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Anthony

Editing

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I find the blue on black of the examples impossible to read unless I highlight it. Then I can't see when the colour changes.

I think I would like to try editing, but so far haven't found an author who wants to try me out. Furthermore I've been timid and have scarcely ventured beyond correcting typos or grammar. (BTW 'edited' and 'editing' have only one 't' each!) My experience is largely with translation - I've helped Matt & Andrej Koymasky with three of their stories.

But I think that a story editor should leave that mundane stuff for a second stage and begin by reading through for things about the way the story is told that ought to be improved (people being surprised on one page about something they knew two pages back, for example). Actually there are far more subtle things to suggest and I wonder if you agree that such stuff should be done before the typo correction. If the sequence of events being told has to be changed the effort in dotting 'i's and crossing 't's for the part to be rewritten is largely a waste.

Is it normal for the editing to be done in two or three stages like this? I wonder whether it would add so much to the workload that no editor or author could stand it.

I would like to know what others think.

Love,

Anthony

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That's difficult to answer. Everyone does things the way they're most comfortable with them.

If work is filled with typos, incorrect noun-verb correlations, tense problems and the like, these become so distracting it's often difficult to see any nuances in the writing. If I'm asked to edit a work that has an abundance of this type of problem, I'll generally give it back to the author and ask him to clean the stuff up. If he has spell-check, which comes with Word, at least the spelling should be reasonable. If he can't correct the other stuff, I'm probably not going to want to edit it. I hope that doesn't sound elitist. I don't mean it that way. It's simply that I like to get involved in the story, and it's difficult to do that if there are too many problems. A few typos are no concern at all, but finding lots of them and lots of other English problems results in an editor not being able to do the things you're talking about.

I know when I edit for someone, it's very usual for the job to be done in stages. I suggest changes, the writer balks--okay, that was a joke, people--the writer makes what changes he is comfortable with, or ignores the suggestions, and sends it back to me. I look it over again, usually find stuff I didn't find the first time, make more suggestions and send it back again. Usually, on the third or fourth try, and chapter is acceptable to both of us. It doesn't always work that way. It depends mostly on the writer. If he's happy with the first edit, or isn't for that matter, and doesn't return the chapter, my work with it is done. Then I wait to see the story posted to see what advice of mine he actually took.

There are a lot of us here who edit frequently. I'm sure others do it quite differently.

Cole

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I agree in general with what Cole says above.

One thing that I think an editor can contribute best is simply another point of view. Often, I think writers miss "the big picture," and they don't necessarily understand, for example what is the point of this chapter.

Very often, I'll read an online novel, and an entire chapter will go by and I'll say, "wait a minute -- nothing really happened there." To me, every chapter has to advance the story and characters forward, like a chess game. If the chapter doesn't really have a point, I'll say that even before I get down to suggesting changes and additions.

And the second thing is confusion, as in "why did this character do that?" "Why did this happen?" I think questions like that are important in terms of story and character, so an editor can prod the writer to better-explain something. I always say, "if I didn't understand this, than somebody else may not understand it, either."

The third thing is alternate ideas. A phone conversation might be better condensed as description instead of dialog, just to make the story go faster. Or a minor character gets killed off-screen; maybe having them die as an active part of the story would be more interesting -- or vice-versa. Having someone to ask about a different direction can sometimes be a good thing. Usually, when it happens to me, I either say, "nope -- I can't do that because of X, Y, and Z," or I say, "hey -- what if instead of doing that, we did such-and-such." So if the editor/advisor inspires you to a third different idea (neither the original idea or the suggestion), then the story is still made better.

So that's three examples of what an editor can do beyond just grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

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It really does depend on the author. Some, and I won't name names, frustrate me by having several editors, and when I'm halfway done in (let us say, Chap 2 Version one) I get Chap 2 Version two from the author. All my work has gone for naught. That ticks me off, and I don't hesitate to say so, therefore I now usually get changes after they are all done. Either that, or I just work on Version one and it's the author's problem.

