If Walls Could Talk: ‘Tis the Season for Editing, Falalalala la la laaaaa

M.H. Norris

Working on edits is one of my least favorite things to do as a writer. Ask James, I’ve come a long, long, long way in that department (and for the record, it was me who added the extra long [and James who added the third]) but it is still something I dread.

One part of editing is cutting things. It can be hard. So often it’s easy to come up with justification. “But there’s a character moment there!” or “Don’t I need this to set this up?” or “This is important because…”

You get the idea.

How many of these have you used?

See, if I try to deny using any of these, James will add an editor’s note to this post and tell you some story that I’d prefer not get mentioned.

Writers get attached to their work; if you’re doing your job right then you have to. You’re writing thousands of words about one character (or a group of characters) and expect the reader to get invested enough to stay until the end.

And sometimes what we think is best for that investment and connection is not actually what’s best.

Which is why having a good editor is so, so important to a writer.

That person who tells you no. The person that takes the red pen (or has Microsoft Word frequently set to red text) to your work and leaves you wondering if there is at least one page in this entire story that doesn’t have red ink on it.

Let me tell you, those are the most satisfying pages.

Writers can’t be objective. Not about our own work that is. There are times we take great pleasure in ripping apart other writers and let the world know what we think they are doing wrong.

Yeah, I do it.

I’m not sure if this is a pep talk for you or I’m using this as an excuse to give myself a pep talk as I get ready to do edits on yet another story.

Either way, I’m a firm believe that behind every great writer is a great editor. (And writers, make sure you include them on your Christmas shopping list. Let’s be real, they put up with a lot from us all year round.)

I tease James all the time that I ignore his edits and don’t cut stuff but the truth is I think there’s only been twice where I’ve put something back he cut and that was after I justified it pretty extensively.

Why is stuff cut from a story?

Length

If you’re writing a short story for a collection, length is a factor. It’s less of one in a book but at the same time try to keep those between 50-85K words if at all possible.

Sometimes, your story is just a bit too long.

Or maybe it’s too short and by editing something out, you open up the door to add something else that is needed.

I’ve also had it where I didn’t explain something enough and entire scenes have been born to make sure the story flows better.

Which leads me to my next point…

Flow

Sometimes, stuff has to get cut or moved to another part of a story because it messes with the flow of the story. You’ve noticed it in a story before, or even an episode of TV, where something doesn’t quite work. It hurts how the rest of the episode flows together.

That’s when it’s important to let someone cut for you. You might not see that it’s going to hurt the overall story. But a good editor will point it out to you.

Pacing

This is something James has to get on me about. I think I did a post a couple of months ago about writing a climax and it is something I struggle with. The biggest struggle is pacing.

Your entire story builds up to it. It’s like TV. I can tell when a show has the right bad guy or not because of how far into the episode we are. Psych used to do it all the time. They always caught the bad guy about 36 minutes into the 42 minute episode.

Scenes sometimes disrupt pacing, especially when you get close to the end.

Once again, writers have trouble objectively seeing that problem.

Well, now that I’ve used writing this as an excuse to not work on edits long enough, I guess I should get back to it…

If you take nothing else away from what I say this week, take this. Find a good editor. It needs to be someone you can trust because I’ve done it both ways and the whole process goes smoother if you trust the person doing the edits.