development – Are all aspects of plots followed through? Are there any holes in the plot? Do the characters grow and change? Do all characters fulfill a purpose in the storytelling and have their own story?
- Dialogue – Does each character have a distinct voice that is uniquely his or hers? Does dialogue reveal something about the character’s inner life or progress the story? What is said and what is not said?
- Voice – Do you have your own unique storytelling voice and style? Is this voice carried through the whole manuscript? Do you speak through your characters?
- Descriptive language – Have you cut out the clichés? Have you painted a picture with words? What about the descriptions of details and small moments?
Structural editing views and assesses the whole manuscript whist line editing is a process of going through line by line, over each sentence, in order to clarify every detail on:
- Word and phrase usage
How to Line Edit
- Use a style sheet
- Use Word review program or similar
- Use and editing program – www.autocrit.com
- Go through spelling and grammar checks
- Use a dictionary, thesaurus, grammar textbook
- If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t
Do not get line editing confused with copy editing. Copy editing is all about checking the facts in order to avoid a written defamation.
Equally, do not get confused with proofreading which is all about polishing the final text before publishing, finding missing quotation marks, dashes, commas, apostrophes, and so on.
What Candice has clearly shown is that editing must be completed by a professional editor. We hear it again and again that we shouldn’t underestimate the vital role that editors play in the production of the final product – your book.
It is also clear that credible and professional writers must edit their manuscripts in order to present them to publishers or literary agents. She stated a simple fact: “It is very competitive out there because the publishing world is getting smaller.” What she explained was that the publishing world is changing and that publishers are spending less money on editorial staff. Publishing companies now expect submitted manuscripts to be polished.
Candice also mentioned the important aspect of spelling. She advised that any manuscript must comply with the spelling rules of the country where the work is submitted. If it is an Australian publishing company – spelling must be in accordance with the rules of Australian spelling and if it is an American publishing company then the manuscript must reflect American spelling.
With her substantial experience she shared more tips on editing:
- Print it out and read it out loud
- Leave it for a while
- Get feedback from an editor, critique buddy, beta reader or join a workshop group
- Reread, redraft and repeat the same process
Candice Lemon-Scott has a Bachelor of Communication / Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) from Monash University and the Chisholm Institute, and is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. She runs an editing and manuscript development service and is a Literacy Champion for the Literacy Villages program. She currently serves as a Role Model for the Books in Homes program.