Now, here's where I really differ from Cole (besides the obvious other things, like never having written a long story) I never go to the posted story to see if ANY of my changes have been implemented.

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And the second thing is confusion, as in "why did this character do that?" "Why did this happen?" I think questions like that are important in terms of story and character, so an editor can prod the writer to better-explain something. I always say, "if I didn't understand this, than somebody else may not understand it, either."

This is very true. I'm frequently having the writer clarify things. Writers' heads are full of their story, and in their rush to get it down on their metaphorical paper, they forget that the reader isn't privy to what's in their heads. They have a conversation between two characters and it often jumps over the mundane to the point the writer wants made, but we, the readers, can't follow it. It needs to be made more detailed, broadened out. Sometimes this just seems tedious to the writer, but it's necessary for the reader. That's one of the things I find myself doing most frequetnly, having the scene clarified, fleshed out, made more visual or understandable to the reader.

C

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One difficulty with editing serial novels is that the editor doesn't always know why a character does something in an early chapter because he doesn't where the story is going ultimately unless he's been provided an outline of it.

In other words, with serial novels the author bears most of the responsibility of making sure that each chapter moves the story forward ? la Pecman's criterion, or whether a scene should be moved from on-page presence to off-page reference. With serial novels, the editor is relegated largely to punctuation, word usage and grammar.

As you can surmise, I am most helpful to an author, I think, when the whole novel/story is sitting in front of me.

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One difficulty with editing serial novels is that the editor doesn't always know why a character does something in an early chapter because he doesn't where the story is going ultimately unless he's been provided an outline of it.

In fairness to the author, sometimes he or she may not quite know where the story is going. In my case, I usually jot down some bullet points for each chapter, and I might have one page summarizing the novel, but beyond that, it could go anywhere.

I'm always willing to tell an editor, "oh, there's a reason why this happened -- we're setting up something that will happen a couple of chapters from now." But each chapter still has to stand alone in terms of making sense and showing logical (but not necessarily predictable) behavior from the characters.

I'll continue to be a curmudgeon about the so-called "serial novels," at least for those that meander on for years without any real resolution. My complaint with many (but not all) of them is that there ultimately is no point to the story, and it's just a series of episodes that plod on, sometimes for forty or fifty chapters without a really solid point. To me, if you can't write a novel and come up with a concise one- or two-sentence description of the whole thing, something's clearly unfocused.

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...episodes that plod on, sometimes for forty or fifty chapters without a really solid point.

I can't quite imagine you either plodding on with reading endlessly when you never discover any plot point, or not reading on and then claiming to know that there wasn't a point in the chapters you didn't read. Since the statement seems paradoxical to me, I'm assuming it is rhetorical in nature.

As to the issue of a point to a story, I can't really agree fully. It is nice if there is a point, but I also believe that it is subjective in nature, and what one person may deem to be a point, another will not. I have serious doubts that many authors will sit down and write 50 chapters strictly as a self entertaining ramble, with no point at all. They may not make that point clear to the reader, or to specific readers, but I fairly convinced that in their own minds they are saying something. I guess I'm saying the issue is more with their ability to write it, than with the existence, or not, of any plot point.

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I think "plodding on with reading" happens more frequently than we realize because the stories start out so well. Good as Brewdrinker's Tim/Kyle series is, good as Driver Nine's Everyday Love is, the stories just seem to peter out until the author just decided not to go on.

I think the problem lies with the perpetual addition of new characters, who, though interesting, keep dragging an otherwise coherent story in new directions--with loose ties to the orginal story. As readers, the problem we have is that we become hooked on the early parts of the stories and keep plodding on until, blessedly and sadly, the plug is pulled.

I can't quite imagine you either plodding on with reading endlessly when you never discover any plot point, or not reading on and then claiming to know that there wasn't a point in the chapters you didn't read. Since the statement seems paradoxical to me, I'm assuming it is rhetorical in nature.

