Editing vs. Changing Voice

Monday, July 5, 2010

I think anyone who's ever written any kind of serious piece knows that editing is hard, irritating, infuriating, &#(*&%*&#ing, etc.

I'm pretty sure, too that more than a few of us have "over-edited" sections so that they're polished to the point you buffed off the luster or the voice has been reduced to a monotonous drone.

So where do you draw the line?

Another way to look at this is to find a novel (preferably one that's popular and you don't like yourself), take part of a chapter and edit it as though it were something of your own. Now compare the voice of your version to the original and see if you can figure out what makes it different.

Is it word choice? Sentence structure? Or do you impart something into the characters 0r plot that you thought was missing in the original?

I've done this, and decided that I can't turn off my internal editor... it's ruining what could be fun reads. A number of books lately qualify as what I'd call "good story/bad writing".

What it amounts to is a writer version of back-seat driving.

When you read a commercial novel, no matter what you think of it, the novel's been edited. Someone's gone line-by-line and found the mistakes and an enormous amount of time and effort to make it the best it can be while preserving the author/character voice.

When you read a book with an eye for enjoyment, that's enough of a polish to make the ride smooth. But, when you read it with a critical eye (this is worse when in "edit" mode on your own WIP), all that registers is a bunch of jerks and stops as the story snags on things you might not think have any business in a published book. It makes it difficult to enjoy the ride.

I've come to the conclusion that voice is like a Jenga tower.

One or two changes can leave you with an edge-of-your-seat, interesting formation with unexpected gaps to give it character. Change too many things, and the whole thing falls apart and isn't any good to anyone.

Hopefully that made sense. Editing's sort of fried me.

11 Chiming In:

Cruella Collett said...

Haha, I am totally adopting that. Editing is a Jenga tower!

Great post! :)

Melissa said...

This is a fresh and interesting take on the editing process. And I think something I really needed to hear as I've been struggling with over-editing myself lately as well.

Terry Towery said...

Good post. I've just spent the day over-editing TDYDK. Again.

LR said...

Yeah, editing can be nerve-wracking for sure. If you overdo it then a self-consciousness can creep into the prose that you definitely don't want.
Best advice I've heard is to print the manuscript out (once)and do all potential changes in pencil first. Unwise is to have 25 computer versions of your novel. Make the changes once and then stick to them.

No novel is ever finished, just abandoned. (Who said that?) Even when it's published you'll look and want to change everything. At some point, it has to just be considered "done."

Ted Cross said...

I worry about this very thing. I honestly don't know when to be satisfied with my writing. I like it the way it is, but I worry that agents won't, so I keep going...

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Here's the deal. You're never done editing until the book goes to print! :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I have constant "editors eye" going when I read anymore - it's very difficult to turn off! Also: I always do one last sweep through for voice, making sure I didn't lose it in the last round of edits.


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