What Is Editing?

Editing can be broken down into many different types of editing with different names depending on who you ask and where you’re from. Sometimes people will even use one name for a type of editing and mean something else entirely. For example, I was once asked to proof-read a piece of work so I went through it and corrected the spelling errors and was promptly told off by the person for correcting their spelling errors. To this day I had no idea what they actually wanted me to do.

As I’ve mentioned it we’ll begin with proof-reading, the most basic form of editing, and some people don’t count it as editing. When we proof-read all we’re expected to do is mark-up spelling and grammar errors. We can stretch proof-reading to basic sentence structure edits based upon incorrect grammar. By which I mean we’re not editing out adverbs or saying a sentence might be more effective if a writer does something different but rather marking misplaced punctuation. This might seemed implied by the idea that we’re correcting errors but sometimes when people begin proof-reading they hesitate about editing grammar because there can be a fine line between correcting grammar mistakes and changing deliberately placed grammar designed to create a particular effect. For instance:

If. We. Break. Every. Word.

It isn’t grammatically correct but creates deliberate emphasis. Even if this doesn’t create a writer’s desired effect when we’re proof-reading we don’t comment on this. However, if the writer accidentally puts the wrong punctuation then we can change that, such as:

I really meant to use a comma. but hit the full-stop key by mistake.

In short, proof-reading is the correcting of mistakes not structure and so on.

We’ll keep it simple and call the next step basic editing. When basic editing we can point out issues such as plot holes, moments that don’t feel right, too much exposition, suggest sentence changes, cuts and proof-reading points. However, when we do a basic edit we tend to keep it vaguer, than a deep edit. You might ask why we might not highlight everything that could be changed but not everyone wants a deep edit for various reasons. For instance, if a writer lacks confidence and we go through their work and say ‘you need to change this and that and this’ then we can have a detrimental effect on the person, it can even convince them they’re not a very good writer when that might not be what you meant at all. We can always build up edits through drafts, helping other writers revise and refine their work and build their confidence gradually. One way to this could be to suggest major issues in a first edit, such as plot holes or excessive information, then on subsequent edits refine it down to changing sentence structure and removing unnecessary proses etc.

What we’ll call a deep edit would be going through, suggesting restructuring, cutting, trimming words, pointing out logic/continuity errors. Anything that the editor feels needs to be examined can be pointed out. This is not a form of editing that should be employed without the writer’s permission, while not all of an editor’s suggestions need to be applied the amount of comments this leads to can be demoralising for a writer. When we’re editing we’re helping writers improve their writing not picking fault or undermining them.

It is important to note that the editor-writer relationship is based on trust, boundaries have to be set to protect both writer and editor. An editor needs to know how far they’re allowed to go and not only so they don’t harm the writer but so the writer doesn’t harm them with undue aggression because the editor though they were acting within the writer’s parameters. Remember the person at the beginning who got angry at me for proof-reading when they asked me to?

It is also important to remember that not every part of editing is about finding points that need consideration or change, it’s about pointing out the good aspects of a writer’s work too. Point out lines you like, tell them you love that character, say they did that bit of description particularly well. This not only helps balance feedback it can also increase a writer’s confidence because they can see what they do well, not only what they need to improve.


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Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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