Anonymous asked: I dont really understand the editing process, for example, I don’t know if I should write the whole novel and then edit it, or write a chapter and then edit it. Which is better?
WARNING: The advice below is based on my opinion.
People tend to lump revising a manuscript in with proofreading and call it “editing”. Understanding that these can be two separate processes could be useful in deciding when and how to edit your work. You’re probably doing one or the other, and since the norms for revising and proofreading are different, you might benefit from approaching them in different ways.
Let’s learn, shall we?
- Revising a manuscript means making changes to the structure of the story, to its guts. We’re talking cutting and pasting whole blocks of text, tweaking characters, adding scenes and taking others out. Revising a story is all about taking the raw ingredients of the rough draft and actually crafting something palatable from them. This aforementioned “rough draft” can be the length of a sentence, a scene, an entire novel. However, revising tends to happen after whatever a writer is working on is complete.
- Proofreading a story is about spelling, grammar, and fact-checking. This is less to do with the big picture than revising; it more about getting the actual language on the page down pat, as well as checking to be sure the things you present as facts are, in fact, factual. You can practice good proofreading on a piece of writing of any length, on a sentence right after you write it or on a whole book years after its completion, though writers tend to proofread in smaller chucks than they revise.
These two processes have a bit of overlap. Where? I’m glad you asked.
- Canon. Is the piece you’re editing consistent? If you say earlier in the story that it was a dark and stormy night, is it still dark and stormy when you mention weather later on in the scene? Is the character a brunette through the book? Do you tell the reader a character is allergic to peanuts at one point and then have her eating a Snickers bar at another? Consistent canon is often dealt with both while revising and while proofreading.
- Word choice. Did you really mean that your main character was rude? Maybe you meant sassy instead. Or maybe you meant opinionated. Word choice is important, and writers make decisions on which words will work the hardest for them during both the revising and proofreading processes.
- Fact placement. When and why you choose to give readers information in your story is a big deal. For example:
You can make all kinds of inferences based on that knowledge. What if I tell you he’s got anemia? There may not be much difference between the running man and the anemic running man. How about if I tell you he’s naked? Maybe that changes things a little, huh? More information: He’s alone in his apartment! And he’s got blood all over him! And he’s running to the kitchen from the bathroom! With a straight razor!
A man is running.
Has the reason for the running changed from the first fact I told you? If I’ve done my job correctly, it most definitely has.
That’s called thickening the plot, and it’s the most basic tenement of storytelling. Fact placement moves the story along, thickening as it goes, and there’s a finesse to it. If I change the order of the facts in the example above or omit or add facts, it with alter the scene playing out in your head as you read.
Because fact placement is so important, both revising and proofreading have their hands in editing it, and they both approach fact placement with an eye for redundancy, realism, and relevance. The example with the running man, however, is more on the revising side of things. An example of checking fact placement with proofreading might be noticing that you’ve said the character was tall twice in one paragraph (redundant fact), or that you’ve stated that Earth was square (unrealistic fact), or that you’ve told us a fact about a character that is unrelated to the story (irrelevant fact).
Because revising and proofreading are often squashed together and presented as “editing”, it’s easy to get confused about scale. Revising tends to be big picture and handle changes to the story itself. Proofreading is small-scale. It has more to do with the mechanics of the words on the page, of the language used to convey the story to the reader, rather than with the content of the story. When someone says “editing”, they can mean either or both.
I proofread a bit as I’m writing, but mostly I revise my manuscript after I finish a draft and then proofread the whole thing again after revising. The last part, the part where I revise and proofread after I finish the draft, that’s what I call “editing”. Experiment and see what “editing” means to you.
Bottom line: Whether it be proofreading or revising, there is no correct way to edit. Just get it done.
Here are a few articles with opinions and methods that might help:
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