There, I said it. Don’t cringe, it’s nothing to be afraid of.
Think of the last time you made brownies. You put together all these great ingredients, and sure, it tastes good to lick the spatula, but how much better do those brownies taste once they’ve been baked? Editing is the baking of a story. It’s what brings a great idea, and great writing, together.
So you’ve finished writing your story. The brownie batter tastes good, but not that good. What does it really mean to edit a story? What did you think of when you saw the first word of this post? Fixing grammar? Throwing in commas to break up run-on sentences? Clicking spell check? Those little fixes are important, but they’re like mixing the brownie batter. It’s important, but other elements, like the temperature, how long it bakes, etc., have a much greater impact on the result.
There have been countless books written on editing, so I’m going to focus on just a few key elements to keep in mind when putting the finishing touches on your fantastic story. Please feel free to comment and add what editing techniques have changed your good story into a great story.
Recently, I’ve been editing my latest novella, Speechless. As I was going through the story, I realized that the more I had written, the more I was personally discovering about the story. Some of the history was slightly changed, characters suddenly had something new about them, and so on. Writers often do this. You can only do so much pre-writing before you have to just hold your breath and dive into the story. As a result, you’ll end up discovering new elements of characters, history, and environment, that may differ from something you wrote earlier.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s exciting, as a writer, to discover your own story as you write it. These discoveries, however, need to be linked together to form a realistic feeling of consistency. Whether you’re writing a mystery, or an epic fantasy, the reader needs to feel like your world is real. Consistency of ideas and elements is what brings that sense of reality.
What does it really mean to maintain consistency?
Life has consistency. We may learn more about it every day, but history will always be history. Physics will always be physics. Your friends have traits that don’t usually just change overnight. These are constants that need to be consistent in your story. Names are the same. History is the same. Characters act the same (unless there is a significant event that changes them). Environments are the same.
Remember when you explain something in narrative, or have something explained to your character. You know how annoying it is to have someone constantly telling you the same story. As a writer, you may forget that you’ve explained or introduced something, and may accidentally introduce it a second, third, or fourth time. Readers will notice this. It disturbs consistency.
2. Tone and Mood
Your brownies are starting to smell great. The consistency of the batter was just about perfect, but it’s the baking that really brings out the flavor. Tone and mood are what bring out the power of your story. An author creates tone, which evokes a mood within the reader. When we read, we want to feel something. We want to feel what the character feels. Joy, sadness, dread, anticipation, etc. Words have the power to create emotion, if used correctly.
As you edit your story, pay careful attention to how you feel. There is no reason why you shouldn’t feel the way you want your reader to feel. If you don’t feel the emotion you’re trying to evoke, figure out why. Is there so much description that it takes away from the power of the words? Are your characters showing, not telling, how they feel?
Tone and mood bring a reader into the world, and into the shoes of the characters. They relate the reader to the story, inspire them, and get them thinking. This is where you create the connection between reader and story.
3. Dynamic vs. Static
The brownies are just about done. You’re about to stick in the toothpick, and see if it comes up clean. You’ve read through your story, likely several times, and you’ve picked up on inconsistencies, holes in the story, the tone, and all the little spelling and grammar errors. How do you feel at the end? Was there progression in your story? Did your characters accomplish their goals? Did they grow and develop through their experiences?
Characters are often defined as being either dynamic or static. A dynamic character grows, develops, and learns throughout the story. They progress. A static character doesn’t change much. Their progression is limited compared to the more dynamic characters. Every writer needs to ask if they’ve written a dynamic, or static, story.
A dynamic story leaves a reader feeling satisfied, like they have just completed an exciting, inspiring, motivating, moving, and thought-provoking story. They feel like they’ve progressed and moved from one point to another. This progression brings a sense of satisfaction, that sigh you breathe after reading something inspiring.
You’re brownies are done. They taste great. They’re ready to be shared with family and friends. See? Editing isn’t so bad. There are many methods, other than these three, used to bring a story together. Feel free to add any additional comments or editing tips.
Thanks for the exchange!