Targeted Editing – Editing for Awesomeness – Part 3
Once more, here’s our areas to focus on with our targeted editing. This list covers most of the bases, so do make use of it in a way that makes the most sense to you depending on what you’re writing.
Ares of Focus for Your Targeted Editing
Rehash of the same old-same old
Poor/wrong choice of tense and person
Time control errors
Point of view (POV) errors and poor point of view selection
By the time you get this far, you’re deep into the construction of your story, right into the underpinning. When you work with a story for a long while, it often becomes difficult to “see” and this hampers the ability to correct critical errors. Going through the targeted editing in the previous two sections first, this clears away a lot of distracting clutter. Not only does this allow a clearer view of the critical elements, but allows errors they might contain to stand out, so you can pull them out or rework them.
Substance errors – The half-way mark is a good time for catching these kinds of development errors and you want to look at the wide view before you dive back in to do more refining.
Your mantra in this section is: “What am I saying and does it make sense?”
Examine ideas – your ideas. As often happens as you write and a story takes on a life of its own and evolves into something that you hadn’t originally planned, by the time you get to the end, it no longer matches the beginning. Having completed your story, you want to check that the beginning is talking about the same things as the conclusion.
The beginning of the story is the most important part. If the story has evolved, or in the course of your writing you clarified a position or a concept and it deviated from the original premise you used in the opening, the rest of the story now won’t make sense. The beginning of a story is a promise of what is to come, full of all the implied and the unspoken that you will later cleverly expose and expound upon. If those things never come to fruition later (because you changed gears during the course of writing), the ending will fall flat and the reader will be left confused and feeling unsatisfied.
Take a critical look at what you lay out in your opening, make a list of the implied and unspoken if you have to, and ensure you’ve followed through on the exposition or the explanation later for each point OR change the opening to reflect what you later came to explain. This creates good cohesion between your opening and your conclusion.
Motive errors (and the results) – These errors centre around why people (your characters) do the things they do. Also in this area are the logical consequences for the actions or situations you’ve applied to your story. They have to make sense. Tom Clancy and Lord Byron (among others) all agree that the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make logical sense. Make sure yours does.
Catch any difference between the motives one of your characters has versus your own motives (as the author). For example, in the brilliant plot twist you’ve thought up, you need your Navy Seal character to be on an island in the tropics which would put him within striking distance of the super villain’s lair and allow him to save a cruise liner full of unsuspecting tourists from a horrible death. What is his motivation for going there? Convenient for you if he went. Too bad in his lone wolf, tired soldier, hard-boiled personality, he’d rather hit a bar and shoot straight whiskey alone on his time off than head out to a tropical island paradise. Most of the time, your motivations are not going to coincide with those of your characters.
Asking yourself “what if” a million times is the best way to ensure you’ve dealt with all the consequences. And this isn’t only about actions, this applies to everything. Everything in your characters’ backgrounds will cause them to react in a way that was shaped by the back story you assigned to them and when it doesn’t jibe, people notice. Someone who’s never seen a city, because they’ve lived in a forest their entire life, is not going to use the same kind of language or refer to things the same way as the people they meet. They’re going to run into things they’ve never seen which will cause them to ask questions that no one else will and they’ll most certainly adapt themselves in a unique way to technology, even in a way that no one around them will use that same technology right alongside them.
Bad planning also falls into this category and I can tell you, millions of stories are never finished, because inspiration is overrated and no planning is done. Good writers take notes, jot down ideas, even to keeping point-form lists of events to keep themselves on track and their plot from going off the rails. If you think you don’t need to do these things, you’re deluding yourself and might as well push yourself away from the keyboard right now and walk away. This is nonsense. So is not letting a story evolve in a natural way. The original scene that had inspired the story may never end up in the completed story at all or the first chapter may end up being the last chapter during revision. Constant revising on the plot using your organisational skills can allow you to write fast and furious, because you’re getting the thoughts down, organising them, and then going at it. If you didn’t do this organisation during the creation, get the points scratched down during your targeted editing and use them as a guide to reorganising the frame of the story toward logic and better cohesion.
Presentation errors – There are two types of these errors – what should be cut out and what you forgot to put in. Seems pretty basic, right?
Upon reading over your story with a wide view and seeing how it plays out, if you find you’ve spent whacking great gobs of time spewing out some ancient history about something that happened before your story even starts, you need to start chopping. Fantasies are prone to this, though it can happen in every other genre.
If you need to get that history in there, so people understand what’s going on, have it come to light through the characters’ own investigation, thought, or action. Trust me, readers get that every land, time, and circumstance has a history that was going on before the story opened. Let it be implied, quit wasting time, and jump into the story already! Then let those things come out during the course of the action. If you’ve caught yourself giving a giant history lesson, don’t despair – try taking the history apart and spread it out between the characters to discover and react to. It’ll make the story a lot more interesting not to mention character-driven.
Then there’s the opposite problem – the information that doesn’t get onto the page. A very common error. You’ve done an amazing job learning each character, place, plot twist, etc. You know them all so well, you see the entire universe you’ve created swirling around you when you write except that, uh-oh, you forgot that the reader can’t see that. They can only see what you tell them. I catch this when I edit for others and when I edit for myself. It’s an easy mistake to make and everyone does it. A trick that I use for myself is to put the manuscript aside and then go at the overview read after a few weeks or months when I’m not so close to it. Doing it that way usually ensures I won’t skip past the info I have in my head and makes me rely on what I’m reading to fill in the scenes. This makes it really easy to spot the holes and then you can just add in what you missed.
Ego-Driven Errors – Ah, the fragile ego of a writer… Ego-driven errors have little to do with the story and are about the writer – mostly that they’re in love with every word that ever comes out of their head and feel every syllable is a gift to the world. I have three words for you: Get over yourself! How about these three more from the eminent William Strunk to “Omit needless words.”!
Not everything you find interesting is going to be of interest to everyone, so if your giant dissertation on hoot owls or the history of paint or Pacific ocean microbes has nothing to do with moving your story forward, axe it. Self-indulgent digression can bring your story to a stand-still as will writing to impress rather than communicate.
In the same vein, if something won’t make sense to the reader until they’ve read the Appendix iii with the word key, or the included brief history on the subject matter or just happens to be an expert in the same topic as the author, this is also something you’re going to want to adjust. This doesn’t mean you need to dumb down your writing, and instead, remember to bring your reader along on your journey and don’t leave them on the outside. Always write under the assumption that someone reading it knows more than you on the subject. Forget trying to impress, and instead, make a story good enough that an expert won’t care if you got some of the facts wrong, because you entertained so well they were willing to continue to suspend disbelief to enjoy the experience.
And show-off experiments? Readers don’t want to see how smart you are. Readers want a good story, so give it to them. That whole myth of the noble artistic failure is complete crap.
See the related articles in this series: