A good editor seeks to enhance your work by making it the best possible version of your voice as it can be. Our goal is to aid the artist/writer in creating a fully formed story, complete with a cohesive tale and an easy to follow and accessible read.
Depending on what kind of editing is needed, whether copy editing, line editing, or proofreading (these are the three basic types, with other terms being used in place for one or more of the above), the editor will focus on one or more. Often, a service such as copy editing will also include line editing and proofreading in the cost.
Our goal, like the writer’s, is to help build something that can reach those they might wish to reach. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the different things editors seek out that will help the author to create a better story.
I am a writer myself, and although I edit and edit and edit my work, it NEEDS to get other eyes on it. And believe me, it is a necessity, for fresh eyes will ALWAYS find more problems. We cannot allow our pride to get in the way of what it is we are trying to do.
With this in mind, let’s jump right into it.
Gaps and Inconsistencies –
When writing, the goal is to have a set story in mind, which is probably why so many writers spend months or more thinking on how to create their story.
Sometimes they outline, or storyboard, or, as it is with some of us, we might do what a friend coined as ‘mindwriting,’ in which we create the story, more or less, as it might be, but won’t write anything down, instead committing it to our memory as one might something important in everyday life.
All of these tactics in the developmental stage of writing are meant as aids to help create a story that is devoid of inconsistencies, inasmuch as we might be able to avoid them. The devil is in the details, and many times we might need to go back and finish detailing a story because of these missing elements.
My aim as I edit your work is to find any of these, whether it’s in the story itself, or in the jump from scene to scene. Sweeping mistakes can be made with naught but the smallest of problems.
Time. This is a huge one. The passage of time is something that authors often don’t seem to have a firm grasp on. They seem know what it looks like to them, within the story in their heads, but when put to paper (literal or figurative), time rarely seems to matter.
Things to think on with regards to time –
- How much time has passed?
- Was this “x” amount of days from the point of the last main event? Or from the end of the last chapter? Or from the last mentioned day of the story? Etc., etc.
- Is the passage of time taken care of organically? (As in the story just naturally passes through time, with little mention of the days passing) Or is the passage of time done with a direct mention of the number of days that have elapsed? Both are good, and probably best if you use them both, but remember to keep the time consistent.
Questions I ask as an editor are simple –
- What is the plot, or overall storyline, and how is that fleshed out from the beginning to end?
- What is happening within the scene, between the characters, within the setting, etc?
- Are there any superfluous scenes which have no bearing on the story, and more importantly, do they serve a purpose in any way?
Syntax and Diction –
Syntax, simply put, is the sentence structure, how a sentence is pieced together. It is the word choice, the puzzle, as it were, of fitting together a whole sentence.
This really comes down to style. Every writer has a unique voice that seems to transcend whatever genre it is they might be writing, and it all comes down to their choice in wording and structure.
Diction is more about the conversational element of writing.
The difference from syntax is subtle, and some definitions have overlap between the two with regards to word choice, but diction is just as much about enunciation, particularly within the speech, let’s say, of a character.
Think about an individual who uses broken speech – what might that sound like? Now, while considering such a thing, one must also consider the ease with which the reader would be able to make it out.
Too much can be a distraction, at best, and any distraction within the writing may lead to the reader putting down the book and not picking it up again. Too much of this same distraction, and it’s a certainty. It is important to think about this in terms of phrasing.
Passive Voice –
This is a big deal.
The passive voice in writing is defined through the subject of a sentence becoming the object. However, to say it has no place in writing is wrong. The reason for this is all about where the writer wishes to draw attention.
In passive voice, the attention is drawn toward the object experiencing the action, as opposed to committing the action. This is important in understanding where passive voice can and should be used.
Most editors believe that passive voice is an absolute no-go. However, it is far more important to know where the emphasis is, and why. Consider the point of view, consider the object and how the character’s point of view sees the object.
Can passive voice be avoided at all times? Absolutely. Should it? Probably 99% of the time, it should. But that’s not to say it can’t be done properly, and it’ll always be in context with what comes before and after whatever passive sentence exists.
With so many ways to say something, the big deal is to say it the best possible way you can, every time, and without exception. It is how the overall big picture comes together that defines whether or not the story is worth reading.
One can have the greatest story, but tell it in the worst possible way such that no one would ever be able to read it. These things matter.
As simple as it sounds. This is checking for spelling errors, proper word usage, proper punctuation, and basic grammatical errors.
It is important to remember that proofreading is a mechanical check of the paper. You want to make sure that the basic mechanics of the sentence, whether it’s comma usage, quotations, spelling, etc., are all adhered to throughout. While proper sentence structuring could be considered a part of this, this most typically falls under line editing.
As I work through someone’s story, all these things are scrutinized, word by word, line by line, scene by scene, chapter by chapter. These things matter separately, but making sure they all find a harmony with one another is what is most important to the overall story. My job is to find that harmony, and to help my client achieve their goals.