What is the goal of editing? Why do writers spend months or even years rewriting, revising, and editing their books? Why are you editing your book?
The first answer that comes to your mind is probably something like:
“I’m hoping to make my novel better and more entertaining.”
“I’m hoping to get rid of errors, plot holes, and inconsistencies.”
Or maybe even something like: “I keep getting rejected and I don’t know why.”
While all of these reasons are legitimate, they don’t get to the heart of what editing is actually all about.
The real goal of editing is to eliminate anything that might jar the reader out of the story.
When I tell writers (especially my clients) that this is what editing is really all about, it’s like a light bulb goes off in their head. Instead of getting hurt or depressed about hacking and slashing their novel, they get excited. They can see the true goal, the light at the end of the tunnel.
Editing isn’t about conforming to genre stereotypes or imitating famous authors. Most importantly, editing is not about following laundry lists of writing rules. The rules are just there to help steer you towards the bottom line, the end goal of keeping your readers fully engaged in your story.
Books are about the reader. A novel is nothing without the reader’s suspension of disbelief. If head hopping, tense changes, or telling instead of showing pulls the reader out of the story, your novel fails to do its job. It fails to transport the reader into a world they can fully believe and become absorbed in.
For a novel to work, the reader must believe that what they’re reading is authentic. That can’t happen when they get hung up on unusual word choices, plot inconsistencies, or characters behaving out of character. When that happens, they see your hand in the work. They see right through your characters and straight to you, the author, and just like that they’re no longer absorbed in the story.
What separates a novel from being laughably bad and amazingly engaging is nothing more than the reader’s ability to believe in it. Nothing gets a book chucked back on the shelves (or into the rejection pile) faster than a reader thinking, This would never happen in real life!
“But,” some writers might say, “my book is a Fantasy. It can’t have happened in real life!” But that’s why readers pick up a Fantasy (or SciFi or Horror). They want you to make them believe that crazy things could really happen, that there is really magic, mystery, and wonder in the world, at least for a little while, at least while they’re reading your book.
Part of the fun of Harry Potter is thinking that someday (maybe!) you might get your acceptance letter to Hogwarts. And what fun would Doctor Who be if we didn’t all secretly believe that someday he might show up in in his TARDIS and whisk us away on an adventure.
When you’re editing, no matter what you’re editing, the bottom line is that you must eliminate anything that prevents your reader from fully engaging in the story.
So there’s no need to cry for the loss of a chapter you loved or despair at the major restructuring required to make your plot believable. It’s all for the good of the story. It’s all for the reader, and that’s who editing is really all about.
Need help figuring out why readers are getting jarred from your story? Check out my editing services.