Writing Workshop – Edits

Editing your Manuscript

So Many Devils in the Details (so, so many)

Two old fashioned metal keys on a faded and yellowed piece of writing paper.

When it comes down to it, Writing is easy.  When you are in the zone, content can flow from your fingers like water, or the beast of inspiration can sit on your back, driving you forward with a story that is desperate to be written.  It can be a long process, an epic journey from the first word written to a completed story, full of tears and energy and sometimes nearly insurmountable blocks.  But in the end, you do it; you cross the finish line.

Or so you thought.  Once your story is complete, the mountain of editing remains – especially if you are not lucky enough to have a contract that provides an editor for you.  This is another Herculean task, and the same tools that helped you complete the story will not help you with this one.

This topic is immense, well beyond the scope of a single post.  Today I’d like to limit the discussion to a survey of the different categories of edits: Developmental Edits, Line Edits, and proofreading/copy editing.

  • Developmental Edits – These are broad-stroke edits that look beyond individual sentences and even paragraphs to look at the story and its structure as a whole.  In this round, the editor makes sure the plot makes sense, the characters are realistic, and seeks out major continuity errors. This is the stage where sensitivity readers should be used, too, to help get a handle on any problematic topics you might be dealing with. I always recommend authors have someone other than themselves edit your drafts, but at this stage it is essential.  You know what the story is – it makes sense in your head.  At this point, you are blinded by what’s in your head enough that it can be difficult to see what’s not on the page.  Depending on the extent of the edits needed, a second round may be warranted.
  • Line Edits – In this stage, the editor goes (you guessed it) line by line.  The emphasis here is on your writing.  Sentence structure, rhythm, word choice – all of these are being looked at carefully, taking the work you’ve done in the developmental edit stage and raising it to the next level.
  • Proofreading/Copy Editing – The final stages of edits; these two stages are largely the same – but should still represent two different rounds.  In Proofreading, you look at your story on the Sentence, Word, and Punctuation levels.  I have personally found that the line edits stage wreaks havoc on… everything.  You will find fragments of previous sentences embedded in your work, bits of dialogue out of order, and character name changes you haven’t resolved, among many other things.  This is where you address that. Your primary goal is finding errors in your work.  Copy Editing takes place after proofreading and is largely the same, but you are cleaning up even further.  This is often accomplished with a printout, preferably in as close to publishing format as you can – literally editing the copy.

That’s been a lot.  Thank you for bearing with me so far.  Tune in next week and we’ll go over Developmental Edits and the ever-contentious topic of Sensitivity Readers in greater depth.

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