As to the issue of a point to a story, I can't really agree fully. It is nice if there is a point, but I also believe that it is subjective in nature, and what one person may deem to be a point, another will not. I have serious doubts that many authors will sit down and write 50 chapters strictly as a self entertaining ramble, with no point at all. They may not make that point clear to the reader, or to specific readers, but I fairly convinced that in their own minds they are saying something. I guess I'm saying the issue is more with their ability to write it, than with the existence, or not, of any plot point.

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... I have serious doubts that many authors will sit down and write 50 chapters strictly as a self entertaining ramble, with no point at all.

Trab, it is generally known as Day-time Soap opera on TV.

Of course their are points to such TV programs;

1. To dumb down the artistic expectations of the populace, including the directors, writers and actors.

2. To make heaps of money for the TV networks.

Many of the aimless stories we see on the net are driven by this drivel on TV.

What is worse however, is that people often try to live their lives by mimicking what they watch.

:wav:

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What is worse however, is that people often try to live their lives by mimicking what they watch.

:lol::wav: :wav:

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I can't quite imagine you either plodding on with reading endlessly when you never discover any plot point, or not reading on and then claiming to know that there wasn't a point in the chapters you didn't read.

Well, let me put it this way: I've stumbled upon stories on Nifty where you get to the first page listing the chapters, and there's 150 chapters there. That ain't a novel; whatever it is, it's out of control. Hell, even Stephen King's The Stand only went about 800,000 words, and actually has a beginning, a middle, and an end. (Same with War and Peace and a few other super-long novels.)

It is nice if there is a point, but I also believe that it is subjective in nature, and what one person may deem to be a point, another will not.

No, I think what happens is that inexperienced authors sit down and start rambling at the keyboard, and don't grasp that they have to be focused enough to tell a story that follows the rules of drama. Even a soap opera on television gets to a climax, they finish it off, and start a new story.

I have seen a few writers (Driver is one of them) who will do multiple novels with the same groups of characters, and those work at least in that each individual novel stands alone and has a point to it. The point need not be complex, by the way. Two themes I've used before are: "Real love is worth all the risks," and "Be honest with yourself." There's a lot more complex twists on top of that, but when you boil the story down, that's the bones of what's there.

But themes take time to develop. I've done nearly six chapters of Pieces of Destiny, and we haven't yet gotten to the main idea of the story. Without tipping my hand, I can say that it's essentially, "would you sacrifice everything in your life for someone you loved?" Big idea, tough to write, but it's coming along.

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I think "plodding on with reading" happens more frequently than we realize because the stories start out so well.

Amen to everything you say. I couldn't agree more -- you hit the nail on the head.

It's sad, too, because sometimes these stories start out really well, and then ultimately peter out. I think if the writer started with a point to the story -- not necessarily an ending, but at least a direction and a theme he or she was trying to get across -- that would help solve the problem.

Doing an outline in advance also helps. I didn't do this with Destiny, but I do have a two-page synopsis (which I find I've been veering away from lately). Scripts are often assigned in Hollywood by means of short "treatments" like this, just a one- or two-page sketch of the first, second, and third acts of the film, and I think that's a good framework on which to build a story.

If more writers would do this, I think their work would be a lot more cohesive and better focused. Plus, we wouldn't wind up with 100-chapter stories that kinda go nowhere, introduce characters that sort of show up for no reason, and all the other points you mention above.

