A Written View – About Editing

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by Douglas Owen

I want to try something different this year. If you know anything about the publishing industry, you’ll know that for me, sitting here on December 27th, it is time to get the February edition of A Written Word, well… written.

This year, I’m going to include podcasts of my Written Word column, just to have something a little different out there. Yes, this is risky, but I’m sure it will work. This can be run parallel to the changes happening in the magazine and maybe it will increase our reach, as our publisher, Ian Shires, changes the format (just a little!) to encompass all things indy.

Let’s dive right in with this column and talk about editing!

Someone told me the difference between a good book and a great book is all in the editing. Finding the right editor is crucial to making your words sing. This is a truism: something that is correct without ever having to look it up.

Over two years ago, I was given the novel Prossia to read and rate. I was only able to read half of the novel before putting it down and shaking my head in bewilderment.

Before I begin on this book, let me preface this article with the following: I have made the same mistakes that are in this novel. Did I learn? Yes. I now choose my editors carefully.

A good editor would have found the errors in the novel easily, and fixed them quickly. The narrative would have smoothed out and become perfect and the story line’s biggest mistakes could have been removed. In other words, it would have gone from one star to four very easily.
As they say, a good editor is worth their weight in gold.

But, before you get a piece edited, you should look at the following and fix what you have already. Here is a short “to do” list for you:

1. Isolate a significant word, phrase, or sentence on its own, then add emphasis.

Before: Deacon glanced back at the sea of orcs, gasped for breath, and wondered if he would be able to keep outrunning them over the plains of Vasillian. He looked down at the jewel-encrusted statue. All this for a few hundred gold Paperons, and the loss of a good friend. He imagined Flynn egging him on, but his dead companion probably wanted company in Greassaria, the world of the afterlife.

After: Deacon gasped for breath, and glanced back at the sea of orcs scrambling across the plains of Vasillian. The jewel-encrusted statue weighed heavy in his hand, and he missed Flynn. The old thief should have been here, but he was probably egging on the orcs from the afterlife. All this excitement for just a few hundred gold Paperons and the loss of a good friend.
Notice how the last sentence tells of the loss of a good friend. It is the way to weigh down the ending and make people want to keep going. That is the isolation factor in play. Also, the start is Deacon gasping for breath. It adds tension, especially with the orcs right there.

2. Combine and reword for better flow.

This one causes a lot of writers to stumble. Each sentence is its own person, and writers often break everything up, which causes a stilted narrative.

Before: Peter reached out. He touched the button. Claxons sounded. Guards entered the room. He heard weapons draw. Greg lifted his hands in the air to surrender.

After: Peter reached out his hand and touched the button. Claxons sounded. Guards entered the room and Greg heard weapons draw, so he lifted his hands to surrender.
The sentences are complex, but not overly so. What needs to be isolated is, and the flow is no longer stilted.

3. Runaway sentences.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen. A writer wants to put just too much into a sentence and it becomes a run-on. Note: your average sentence length should be between 18 and 27 words. Try not to exceed 45 words, or your audience will stumble. They forget the start and sometimes have to go back and reread. Intersperse short sentences as well. It gives the reader a break.

4. Vary the length of your sentences, as well as the structure.

It’s a best practice to vary your sentence lengths and type. In this way, you can avoid monotony and steer clear of an amateurish style. It will also enhance the mood and impact the effect you are reaching for.

In a paragraph, it is best to have many different sentence lengths. And for scenes, it is suggested to avoid too many short, choppy sentences. This does not include action scenes, but that is another subject.

5. Rearrange elements within your sentences and/or paragraphs.

I suggest this all the time when critiquing the work of others. Move this sentence to the first spot in the paragraph, or switch these two subordinate clauses. The changes make the words pop off the page better.

6. Throw the gerund (-ing verb) back a few words.

Creeping to the back room, the thief stood listening. Hearing no peep, he opened the heavy door. Seeing no orcs awake, he stepped through the door.
Asleep yet? Get the idea?

7. Vary each sentence’s beginning.

Try not to put the same word at the beginning of each sentence in your narrative. It drives a reader insane when you start two, three or more sentences the same way. It is the “I” syndrome in the first person, or the “He” syndrome in the third. Change it up. Look at your structure, reword if needed.

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