Editors Edit, or What To Do Once Writers Have Written (by August Rode)

So you’ve written your story. Look! Words! Sentences! Paragraphs! Time to publish! Seriously? Are you kidding me?

I look at story writing for Ficly as having two separate processes, writing and editing, and I switch back and forth between them at will. What happens in these processes is entirely different. When I write, I work out the details of the plot, invent the characters with their salient characteristics, and express my ideas in words in an effort to make the story leave my brain and splash onto the page.

Once I’ve done that, the hard work begins. Editing… it isn’t just making certain that the spelling and grammar of the piece are correct. There’s a lot of other factors that need to be considered. What follows is probably a very incomplete guide regarding things to think about when editing. These aren’t rules. Plainly and simply, if you don’t think that a particular guideline is appropriate to the story you’re writing, don’t follow it but do that knowingly.

Since most people do think about spelling and grammar when they think about editing, let’s get that one out of the way first so we can focus on more interesting things. Spelling, grammar and punctuation are important for one reason and one reason alone: you should not expect anyone else to take your writing seriously if you can’t be bothered to take even the most basic of interest in the presentation of your own story. First impressions are important. Done with that.

Now comes the interesting part. Dismiss that writer part of you from the room. Read your piece several times through as though you were not its author, and ask yourself the following questions as you do.

Is the piece internally consistent? Are there any contradictions? If the piece is a prequel or sequel, is the piece consistent with the installments with which it is associated? As a writer, you should resolve what contradictions you find.

Are there any redundancies? Is there too much repetition in word choice or sentence structure? Is there anything that can be inferred rather than being directly stated? Find alternate words. Break sentences up or combine them. Rephrase. Variation always keeps the reader’s interest better than reiteration does. Look for words that revolve around the same basic idea to see if some of them can be omitted. An example would be words like wet and water. Don’t spoon feed your readers. Make them do some thinking. The character limit is absolute so a mindful choice of words is important.

Are there any conjoined sentences in which the parts bear no logical relationship to each other? Break the sentence into two parts. Shorter sentences add punch to a story.

Does the piece seem rushed? Has the 1024 character limit forced you to accelerate through parts of the piece? A rushed piece is often the result of a story that’s too large in scope for the format. If that’s the case, you have at least two choices: enlarge the space by using multiple installments, or shrink the story by focusing on what you see as the truly critical aspect.

Does the piece achieve what you hoped for emotionally? Will the story hit the reader hard precisely when you want her to be hit, or are there incidents of heightened emotion that read like a cookbook? This can happen if the piece is rushed, but you can also look at your word choice. Words like “mad” or “angry” are flat compared to “infuriated” or “enraged.” Choose wisely.

Does the piece genuinely convey what you hoped it would when you wrote it? Are you effectively communicating the ideas that you intended? Is the story interesting to you? For me, this is the big question and there is no cookie cutter answer. It’s more a matter of sitting there and reading your piece until you come up with an answer. If you determine that you yourself aren’t particularly thrilled with your own piece, send it back to the writer with a rejection slip. It has happened to me on many occasions that I’ve had to thoroughly revise stories which just fell horribly flat. In some cases, I’ve even gone so far as to determine that the idea itself isn’t worthy of pursuit and I delete my draft entirely.

Because of the character limitation and because it is possible to write prequels and sequels, some of the standard rules regarding short story writing can be overlooked. In my mind, it is perfectly fine to begin a piece without full introductions and to end a piece without a resolution.

The editor’s job is to present the writer’s story in a manner in which the readers will be interested. Take the time. It’s important. You’re important.

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Comments (27 so far!)

  1. Avatar ElshaHawk (LoA)

    other notable things:

    Consider eliminating words like possibly, simply, really, totally, very, supposedly, seriously, terribly, allegedly, utterly, sort of, kind of, usually, extremely, almost, mostly, practically, probably, and quite. These are empty modifiers and ficly hasn’t enough characters for them.

    Search for extraneous thats and hads. “He had been talking about how he had needed to get new glasses” could be phrased better as “He talked about how he needed new glasses,” or even “He talked about needing new glasses.”

    CHECK YOUR TENSES. I’m guilty of changing tenses mid ficly.

    AND HUGE THANK YOU to August for submitting this! (If you want to supply a guest post, note me, or for a more indepth approach, join our forum! See me for details.)

  2. Avatar Abby (LoA)

    Great article. Cheers =) I personally absolutely abhor editing, as I can’t stand reading my own writing. If only there was someone to do it for me. Ah well, these things must be done. Sometimes I think that you lose the original magic by picking and altering at your words. I suppose the character limit does affect individual style so I concede…
    Abby x

  3. Avatar ElshaHawk (LoA)

    Grammar IS important, so we can understand it, but in the first draft write what your heart has inside and go back and edit it later.

