Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Woes of Editing

Since some time mid-last year, I have been pretending to edit a 100,000 word monstrosity that I wrote with absolutely no planning – where by ‘pretending to edit’ I mean that after over a year I am currently up to scene… six? I was reading around writing blogs recently, and I found an author who said something along the lines of “I like writing, but I love editing.” To which I said, “Oh God, why?” I thought this great disparity of opinion warranted a blog post on editing, in the hope of answering some questions.

I started editing by listing my scenes in a table with columns for POV, setting, key events and characters present. That gave me a chance to read of my novel and have happy thoughts like, “This is actually not bad,” and also, “What word was I even trying to write there?”

Next, I tried to write down the plot from the point of view of each key character, so I could understand what each character knew, and when. This was kind of important because the novel is a kind of spies-and-international-intrigue thing, and the lack of planning meant people were spouting pieces of information, and then being horrified to discover the same information four chapters later.

So this was all going well and good. I got a handle on my plot, and then wrote down a revised list of scenes, and got to work cutting the scenes I didn’t need, and revising the ones I did. Before I even started the revising part, I had cut about half of my manuscript, including some of my favourite characters. It made me sad. But I have told myself I shall bring them back, and I suppose at least if I completely cut a character, I can transport them to a new story of their very own.

Then I got to the part that made me sad – revising scenes. I ended up deleting whole chunks of things that were not only my favourite parts, but also the favourite parts of the two people who have read my novel for me. I did this because I figured that not only were they not doing anything for the plot, but also because they were always the things that were just a little bit ridiculous, like the sinister criminal mastermind speaking in code with phrases such as “The orange walrus howls at the hour of darkness,” an extended joke about the colour of the protagonists underwear (because I am classy like this).

I deleted all these ridiculous bits, and then I realised that the reason I had liked the start of this story was because it was just a little bit ridiculous, and the characters were kind of odd. But all the editing advice I had read – even from the very first writing book I had ever discovered, while I was still at primary school – had told me that there was a ‘making it thin’ stage, where you got rid of everything that wasn’t strictly necessary.
In order to procrastinate from this task, which was sucking my happiness like Dementor, I went online to read what other writers had said about editing. I found a piece of cheery warning, formatted thusly:


So that was heartening. Feeling a sense of solidarity – at least I wasn’t the only one deleting things I loved – I went back to editing, and managed to get through several scenes feeling gradually more enthusiastic about the whole affair. But it has left me wondering – is it really necessary for things you love to die? (That sentence came out way more deep-sounding than I intended.) Am I just a wuss who doesn't like deleting things? I mean sure, some things might not aid a streamlined plot, but does that actually make them bad? Chances are, if you love something, there’s a reason. And if your readers love it too, then why should you delete it? After all, if you’re not writing to please yourself and your readers… well, I don’t know what you’re doing.


  1. This is a great post. I've gone through the same thing just recently with my WIP. I got a good kick in the head from a beta reader, which helped me realize I needed to take out some stuff.

    Exactly for the reason you stated. It didn't do anything for the plot. The scenes were funny (in my opinion), but they just showcased characters who I'd already done.

    It's hard to know what to do though. Cause I read books and wonder why certain scenes are there. What they do for the story.

    There's a pretty well-known YA contemp author whose much beloved book has two characters that I thought absolutely didn't need to be there. To me, I only saw them there because they appeared in the author's first book and she wanted to let us know what happened with them. I think they could've been removed and the story would've been just fine. And she's a successful author.

    I don't know. Finding that balance is hard. Probably more so with debut authors who have to follow 'the rules'. Once you're successful with a few books, you can probably take more artistic license.

    1. I don't find myself reading books and wondering why scenes are in there usually, unless the scene has absolutely nothing to with the plot, or literally rehashes a conversation which has already been had.
      I guess what I ought to do is find a beta reader who will harshly tell me when they thought a scene was entirely unneccessary. But it still bugs me - is 'doesn't need to be there' equivalent to 'shouldn't be there'?
      Thanks for your thoughts. =)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.