Monday, 7 December 2009

Editing and proofreading - 1

Hello again, Constant Reader!

Today and for the next few weeks, I'm going to be focusing on the various processes that go into producing a polished manuscript from a first draft.

First, I must make an admission. I am perfectly happy to talk about plot structure, theme, tone, pace, style, characterization, romance, action and the actual mechanics of producing a finished first draft (be it novel, story or screenplay). I even think that I have a fairly good idea of what I'm talking about. I produce finished first drafts that are, by all accounts, good.

Editing is different. It's a newish field for me. I've done some basic research and now I'm learning by doing, making it up as I go along. If you think what I write here is absolute rubbish, please tell me. You probably know more than I do about this.

Some definitions first:
  • Critique - the specific opinions of non-related readers about first draft A
  • Editing - the act of restructuring draft A, adding scenes, removing characters and so on, based on the critiques and your afterthoughts, to produce draft B.
  • Proofreading - the re-reading of draft B, with minute attention to detail, to remove extra spaces, typos, wrong words, POV shifts, clumsy sentences, wrongly named characters etc.
So, the difference, to me at least, between proofreading and editing is one of scale.

Editing means the big changes. Character X serves no useful purpose, and you want to get rid of him. You want to introduce Character Y, because she adds some sexual tension. You need three extra chapters from the antagonist's POV. The setting changes from Kansas in the summer to the Himalayas at mid-winter. Your protagonist is in fact from another planet.

Proofreading means catching all the rest, all the little faults that are so irritating when we read them in other people's work.

Step one then, logically, is to send out draft A to our willing panel of readers, to get their helpful critiques.

Or is it?

Not really. I've noticed that by the time I've finished a novel or screenplay, I already have second thoughts. I know I've certainly made mistakes in grammar, syntax, spelling, word choice, character names, chronology...

To me, it would seem rude to send out such an ill-moulded lump of clay to readers, willing or not. So I have an intermediate step. Fix the problems I already know are inherent in the work (let's call this the preliminary edit) and do a semi-thorough proofread before sending out the draft. We'll call this draft A-1.

Then send it off to the readers and get on with something else. When it comes back, begin assembling their opinions.

Which is what I'll pay more attention to in the next blog. The critiques and what to do with them.


  1. That's pretty much the way I do it... though I might summarise it thusly:

    - Finish draft.
    - Leave draft alone for min. 2 months and work on something else.
    - Come back to draft fresh.
    - Preliminary edit and proof-reading.
    - Send to Beta Readers.
    - Second edit and proof-reading.
    - Send back to Beta readers.
    - Final edit.

    Of course, my model requires dedicated Beta Readers... Ahem... guys... guys... ?

  2. OK, I haven't tried leaving the draft for two months, but I'll have to this time, so perforce, I'm doing your steps 2 and 3.

    After that we are in synch, but I might miss out the final two steps.

    BTW, when you want Beta readers, you know where to come :)

  3. I'm with S.M., on the leave it alone. Because of my work schedule, mine gets left alone for up to 9 months and I find it very helpful. It's almost like opening a new book or where you've seen the movie but haven't read the book yet. You know all the important details but do the little things still fit the way it should. Having someone to bounce your treasure off of is also great, just to make sure they see the same thing you do. And you can count me on that list too, S.M.

  4. Well folks, I'm happy to be a beta reader anytime - for reciprocal favours ot course...