    The heart of a writer beats with Story. The mark of a good Storyteller is being able to embellish it and polish it to an entrancing tale.

    We’ve been editing ourselves since we first needed to impress another human. :)

  4. Avatar 32 ^2

    “Here” is enough.

    Ficly is about creativity.

    Most people don’t have the time to write serious fiction.

    Something simple – two, maybe three paragraphs of a character, a plot or even just a place.

    Constraints are good.

    Choose your words carefully.

    Less daunting.

    All you have to do is write one kilobyte of something – something fictional. That’s all.

    Ficly is about love, creativity, writing and community.

    Ficly isn’t here to take over the world.

    Ficly is here to build and bring joy

    I’m here to brainstorm with writers, I don’t need an “editor”. Ficly is not an editing site, there’s writing farms and factories for that. Each writer on Ficly has special talents, your laundry list above can easily be ironed out on a by-writer-by-story basis. Yes, an 8th grade level should be expected, but that doesn’t mean a person who has a degree can “write”.

    This type of critique, whether here or as a comment, is not welcoming and it can cause frustration and broken pencils.

  5. Avatar August 2nd

    @32 ^2: My point is that everyone here serves as their own editor, whether you acknowledge that or not. You and I have different views about what Ficly is and what it isn’t and both of our views don’t match anyone else’s. That’s right and proper. If it wasn’t clear from the blog post (and it might not have been), what I’ve provided are the guidelines that I use when I edit my own stories. Use them or not as you wish. It’s all up to you.

    You’ve said that you’re here to brainstorm with writers. I’m here for the same reason. I don’t know what you’re expecting to brainstorm about, but I want to improve my writing and the means by which that is typically done here is through comments on stories. I expect constructive critiques. I crave them, and I don’t get enough of them. I would love to have someone tear one of my stories into shreds. Your mileage may vary.

  6. Avatar In Night's Arms

    I wanted to comment on this but I’m not really sure how. I for one never know how to comment on stories, so I don’t see what you do August, stories don’t really ever fall flat in my eyes. Even if they do, its usually easy enough to find the idea or emotion behind it so it can be overlooked.
    I always feel like my poetry doesn’t have the impact I want it to, but I can also see how I’ve improved. So that’s what ficly is for me. Just trying ti find the right way.
    I’m may have strayed a little here. But that’s what I’m here for. Just learning, finding my way.

  7. Avatar 32 ^2

    @ In Night’s Arms:

    In the spirit of Ficly, beautifully put: “— its usually easy enough to find the idea or emotion behind it so it can be overlooked.”

  8. Avatar ElshaHawk (LoA)

    @August, I highlighted the areas where you say you can take your advice or leave it. :)
    It’s all about learning. This blog should serve as a resource, but only you can take away from it what you need.

  9. Ahfl_icon THX 0477

    Great reminder, and I loved the little section on grammar and spelling. So many artsy people beg off on bothering with that, expecting the work to be taken as is, unrefined, and somehow magically seen as magnificent.

  10. Avatar memento

    The primary objective of writing is effective communication for the purpose of idea transference. That is why writing was invented, and to this day it remains true. Before we can ever hope to positively impact others with the works we create, we must know how to communicate.
    Communication is fundamentally based upon mutually agreed structures. When I say the word “love” to an English speaker, those four characters in sequence infer the entirety of the concepts of love, and its related subjects. However, should I say “love” to one who doesn’t speak English, it is simply a sound devoid of any meaning.
    This is because of one simple fact: we are not using the same communicational structures, and therefore no exchange of ideas can occur. As (writers), we must begin by learning and, at least initially, adhering to the established linguistic forms that the intended recipient conforms to.

  11. Avatar memento

    After achieving a true connection with our readers, we as (artists) can begin to stretch, bend, or maybe break those structures, or introduce new ones. The greatest writers have always been those who could take the reader outside of his own experiences and introduce new thoughts, new concepts, and new structures of perception.
    However, this can only take place after commonality has been established as a point of reference, otherwise the necessary leaps of logic won’t be made and the reader will be alienated. We must approach the readers on their terms with the intent of eventually introducing them to ours. Only then will our stories be effective, and our readers responsive.

  12. Avatar Robert Quick

    You are my most trusted and omni-present editor. We have had more than a few discussions on the nature of writing and editing and it looks like some of them ended up here. The blog entry is solid, focused, and thoughtful as it is thought-provoking. I’m not sure how many times I edit and re-edit my work before it gets posted but it is a lot- at least most of the time. Even then mistakes creep in. I myself am only a so-so editor of my own work. Somehow it seems easier to edit other people’s stories. So I appreciate those who give their time to act as editors, even if my responses sometimes come off as passive aggressive and resentful. Special thank-you’s go to August, THX, Elsha, 32^2, as the folks who help me the most.

