Writer's Craft Article
Fiction Fundamentals: Writing Elbow Grease, Part 4
Editing and Polishing
by Karen S. Wiesner
Based on Cohesive Story Building, Volume 2: 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
In this three month, in-depth series, we're going to go over what could be considered the grunge work in building a cohesive story. Revising, editing, and polishing require a little or a lot of writing elbow grease to finish the job and bring forth a strong and beautiful book.
In Part 3 of this series, we discussed involving critique partners and setting aside the book. This time we'll go over editing and polishing.
Uncovering the Diamond in the Rough
Everyone knows that "a diamond in the rough" is a metaphor referring to the original unpolished state of diamond gemstones, especially those that have the potential to become high-quality jewels. Most stories are rough diamonds at this stage. Someone who works in a diamond mine or designs jewelry will get as excited at the sight of a rough, potentially perfect diamond as someone who loves to wear expensive jewelry will over a fine cut diamond. In their mind's eye, these experts can already see the finished, faceted jewel that will emerge when the gemstone is put through the steps of cutting and polishing.
Editing and polishing are a lot like the process of turning a rough gemstone into a finished one. You're cutting the bad, replacing it with the good, and polishing up what remains until it shines. This is a final step in publication of a book.
What most writers call revising is actually just editing and polishing. Writers get excited about their stories at nearly every stage, since they have a picture in their mind’s eye of what will emerge. A writer unquestionably does also need to remove clutter to make a story understandable, to prevent tripping hazards caused by clumsy prose, and to infuse a story with vivid, interesting narration that says succinctly what it is he wants it to say, concurrently bringing the whole story to life. Editing and polishing add a very definite extra layer to your story. Without it, your story probably won’t read smoothly, nor will it shine.
The process of editing and polishing can also involve any or all of the following:
· The "editing" portion of this task can be called copyediting in publishing circles and entails the correction and enhancement of grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation details.
· Ensuring a completeness of three-dimensionality in character, plot, and setting
· Rearranging sentences or paragraphs
· Showing (more frequently) and telling (at times), where these are most needed
· Tightening sentences and individual words (such as changing passive to active and dull to impacting; cleaning up repetitiveness)
· Smoothing out roughness and making your writing more natural or interesting
· Punching up tension and suspense
· Ensuring variation in sentence construction and length
· Diversifying and enriching words
Editing and polishing should be almost as simple as reading through the manuscript and making minor adjustments that allow the words to flow like music to the ear. A solid outline followed by a first draft virtually ensures that. I do usually complete this step quickly--within a day (or two) once I take it out for this purpose. The difference between revising and editing and polish is generally in the amount of work I do for each. With a revision, there's always more to do, so I need three days to a week to focus on fixing everything. For editing and polishing, I may only mark or fix something every few pages. Also, though I haven't been away from the story quite as long as I did in the previous setting aside, I tend to not want to put the book down during this stage. There's total immersion of myself into the story in this stage, the way the amount of work I needed to do previously didn't allow.
Again, this is something I used to do on a printed manuscript, but, as I get older, I prefer to do less work and that means completing this step directly in the story file on my computer so I don't have to spend hours after I'm done editing and polishing just making corrections to the computer file. I generally add another 5- to 10,000 words to the story in this process--again, another pivotal layer.
In the more than twenty years I’ve been steadily selling books to publishers, writing the book has become the easy part of the whole production process. For the most part, my first drafts have been final drafts, requiring minimal revision; usually a final edit and polish completes the job. Most of my editorial revisions are basic, commonsense suggestions to refine word usage and smooth out the flow of sentences. I’ve been very fortunate to regularly enjoy five-star reviews and a warm reception from readers, so I trust my process.
Next week, we'll go over editing and polishing tricks along with a slew of highly-focused tip sheets.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of Cohesive Story Building, Volume 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.