Although one hat is not more important than another, the Editor’s hat has a vital role unlike the others: while wearing this hat (which will be done more often than the others), you are the arbitrator, business-like and unyielding when it comes to the specific goal—improving your story and your prose. During the edit phase, you will snuff out the fire of the Creator, dislodge the contentment of the Reader, and thereby shatter dreams, tear down walls and fashion them into something more to the Editor’s narrow liking. James Scott Bell, in his valuable book, Revision and Self-Editing, says to “write hot, edit cool.” The Editor’s Hat thrives on revision—The Smoldering Stage.
I realized the importance and uniqueness of the Editor’s Hat during a previous revision session of The Returning, and also became aware that I had not been very good at that particular function. I decided to take the next week and wear the single hat. Freshly printed copy in front of me, mechanical pencil held like a sword, I attacked the manuscript with a new fervor.
I sliced away adverbs and adjectives that now held no value to my new critical approach, ripped at phraseology I once thought clever or inventive, slashed at weak verbs and lazy parenthetical phrases. Heated with a new resolve to have the manuscript “read” better, faster and more succinct, I spent the next week extracting anything I felt was of no consequence.
My 136,000 word novel pared down to 125,000—11,000 words eliminated, but more than that, I learned an invaluable lesson: Brutality.
(A Side Note: I did not lose those clever little phrases or weak analogies, though, but saved them on a “removed from novel” document. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to give them new life and find a use for them in future writings)
There must be honesty when wearing the Editor’s hat, and one cannot flinch from dismantling a scene to make it better or pulling a particular phrase you have fallen in love with. You cannot afford to be a star-crossed lover, though your Creator will assure you that the clever little things should be kept because they are so good. “Nonsense, if it does not benefit the story, its use is deemed pointless, and worse than that, offensive,” the Editor says.
The Editor’s world is revision, wielding his scepter with the will of any ruler. The editor is the one who has final say, the one who knows better, but like any ruler, has the ability to be fair or cruel. At different times during revision, you may have to be both. While wearing the Editor hat, you will make mistakes, no doubt, but afford yourself that. In time, you will be rewarded by improved skills.
I wear the Editor’s Hat many times during the polishing process. First time through, I look at the general tone and flow of the work, like being in an airplane looking down on the entirety of what I have written, ie., my story world. I check for inconsistencies in the plot, scene order, transitions, and character arc.
Second time through I concentrate on the character arc, because without strong characters that change, the story will be dull. In The Returning, I use multiple viewpoints (4) with most attention given to my protagonist, Syjer, but the other three personages are important ingredients in the overall story-line. James Scott Bell suggests reading the work and marking all character attributes and attitudes (both their own and the way others perceive them) with a colored highlighter. When completed, read only the highlighted areas—each go-through for a different character—to make sure each character experiences change (internal and external) from beginning to end. There is nothing more boring to a reader than a character who is the same at the beginning as at the end.
The third (and subsequent) time through the manuscript is when I deal with phraseology, word usage, description versus narrative, dialogue, syntax, and overall flavor.
How many times should you wear the Editor Hat? There is no clear answer. Some writers claim they only re-read and edit two or three times (I do not believe writers who say they do not rewrite at all), but for me, it can range from five to seven times for a novel, and perhaps more. Each writer is different; the important thing is to stop before the story gets stale, and think on this: if Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, or Charles Dickens returned today and reread their greatest works, each would most likely want to change parts of their writing. This, I believe, is a natural tendency, but like a great painter, you need to learn when to make the last brush stroke—in time and with experience, you will.
Comments? I always look forward to feedback, whether good or bad, and always wear my Rhino-Skin.
Have fun, and write often.
This Week’s Writing Quote:
“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” James Michener