On Editing Fiction, by Onil Lad
I decided to apply to a Manuscript Development Program at the last minute, a couple of days before the deadline. They required a sample of your work plus a pitch.
I edited as I went along and assumed the chapters were tidy and coherent enough to give the reader a sense of the concept.
My partner has recently started an editing course and I thought that she could practice on my manuscript.
Although it was an incomplete first draft, all that was required was to correct a few grammatical errors such as misplaced commas. Or so I thought.
The deadline was two days away and we only had seventy pages to get through. It should have been a cinch.
Apart from everything else, I didn’t realise just how long it would take to edit and redo the work. In the end we had to work constantly for those two days until we were both sick of the sight of my words. I must have read through those seventy pages dozens of times.
The process highlighted grammatical areas that I needed to brush up on. We disagreed a lot about commas. In the end I gave in when she showed me the exact line in the editing manual that proved she was right.
There were grammatical rules that I wasn’t aware of regarding hyphens and dashes. Heck, I didn’t know hyphens and dashes were different and now I find that there are “em” dashes and “en” dashes. I’d never heard of them.
As a speculative fiction writer, I try a lot of things and not all of them work. Sometimes when concepts hit the page, they sound ridiculous and you throw them out. It was embarrassing for me when I realized that some of the “miss” chapters got through. The comments hurt and it was depressing for me that my inferior chapters had been analysed. You want people to only read the final polished product.
We went through everything, even changing those character names that didn’t fit, and every line of dialogue, some of which, according to my editor, didn’t make sense. We agreed that we still have a lot of work to do to get the dialogue right.
We found some structural problems as well. It was clear that I was overcomplicating the plot. It was something else to fix at a later date.
If you need feedback, I think it’s better to show your work to an editor rather than a writing group. You’re more likely to get an honest critique.
Looking at the editor’s manual, I noticed that it was a doorstopper of a book. There’s so much to get to grips with. I think I need to do the editing course myself.
Anyway, we’ve got The Elements of Style now, which I can use as I go along.
The bottom line is that the collaboration, although painful at times, worked for me.
Next time, editing will be easier, and I’ll make sure that I leave enough time to go through my manuscript with a fine tooth comb.
Writing Novels in Australia