The Final Proof: The editing process
What happens behind the scenes during editing? Editor Chloe Brien presents one method of text editing, using the three tiers of the editing process.
The three tiers of the editing process are: structural editing, copyediting, proofreading.
Structural editing: Content, style, flow, purpose, audience – of the overall piece.
Copyediting: Clarity, consistency, completeness, correctness, house style, punctuation – ideally after the piece’s structure is finalised.
Proofreading: The final quality check.
What is there and what is missing?
Is the author trying to tell too many stories at once? Too many storylines can make the piece a jumble. The author should refocus on one or two main stories to make the piece stronger.
Aim for an original piece. If it’s a familiar story, present it in an original way through unique characters, moments or a distinct voice.
Has the author introduced too many characters? Readers could lose track if there are too many names to retain. Who is most necessary for the story? If there are a small number of characters, the author will be able to explore each of their personalities in more depth and help a reader connect with them. (Try telling this to George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones. Lucky he keeps killing them off!)
Is the structure the most exciting it could be?
Should the last line actually be the first line? Maybe the story should begin in the middle of the action to grab a reader’s attention, to make the piece more exciting.
Are the last lines strong enough? If the last lines are any of the following, suggest the author consider a different way of surprising the reader:
· And then I woke up.
· It’s not a bad place to live – warm, dry, and with nice padded walls.
· The guillotine blade fell swiftly, severing my head from my body.
· He slowly put the muzzle of the gun against his forehead.
· He pulled the sheet of paper out of the typewriter. The story was done.
Of course, this kind of story is okay if it’s a young child writing it. Our development as writers comes from experimentation and taking risks. I’ve written stories like this, and I know many other writers who have (the ones who will admit it). It can be good practise for growing as a writer.
Another important question to ask is: is the first line interesting enough? A first line grabs a reader’s attention and makes them want to read more. It sparks their imagination, and should get them feeling anything from curious, compassionate or eager, to sad, angry or shocked. And it can make a difference whether the story is selected for publication.
Is the point of view consistent? Make sure the story told by the same person or entity.
First person: Great for connecting with a reader, as it makes them feel like the character is speaking directly to them, sharing some secret with them. Creates that sense of closeness, all warm and fuzzy.
Second person: Second person makes a reader part of the story, makes them experience the world through the character. It can be very powerful, demanding that the reader be that character. This can, however, make it feel overly aggressive, or tiresome. If it doesn’t seem to be working in a piece of writing, the author can try writing the story in first person instead, as it has a similar closeness about it.
Third person: An ancient literary strategy, the most natural way to speak about someone else’s adventures. Can be focused on just one character, more than one character, or can be omniscient. It lets your author comment on their own narrative voice, introduce historical information, philosophise about human behaviour and make remarks about character behaviour.
Is there variation and coherence in the pace, rhythm and transitions?
A mixture of long and short sentences, words with a varying number of syllables. Do the scene changes work in fiction? Are there linking sentences in nonfiction?
Why is the piece written this way? What could be the reader’s perspective?
Know the difference between a character’s opinion and what could be taken to be the author’s opinion. If a character in a piece of writing says something like, ‘Old people are stupid,’ that’s alright because it’s adding to their character. But if the piece is written in third person – the narrator is an unspecified entity or uninvolved person who tells the story and is not a character – and the narrator says, ‘Old people are stupid,’ the reader may dislike the narrator or distrust them, and stop reading because they think it’s the author’s words.
Who are the readers?
Reading should be a positive experience for a reader. Will the piece offend instead of challenge a reader?
Once the structure of the piece has been finalised, it’s time to look at the individual components of the piece, such as the clarity, consistency, completeness, correctness, house style, punctuation and formatting within each sentence.
It’s okay to be flexible with language, so long as the writing is consistent. We should aim more for what is called ‘standard’ English, which is English that is written how you would speak, only more polished. Although, this doesn’t mean it has to be posh, just a smooth read.
If it’s done well, the reader won’t even notice. How many times have you tried to read a piece and had to give up because it’s not fun to read due to spelling errors and inconsistencies? It needs to be internally consistent.
To tackle these components of the copyedit, use reference material such as:
· The Little Green Grammar Book
· Style manual
· House Style
· Word grid
· Macquarie Dictionary
Even though language is flexible, it seems that some things probably won’t change because they serve a purpose that other parts of language don’t. This is particularly true of punctuation.
Punctuation tells a reader when to pause and how long to pause for, where the silence and where the emphasis should be. It makes the writing feel like it’s being spoken – it lets a sentence talk and lets the reader hear it. When done well, it results in elegant and meaningful writing.
Some other hints when it comes to refining a piece:
· Watch out for double spaces between words.
· Often if a word is technically incorrect, but it’s used enough, it can become correct. So now, the word dice can replace the word die. Macquarie Dictionary Online: ‘The singular form die is now rarely used. Dice is the usual form for both the plural and the singular.’
· The capitalisation of the brand Google is different to the verb ‘to google’ something.
· ‘apart’ and ‘a part’ are two different things.
· ‘alot’ should be two words. We don’t say ‘alittle’ or ‘abunch’.
· affect = verb, effect = noun (if you can substitute the word ‘analyse’, then ‘affect’ should be used: ‘It will analyse me greatly.’ – use ‘affect’).
· then = time, than = comparison (is it a comparison? – if yes, it’s an ‘alternative’, which starts with the letter ‘a’ – ‘than’ has an ‘a’ in it – use ‘than’).
The final polish before a piece goes to print. This means checking that all changes have been properly taken in, that the page numbers and contents page are correct, images are in place, formatting is correct, images are the correct resolution, and that the text contains no spelling and grammar errors.
Are you using the Markup function in Word, or are you using proofreading marks? Make sure each person in the team knows the correct way to mark up the text, and that everyone is using the same system.
Keen to get started on the editing process? Submit your manuscipts via our Submissions page.