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I think that the long (oh god, when will this end?) stories that we see on the 'net and over at nifty are the result of writers who believe that expression and 'art' will conquer all, and forget that any artist worth his/her salt is also a master (or at least a dedicated student) of the craft used in whatever media he/she works. They're trying to hitch a thoroughbred to a cart with broken wheels and thinking that it's going to haul whatever plot line they've come up with across the finish line. Sadly, we get to read the results. Sometimes though, this is not the case at all: one of my favorite stories online is called "Spellsong," and the writer is a true craftsman, but the whole thing seems to have become an endless shaggy dog story in the last 10 chapters or so...though I have to admit that I'm ok with that, because I would read the author's grocery lists if he wrote them as beautifully as he writes this tale. The point is that this story seems to have escaped from the author's control and taken on a direction of its own, and that is seldom a good thing.

Like Cole, I don't edit for stories that are all essence and no substance. I've tried a time or two, and I find that the author is usually so enamored of his/her own work that any suggestions are shrugged off and discounted. Not only do they not understand the mechanics of writing, they also don't get the difference between an editor and a proofreader, and while I can proofread, it's not my primary interest.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. I'm currently working on Mechanics 101, which is something I read when I first started reading online and enjoyed immensely, and despite the roughness of the early chapters, the storyline is so good that I don't mind doing a lot of clean up work. In addition, the author showed a great deal of improvement between his first and last chapters, and I find that evolution endlessly interesting. Most importantly though, he understood the stages of a plot line, and instinctively used them even if he wasn't sure why he was doing it.

Having worked on one of the larger serial novels on the site for quite a long time - TSOI for about two years before it went on hiatus - I found that the saving grace for me in that effort was many, many long and philosophical IM conversations with the author about the story, the characters, and the 'one liner' that was the basis of the whole story: in this case it was something like "How should we, as ethical beings, respond to attempts at coercion?"

I suspect that it is this kind of rapport that makes working on a serial novel possible, beyond merely proofreading it.

cheers!

aj

Oh yeah...I guess I should address Anthony's original question, huh? *grin* I think that it depends on the story, Anthony. Some stories need that kind of nuts-and-bolts correction for continuity and content. I often address those kinds of problems in end-notes that I write at the end of the file in a different color to distinguish them from everything else. Most of my notes to the author are short and rather direct, but I have seen a few instances where they rivaled the actual chapter in length. Sometimes I'll phrase suggestions and corrections as a series of questions intended to lead the author to think about a scenario in a different light, or as simple observations of fact within the story. It also depends on the author - some are open to this kind of conversation, and others are not. I don't find myself doing all of one or the other in two different editing steps, though.

aj

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Long stories on the Internet can be the outcome of different stimuli. They can do as told here, run on purposelessly, peter out, lose their focus. However, there are some good ones, too, that keep their interest to the end, and that you wish could be even longer; you can even feel disappointed when they finish.

I can easily think of two of these, both of which are at Crvboy. David's Initiation by Draginacht is one. He writes that it began as an idea for a short story, he wrote it, and then extended it. I imagine he realized he had a lot more to say about the character, and so continued on. But the story never seems to lose focus, is entertaining throughout it's lengthy run, and is thoroughly satisfying to read. Another is the Brew Maxwell Foley/Mashburn series. It too seems to go on forever, but you have no problem at all staying with it.

I understand from experience how it can feel to have written a very short piece, and then realize the character or the situation you've created has much better legs than you first realized, and that you can and should think about extending it. If I've felt this, I'm sure others here have had the same experience, the same feeling. I guess with me, extending something to one hunderd chapters or so would be an absurd idea, but I have had the urge to make something longer than originally intended, which is also what Draginacht did so very successfullly.

C

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I'm well aware of it, Cole...after all, HnH started out to be a short story, but with the story line that I finally came to want to write, I realized that it was going to surpass short story criteria and end up a novelette. As someone who had never written anything of that length before, I was a little intimidated by the idea, but then I realized that if I thought of each chapter as a short story in an ongoing story arc, all of that fear went away and the writing went swimmingly.

cheers!

aj

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Thank you all very much. The preceding discussion was very helpful and I think I will be able to be more forceful with my authors than I have been,

The thought is immensely satisfying! Who wants to be the first person I let fly at?

Love,

Anthony

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