What is editing? Many writers think it’s a grammar and spelling check. So many little errors so easily missed. (Past vs. passed; their, they’re, there – we all know the drill.) Comma or semicolon – now there’s a question. All of those things are part of the process of editing, but there’s more. Editing is an opportunity, a chance to evaluate the overall artistic value of the work.
My wife used to paint. She taught me something about composition. If you take the painting off the wall and rotate it, it should look good from all orientations – upside down of left side on the bottom or whatever. There is an artistic appreciation that involves the entirety. The same search for organic appreciation is true in creating a worthwhile novel.
When I talk with my editors, I like to talk about the way the story is told, what is the voice of the narrator, and what is the quality of immanence that the book provides. The dialog of editing allows the novelist to appreciate those kinds of questions.
I was particularly aware of that in the final preparation of Memoirs From the Asylum, my new novel from All Things That Matter Press. Editing Memoirs was particularly difficult not because my writing was less careful but because my goals were much greater. I wanted the reader to be there with the characters in the asylum in the experience. I wanted the narrator’s voice to provide the sense of uncertainty and chaos that would be appropriate to the world of a psychiatric hospital, and I wanted the story to give the reader the sense of certainty that the asylum offers at the same time that the reader understands the helpless feelings that such a place has to engender.
To accomplish those difficult goals, I used two editors. They each helped, as did my wife. Then I reread and realized that there was still something wrong. There were times the reader was not caught in the story but looking at it form outside. I put a small portion out to other readers and got feedback. The fix was relatively small, a change of tense; but it could have easily been missed.
Short stories, too, need a discursive edit. For them I use a writing group. While they certainly help with those small things that need correction, it is the bigger artistic sense to which they most contribute. For example, I recently wrote a piece, “Brothers’ Keepers,” about a surviving. The narrator is the brother, a cop, who is painfully aware that he is the survivor. He starts his tale with Biblical references. One of the group commented on the heaviness of the religious references so I dropped one of them. The result, a much better read. Another example, a story starting with a woman trapped under the corpse of her lover. Somebody noticed that the woman’s name didn’t work; she was right. A quick change and a stronger story.
The discursive quality of editing can be the difference between good and outstanding. Your editors and writing group peers are your friends; more importantly they are your story’s friends.
Ken Weene’s new book, Memoirs From the Asylum, is published by All Things That Matter Press. A trailer can be viewed at http://vidego.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=nqm74a8k more about Ken and his writing can be found at http://www.authorkenweene.com