Monday, December 20, 2010

Editing your completed or semi-complete work.

As I cast about for something to write about today, I noticed what windows I had open. At the moment, I’m working on editing a short story for book 4 in the Course Books series. So let’s talk about that.

First things first, this is about the 8th round of editing for this particular story. Most of them do not go through even half that many, but this one has had… issues. That’s probably putting it mildly, but this entire story has almost been relegated to the cutting room a number of times.

For those of you who are curious, the “cutting room” is a blanket term for the stuff I don’t use. I pretty much keep everything, even my Captain Planet fanfic, all of it gets stored because in this modern day there is no good reason to delete any of it. For each book or story, I maintain a separate file titled “cutting room” with excerpts cut from whatever I’m working on.

There is also a complete directory called Cutting Room in my collection, which contains numerous short stories, abandoned concepts, and just generally bad ideas. Quite a few of them are even complete or semi-complete, including an entire light novel. This is also where all of the non-canonical stuff ends up, like Hunter’s sun, and his first girlfriend who got written out of the series because the girl she was actually based on broke my heart.

Co cutting room aside, what is really involved in editing?

My process is as simple and straightforward as it gets. I open the file, I start reading, I make changes as I go. That simple. Novice writers sometimes think editing means taking stuff out, and sometimes it does(sort of like how that girl got edited out of the series), but usually it means adding to it. A word here or there, a paragraph, sometimes an entire scene. I’ve gone in and added multiple pages to the middle of a story when I felt it was necessary.

It’s also important to set a goal ahead of time. You may not have fully understood the story before you started, and you had to write it to figure out what it was for. Now’s your chance to go back and make sure the entire thing conforms to that goal. “The End” is not finished, it’s only the beginning. My method simply consists of reading, editing, then reading again until I stop finding things to change.

Just because a piece isn’t finished yet does not mean its too early to start editing, either. In fact, if you’re midway through a long project and you get stuck, this is practically a get-out-of-writer’s-block-free card. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found my way out of plot trouble simply by going back and re-reading(and in the process, modifying) other parts of the story.

So never hesitate to make a change. You can keep modifying a story pretty much until you publish it. Then, once it’s out there, you can’t take it back.

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