Okay, here’s a brand new feature on the blog. Once in a while, I’m going to have someone from the publishing industry (writer, editor, publisher, agent etc.) over to the blog to talk about a particular topic of interest. Hopefully, this will help demystify the industry for aspiring writers as well as draw your attention to key people within the world of genre fiction.
Kicking us off is fellow horror hack Joseph D’Lacey on (din din diiiiiinnnn!) EDITING…
Life-saving Surgery: a word on editing for the improving writer
I’m not talking about lancing the infected spot which could have ruined your looks forever or the operation that ensured your brain stayed in your head the night you got drunk and fell off your pushbike or the time they stitched your little finger back on after you lost it in a bet.
I’m talking about the most relevant survival procedure in a terrifying and threatening world. I’m talking about editing – the only surgery that actually gives you a fighting chance in this overcrowded world of wannabe authors. Imagine the competition as the zombie hordes and you’ll have an idea of how many people out there are trying to do what you’re doing.
Short term, you can’t beat the undead multitudes by trying to improve your writing. Your ability to write can only improve marginally, no matter what you study or how many hours you put in.
However, your editing skill will mature and improve significantly throughout your entire writing life. If you want results fast, if you want to rise to the top of that pyramid of the scrabbling dead, let the writing sort itself out and concentrate on editing.
FACT: If you don’t have an editor, your work will not be of as high a standard as that of a writer who does.
The best editor is the one your publisher assigns you. If this hasn’t happened for you yet, don’t panic. There’s no way around it other than to be your own best editor until you have the good fortune to work with one. The way to do that is to rework each piece you write several times. A lot of several times.
5 crucial editing passes:
- Cut for flow. Does the story slow down, wander off, become cyclical for no good reason? Is it cluttered with extraneous description? Lose everything that interrupts a smooth read.
- Cut for form. How does your work look on the page? Is it blocky and dense? Go back and look at your paragraphs. What does each passage do? Does it have a purpose? If so, can it be shorter? Break up long blocks of text into smaller paragraphs. Create white space on your page. Make it simple and inviting. Remember, before it’ll ever get as far as an actual paying reader, this fiction of yours has to convince an editor it’s worthy. [NB: Self-publishing your work? This rule is even more important for you. With no editor, the likelihood that you’ll entertain or satisfy a reader is greatly reduced.]
- Cut for clarity. Is there something here that might cause a reader to pause or reread a section? Is there anything, anything at all, that isn’t easy to understand? Rewrite or discard it. If you don’t, you risk losing your reader’s attention. If that happens, chances are they’ll never pick up a piece of work with your name on it again.
- Cut for pace. Is the story moving along in every section? In every sentence? Is there always a reason for a reader to want more? Pace should create a domino effect; one incident falling into the next – even if they’re unconnected by time, character or setting – creating a desire in the reader to keep reading. Anything that unnecessarily prevents or slows this chain reaction has to go.
- Cut for relevance. You know that beautiful description of your character’s mother in a flashback? That’s probably the most amazing prose you’ve ever written. People will read it and think ‘Fuck, I’ll never write as well as that.’ No. Actually, they won’t. They’ll never even see it. Because if it isn’t part of the story, if it doesn’t propel the story forwards, you’re going to take a big, dirty cleaver and amputate it. This is a story. This is fiction. Put that beautiful, now pale and bloodless limb in the meat locker and use it in a poem some other time.
There are many editing passes you should make – for structure, grammar, consistency, spelling, character motivations, story arcs and dialogue – but the five I’ve detailed will do much to raise the standard of your work without you even thinking about your actual writing ability.
If Wayne will have me back, I’ll talk about the Blood Fugue re-write next time, detailing the exact nature of the cuts and changes made to a novel I believed was waaaaay beyond ready for publication. The ensuing edit turned out to be among the biggest writing lessons of my life.
Joseph D’Lacey is best known for his shocking eco-horror tale Meat, a widely translated novel which prompted Stephen King to say “Joseph D’Lacey rocks!”.
Other works include Garbage Man, Snake Eyes, The Kill Crew, The Failing Flesh and Splinters – a collection of his best short stories. He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 2009.
His new apocalyptic fantasy Black Feathers is out on 26th March in The USA/4th April in the UK.
Follow JD’L on Twitter, on Facebook and on Goodreads