Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ruthless Editing

My dh and ds1 have just borrowed a Lord of the Rings unedited DVD from the library. They wanted to watch all the parts which were later deleted. They'd expected to find a number of extra scenes that hadn't made it to the movie. But there were, in fact, very few extra scenes. Instead, the scenes which were already in the movie had bits trimmed off them. Andrew said that the bits that had been cut out were as excellent as the rest of the movie. But they didn't necessarily carry the plot forward. So while the scenery, characterisation and effects in them were fantastic, they didn't "add" anything to the story but just reinforced what was already there.

I mentioned that in this regard, film editing seems very much like book editing. I ought to know. One of my tasks just recently has been to tackle some of the editing from my recently completed M/S. Even though I posted it to the editor feeling quite satisfied, I'm always amazed by how many snips and trims can be made without sacrificing any story line. Sometimes it's just a sentence here and there, a few "How are yous?" or "thank you very muches." Other times, I've managed to delete entire paragraphs, because I've studied them and thought, "Readers will be able to work this out in their own heads without being spoonfed," or "This is just repeating what I said in the last page, with different words." So far I've managed to shorten the whole thing by 50 or 60 pages just by getting rid of the unnecessary little extras. I've grown to quite enjoy this process.

Early in my writing days, I used to hate it because I thought, "That's goodbye to hours of hard work." And I've had other people tell me that this is the way they feel. But I've come to see for myself that, paradoxically, taking parts away really does add to the story's quality. It tightens the whole thing and just keeps it running so much more smoothly. A bit like pruning rose bushes or grape vines, I think. All that foliage appears green and healthy, but it gives flowers and fruit so much more opportunity to flourish when it goes.

I think everyone needs to do this type of editing, whether you're Shakespeare or a school student. The human brains seems to be constructed so we're naturally a bit too wordy and verbose in the first drafts. That's a good thing because it means that everything we want to get across is in there, and we just need to trim away the extra bits to make it shine. As blog writers I think we all probably go back over each post and do this process automatically. It's just as much a part of writing as typing or scribbling the words in the first place.

(As for what I get back from the editor, the bits that she says need to be cut out disturb me far less than the bits she says need to be embellished or expanded with more words, but more on that another day.)


  1. I am amazed you do so well with your editor's cuts. I'm not sure I would be as comfortable with that. Maybe because I had a horrible experience when I was 14 and a poem I submitted to the class yearbook was completely rewritten except for the first two lines. I never found out who did that.

    Like you, I do a lot of cutting and trimming on my own. Then I ask members of the family to have a look for clarity and grammar and re-edit based on their reactions. I'm turning Marina into an editor. :o)

    Excellent post Paula!

    Peace and Laughter,

  2. Reading the first part of this post I was thinking- that's goodbye to hours of hard work, which is exactly what you said. Since I'm not a writer I'd find it terribly difficult to strike out hours of work, but I imagine as you develop as a writer it gets easier. Something I had never thought of before! This post certainly got me thinking!

  3. Is it weird that I edit in my head? Not totally, but I often find it hard to write or to start writing because I don't have it just right in my head yet.

    I suppose were any of my work to get into the hands of an editor, I would be surprised at the amount that still needs editing!

  4. I am SO excited to hear that your manuscript has been completed and is in the editing stage! Good for you!! It's interesting to hear more about the editing process. I've only had to edit small stuff and when I was in the printing business, we did more proofreading than editing. I hate doing the same thing twice so reworking anything is a chore for me but I know it has to be done. I am QUEEN of over-wording - or had you noticed? ;)

    I hope the editing phase goes well for you and look forward to hearing more about your project. You have been such a positive influence on my "writing" life. Thanks!


    P.S. Chad's letter is in the (air)mail!

  5. Wow. The things I have to look forward to. When/If I get to this stage can I e-mail you and cry on your internet shoulder?

    You know - i've wanted to post back to you and tell you that I thought of you when I was posting my sappy, patriotic posting back a few posts ago. I knew that you would understand how I felt...isn't it funny? I really think homeschooling just builds it in us.

    you're a blessing!