My Latest Editing Techniques

WriterI recently took a course on Udemy that I highly recommend for writers: https://www.udemy.com/writing-with-flair-how-to-become-an-exceptional-writer/

In that course, Shani Raja describes his methods of simplifying and fixing writing within a journalistic context. Even though the course is aimed at journalists, I took a lot from it and have already adapted my editing techniques. I thought I’d share my current approach with all of you.

As an example, I’m using a short piece of text from my upcoming book The Bite of Forest Dark. It’s just chosen at random from halfway through the book. Here’s the text unedited:

The north road was easier on horseback with five hundred soldiers marching behind her. Although the crown on her head, a present from the King of Sqat, grew heavier the longer she wore it. He’d insisted it was necessary and Darcy had agreed.

Leading the soldiers, Stave remained as stern as ever. He hadn’t appreciated Osric’s attempts at humour, so he and his soldiers kept to themselves and Jenni kept company with Osric and Darcy.

It took them seven days to reach Atraport. Jenni stopped her horse inside the gates and dismounted, finding Stave.

“General Stave,” Jenni said. “We should stop here for the night. I have people to locate before me move on.”

The first thing I do, before I read through the text is to run Grammarly, which I picked up on sale over Christmas. However. for this particular sample, Grammarly didn’t pick up anything.

The next thing I do is read the text out loud, analysing each sentence to see if it is the easiest and most poetic way to say something.

The first sentence is pretty straightforward. It had the word was in it, which some people object to strongly, but I think it’s fine in this context. The second sentence, however, is a little clunky in the way it’s written:

Although the crown on her head, a present from the King of Sqat, grew heavier the longer she wore it.

Combined with the next sentence, we have three distinct thoughts:

The crown is heavy; The King of Sqat and Darcy agree she should wear it; The crown was a present from the King of Sqat.

So first I’ll try splitting them up differently:

Although the crown on her head grew heavier the longer she wore it. A present from the King of Sqat, he’d insisted she wear it and Darcy had agreed.

That works better, but it gives me some passive voice in the second sentence. I could change it further to:

Although the crown on her head grew heavier the longer she wore it. A present from the King of Sqat, she wore it at his and Darcy’s insistence.

Now I’ve introduced a word echo with ‘wore’, so I’ll eliminate that:

Although the crown on her head grew heavier the longer she wore it. A present from the King of Sqat, she tolerated it at his and Darcy’s insistence.

Moving on to the next paragraph, it has two sentences:

Leading the soldiers, Stave remained as stern as ever. He hadn’t appreciated Osric’s attempts at humour, so he and his soldiers kept to themselves and Jenni kept company with Osric and Darcy.

The first sentence reverse in, but since we’ve had a few straightforward sentences, it might be a nice change of pace. The second sentence seems clunky to me, though. Here, the thoughts are:

Stave doesn’t appreciate Osric’s humour; Stave and his soldiers are keeping themselves to themselves; Jenni, Osric and Darcy are doing the same.

Trying to simplify it a little:

After a few of Osric’s attempt at humour fell flat, the two groups kept to themselves. Stave and his soldiers answering any questions with a word or two.

I’ve introduced both a grammar error and made the second thought unclear, so I’ll have another go:

After a few of Osric’s attempt at humour fell flat, the two groups kept to themselves. Stave and his soldiers answered any questions with a word or two. Jenni kept company with Osric and Darcy instead, trying to ignore the cold stares.

As you can see, I’ve expanded the text instead of contracting it, but I think it’s a clearer communication of the thought behind the paragraph.

In the next paragraph:

It took them seven days to reach Atraport. Jenni stopped her horse inside the gates and dismounted, finding Stave.

This seems a little bare-bones, so I might expand it a bit:

Jenni never thought she’d be so grateful to see Atraport when they reached it seven days later. Stopping her horse inside the gates, she dismounted and found Stave.

I’ve added a tiny thought, in that Jenni is grateful, but it makes sense after the tense journey before. Next:

“General Stave,” Jenni said. “We should stop here for the night. I have people to locate before me move on.”

The first thing I notice is that I have a spelling error, since it should be ‘before we move on’. However, otherwise it seems alright. I might want to change the word locate to find:

“General Stave,” Jenni said. “Let’s stop here for the night. I need to talk to some friends here before we move on.”

Since Jenni is now king, she is giving Stave an order. So everything she’s saying makes sense as a direct order. All of the edits together give me:

The north road was easier on horseback with five hundred soldiers marching behind her. Although the crown on her head grew heavier the longer she wore it. A present from the King of Sqat, she tolerated it at his and Darcy’s insistence.

After a few of Osric’s attempts at humour fell flat, the two groups kept to themselves. Stave and his soldiers answered any questions with a word or two. Jenni kept company with Osric and Darcy instead, trying to ignore the cold stares of the troops.

Jenni never thought she’d be so grateful to see Atraport when they reached it seven days later. Stopping her horse inside the gates, she dismounted and found Stave.

“General Stave,” Jenni said. “Let’s stop here for the night. I need to talk to some friends here before we move on.”

Then I give it a final read-through, where I’ve added ‘of the troops’ to the end of the second paragraph and fixed ‘Osric’s attempt’ to ‘Osric’s attempts’.

This sample is from a fantasy book, where the language is a little old-fashioned compared to other books. Specifically, there is a lot more reversing into a sentence and using more formal language. If I was writing science-fiction, the sentence:

A present from the King of Sqat, she tolerated it at his and Darcy’s insistence.

Would become:

The King of Sqat pushed it on her and Darcy insisted it was necessary.

As I edit, some things won’t be quite as edited as others. If I’m reading something that makes sense and is relatively nicely written, I might skip over it entirely. The important thing there is to wait long enough between writing something and editing it to gain perspective.


 




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