  13. Avatar ElshaHawk (LoA)

    @memento Good point about the conventions of grammar of spelling.. that the whole point of them is to form a firm foundation upon which we can build our storytelling skills. Also, that the commonality needs to be reached in a story before you introduce new things. Though often in ficly, we just jump in. :)

  14. Avatar Mighty-Joe Young (A.K.A Strong Coffee)(LoA)

    @32 you are so right. Bravo

  15. Avatar Abby (LoA)

    Somehow, beneath wonderful grammer and vocabulary, there’s an argument going on here. Hmm. =)

  16. Avatar August 2nd

    @Abby: Would an argument be a bad thing? I don’t think so. When it comes to criticism, there is a spectrum that runs from craving it to abhorring it. Where anyone falls along that spectrum is their personal choice made for personal reasons and it isn’t anyone else’s right to say that they should do otherwise. It isn’t fair to treat everyone the same. In my mind, the question that is bubbling to the surface is one of finding a way to respect their approach to receiving criticism. That is surely a community matter and a community discussion seems the most correct way to resolve it.

  17. Avatar August 2nd

    I have been informed that my blog post may have come across a bit too strongly. To those that feel this, I unreservedly apologize. It was not my intent that everyone should do as I do. Rather this piece should be read with an understanding that I thought it would be of interest to others to understand what it is that I do. If in the final summation, I’ve managed to stimulate some discussion then that’s a positive and useful outcome.

  18. Avatar Abby (LoA)

    Yup. That’s why my comment was accompanied by a smiley face. Although I hate conflict bitterly, I enjoy a good debate and I believe that editing is a very good point for such an exchange. I strongly believe that no re-wording can truly beat the originality of heart-felt statement – the basis of many a ficly. Nevertheless, your blog shall surely be very helpful in the future, if not for little ficlies then definately for the larger novels and series that many of the writers on this site construct.

  19. Avatar memento

    @August — In this case, I think strong statements are good things. I’m reminded of a quote that states, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” As you said, you’ve catalyzed a conversation worth having.

    I usually assume if the author is willing to post their work on an public forum, they’re open to critiques. If they don’t like it, they can request I stop, or flame me, or communicate in any other equally effective manner. If a work is so personal the author doesn’t want constructive comments, they probably shouldn’t be showing it to the public in the first place.

    Also, it should be noted that any statement against critiquing is itself a statement of critique, and is thus self-defeating.

  20. Avatar 32 ^2

    A strong statement, only because the subject of this article is about editing.

    ~Seriously, are you kidding me?
    ~There are a lot of other factors that need to be considered.
    ~Spoon-feed
    ~Okay, done with that.
    ~The character limit is absolute, so word choice is important.

  21. Avatar August 2nd

    @32: Yes, yes, you’re telling me that my post could have used some further editing. I got that days ago and I’ve already apologized for the tone. Do you intend to keep busting my chops over this?

  22. Avatar Abby (LoA)

    don’t worry. people are just voicing their opinions. you’ve written about a subject which you feel strongly about and that’s a good thing because it really comes across. you should write a book about editing!

  23. Avatar 32 ^2

    Allow me to quote a sentiment I share, but can’t seem to express:

    ~A writer with a mind that doesn’t register how words are spelled tends to see through the words he encounters — straight to the things, characters, ideas, images and emotions they conjure. A good speller, by contrast — the kind who never fails to clock the idiosyncratic orthography of “algorithm” or “Albert Pujols” — tends to see language as a system.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/the-price-of-typos/

    In my language I would share this fact: Most food critiques don’t enjoy eating.

  24. Avatar 32 ^2

    I love my community and the stories it produces, some of our stores are uniquely beautiful, like Sophia Loren:

    “What a subject: her nose is too big, her mouth is too big, she has the composites of all the wrong things, but put them all together and pow! All the natural mistakes of beauty fall together to create a magnificent accident.” — Rex Reed on Sophia Loren, review, Oct. 23, 1968

    My sentiments exactly!

  25. Avatar In Night's Arms

    @August
    it certainly did not need editing. No reason to feel like you can’t express something you have a strong opinion about. Its just…touchy subject apparently.
    I had something I wanted to add that escapes me now. Oh well.

  26. Avatar Murj;

    I love to edit my pieces but sometimes I can second guess myself so much that it puts me into a weird funk. I’m getting better at it now, at least I hope I am. I enjoyed reading the guide, it was helpful :)

  27. Avatar Kihd

    I never edit in the same hour that I’ve written something. When I do, I’m still reading the piece with my dream-like writer’s cap on, and I always overlook details needing to be changed. If I re-read something a few hours later, I can usually read it as though I were not the one that wrote it.
    Spelling has been iffy lately for some reason, I usually throw in too many commas, butt with grammer i do good.
    (LOL)