The Importance of Editing
Editing is REALLY important. Yes, we all know that the last thing we want to read in a book is a spelling error, but I am not just talking about spelling and grammar here. That is proofreading. What I mean is that EDITING is really important. Just as redrafting is really important. You want to know how important? Well here we go:
The Blood of Whisperers, the first book in The Vengeance Trilogy, is out next month, so I thought I would take the time to share about the editing journey. I first wrote an original draft of this back in 2007-2008. It was called the Errant Pawn then (have a good laugh over that working title) and it was terrible. I left it for years and eventually scrapped the entire thing. Then at the start of 2012 I wrote it again and kept only a few names and binned everything else, and it was SO much better. But that was still the first draft. It began like this:
I would be there soon. I had been telling myself so all afternoon, an afternoon that seemed to stretch so long it melded into yesterday, into last week and last year. There no longer seemed to be seconds, just step after step of aching feet and legs so tired I felt sure that the moment I stopped walking they would never move again.
There are worse beginnings, but it’s pretty dull. I had it read by other people, took in all the criticisms and rewrote 90% of the book. The new beginning went like this:
The girl would not stop screaming. Her hysterical sobs scythed through the summer heat. Men were shouting too, but their words were buried beneath the thrum of my pulse beating in my ears. Leaning my head back against the rough stones of the alehouse, I tried to slow it each gasped breath. Let them not find me, I begged. Let them not find me.
Oooh action. But there is bugger all character and worldbuilding in this first chapter and although the book was significantly improved over all, it wasn’t right. Book take multiple drafts and rewrites to get better. Another 60% rewrite ensued. And, if you are anything like me, the first chapter, and specifically the first lines will be the last things you get right. Eventually it ended up like this:
We are judged. That is what the Sixth Law says. It says the gods are always watching. That they can hear the whisper of our souls.
Finally it was ready to go to my editor. I am my own worst critic, but I am not a stranger to the pride most writers feel when they look over their books, and my months of beta reads and rewrites held me in good stead. The book was well received, but good luck if you think you can produce a publishable book without the assistance of an editor. My editor and I went through many passes of the book and it made a huge difference. Here are some before and after samples:
This was my first visit to Shimai, but I had little desire to look about me. Much like any other town the evening was full of people. Shopkeepers closed up for the night, merchants went in search of lodgings, and everywhere swarmed the usual army of lantern boys, climbing posts and buildings to reach each string of lanterns, tinder caught between their teeth. And yet despite this bustle there was a sense of purpose, of people going from place to place with quick steps, barely lifting their gaze from their feet.
On every corner guards wore the Emperor’s colour.
It was my first visit to Shimai, but in the fading light it looked much like every other city. Shopkeepers were closing their shutters and bolting their doors while late arrivals hunted for lodgings. Street merchants filled the dusk, stalking citizens with their produce, their food trailing mouth-watering odours and their hands held out for coins. A boy was lighting a string of lanterns overhead. Perched like a sparrow upon the eave, he held the tinder between his teeth, a bag of candles hanging from his waist. The city bustled around me, yet I could feel uneasiness. People were going from place to place with quick steps, eyes turned warily toward the emperor’s soldiers on every corner.
And another. Before:
I spat the water back into the pool. Clutching my tunic close I turned, heart hammering. Monarch was there. The day had all but drained away, but there was light enough to gild the tips of his dark hair. He stood between the trees, fingers curled around his great bow, Hatsukoi, his thumb thrumming the string.
I tugged the laces and the bind sprang loose, releasing my breasts. The relief was not untouched by pain, and for a moment I crouched with my forearms pressed to my chest, staring absently at the forest floor. When the sting had subsided, I began to wash, dunking the cloth into the bucket and running it over my body – underarms, breasts, neck, back – wherever I could reach without removing my breeches. With cupped hands I drank, swishing the water around my mouth.
A footstep, barely audible. I spat the water back into the bucket and turned, heart hammering, arms folded across my chest. Monarch was there. The day had all but drained away, but there was light enough to gild the tips of his dark hair. He stood between the trees, fingers curled around his great bow, “Hatsukoi”, his thumb thrumming the string.
There are places where whole sections could be deleted, places where there was pronoun confusion, poorly chosen descriptors and despite my efforts to be rid of them, unnecessary adverbs. *shudders* My editor deleted ‘down’ every time I had written ‘I sat down’ because it wasn’t needed. She pulled me up on repeated words and misplaced capitalisation. Yes, she also corrected spelling errors and grammatical problems, but the job of an editor is so much more than that. The job of an editor is to make your book the absolute best it can possibly be, but they can only do that if you listen to them!
Love your editor! It is a partnership.