Philosophy of Editing


This particular post has a twofold purpose. First, to let you know where I am with my projects (!) and the second to sort of explain what sort of editor I am when I’m editing someone else’s work. Hopefully, the reason they’re mushed together in the same post will become evident rather quickly. 🙂

My ongoing writing projects have only been lightly touched this past week, so they’re in a bit of a stasis. Still trying to fix the danged ending of Station (it’s just about giving me fits), and I’m working up an old short story to my current skill level. However, I haven’t had a lot of time to work on them because I had a freelance editing job to accomplish and I still haven’t quite figured out how to balance personal writing with professional editing. The edit went rather well and I have a couple of other opportunities to chase because of it, so hopefully I’ll figure out balance here rather quickly.

I’m also trying to figure out how to explain the type of editing I do so I can put it up here on my website under its own heading. Yanno. Just in case.

And with that segue, here’s my attempt:

I like to call myself a developmental editor. There are several different kinds of editing, and sometimes the definitions thereof are a little ambiguous and somewhat overlapping. See three different sources: Here, here, and here, for case in point. So, as in any chat about editing, I should probably clarify my terms before we get too much further.

I usually classify them into three major categories. Copyediting, line editing, and developmental editing.

Copyediting (and/or Proofreading, because some people make a distinction between the two) is about getting down the very last stage of polishing and is primarily concerned with the what of what is actually set down on the page. It’s the grammar. The syntax. It’s making sure everything is spelled correctly and hyphenated correctly and that you’re using the correct slang. It’s citing your sources (in nonfiction) and making sure that you’re consistent in your capitalization and you’ve eliminated as many typos as possible. This is the very last stage before your piece of work goes live. This is the type of edit that I always seek out before I send anything off for real because even at my most accurate, I start seeing what I meant to type and not what’s actually there.

Line editing is a bit looser and more concerned with the how of how something is written. This is going through your story line by line, paragraph by paragraph and looking for both logical consistency and flow. This is the place where word choices are first challenged, and all of those sentences with jarring parallel construction are pointed out. This is where I nudge people toward a consistent style, and try and suggest ways to develop atmosphere and tension within a scene and what they’re accomplishing with the words laid down as-is.

Developmental (or Substantial/Structural) editing is the most abstract of the categories, and it’s primarily concerned with the why of the piece. Why is this scene here? Why are you developing this theme? It addresses concerns such as building tension and releasing it early, or overwriting scenes that don’t need emphasis. Being a developmental editor is like being a rollercoaster designer; it’s all about making sure the story will guides the reader from the beginning to the end on a smooth path and contains only the terror and thrills you mean it to.

Classifications defined, I must say that developmental editing is what I enjoy the most, mostly because I get to I wade into the story, knee-deep, and sort of muck about. Some of my most favorite discussions with people have been wrangling about the construction of novels and movies, and over the past couple of years I’ve transitioned that love of discovering why I enjoy a thing into something useful by practicing on my writer-friends.

My philosophy of editing is very much about figuring out what story the writer wants to tell. I’m not sure how other editors approach manuscripts, but I’m of the opinion that the only way something can be ‘wrong’ when writing a book is if the author does not convey what they were trying to get across. I also firmly believe that a necessary part of editing a book is knowing why something isn’t working.

Partially, my desire to make sure my writers know what’s going is because I’m constitutionally incapable of accepting a ‘correction’ if I don’t know the reasoning behind it. I have editors I trust to know what’s up, but my process requires knowledge of all of the ‘whys’ and mechanical underpinnings of what my words are doing. Sometimes an editor can suggest something quite good and it just won’t fit with what I was trying to accomplish; if I modified my piece, then my goal would be that much further away. Not only that, but I don’t learn and grow as a writer unless I know why I’ve missed my mark so I can hit it first try next time around.

I assume that other writers have a similar growth process and a similar attitude toward  grappling with the underpinnings of whatever piece they’re writing. Granted, sometimes that’s not true, but I default to explaining everything and modify based on author preference.

I need to wrap this up because I’ve spun off two other blogposts via digressions (not included) already, so I think my general conclusion is that, when I edit, I approach it with an attitude of figuring out what the writer’s goal was, and then helping them discover how they can accomplish that goal. I disagree with the idea that there should be some sort of conformance to a mold, even in genre writing, though I do think that there is power in using established conventions to convey meaning.

Developmental editing, for me, is all about finding patterns and making connections. Plus, feeling around inside the mechanical guts of a piece of writing has the fun and interesting side effect that sometimes I end up explaining to my authors what they were trying to accomplish by instinct in the first place.

Though I admit my investigations have been limited, I’ve not found a lot of information on how other editors (especially developmental editors) go about editing philosophically, so if anyone reading has any thoughts or resources, I’d love to compare notes. 🙂

 

 

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