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.
4 thoughts on “The Goal of Editing”
I know I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter. Just a clerical error, I’m sure. Any day, now… 🙂
I agree completely with what you’re saying here. If I put a book down unfinished (which I do, because I don’t have time for books I’m not enjoying), it’s usually because I can’t get into the story, and it’s for exactly the reasons you’ve described. I can deal with unsympathetic characters; I can’t spend time with unbelievable ones. I can enjoy a unique author voice, even if the grammar is imperfect, but I won’t read something that makes me stumble over awkward phrases and confusing sentence structure. This is why everyone needs an editor.
I’m glad this post rang true for you.
Yes, to giving up over awkward sentences! Reading should be easy. It can be hard on the emotions, but it shouldn’t be hard on the brain.
If I have to read a sentence more than once to understand what’s going on, it takes a while for the story to regain traction for me. If it happens a lot, I’m unlikely to finish.
I just wanted to tell you how much I have loved your posts and videos. I am an artist of many types. Sculptor, painter, blacksmith, makeup artist, and I am coming to see that I have always loved writing. I have only recently thought of myself as a writer and the one thing I had the most reservation about was the role of an editor. I am 99% self taught in all of my arts and in the others there is no outside influence on the work. So why with is it so common with writing? I did not know. I began to read a lot on writing and my dislike of following rules was transformed by seeing these things as tools rather than rules, but an editor? Nothing before your work had me interested in the least. Your perspective has been the best and most concise writing advise I have read, and not only am I now interested in the advise of an editor, (a huge deal for me) I would hire you to edit my work based on what you have shared here, without looking further. The highest praise from me is that I have read nothing of your opinions that I do not agree with. Maybe it wouldn’t be if you knew me, but still.
Thanks so much for what you have done here.
Thanks so much Daniel!
I really appreciate your positive comments. I have worked hard to make my advice as clear and concise as possible. Too many websites about writing are so vague that not much can be learned from them. On the other hand, some are overly pretentious and that isn’t good either!
Feedback like yours helps me know that I’m on the right track with this blog. I really want it to be a hub of valuable information for writers. Thank you!
I hope to read something of yours someday whether as editor or just a reader. Keep me posted! (: