More Thoughts on Editing; or, Getting Down To The Nitty-Gritty

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)

Because I’m still in the process of editing the Regency romance, I thought I’d post a few more thoughts on editing this week.

People are always telling me that it’s easier to edit stuff out than to add more stuff in. Just once, I think I’d like to be on the “add more stuff in” side of the equation, so I could tell whether it’s true or not.

The first draft of the Regency romance came in at about 200,000 words. So far, I’ve edited chapters 55-77 (working my way back from the end), and I’ve taken out maybe 5,000 words, net, just by reducing wordiness.

Here’s an example of the sorts of edits I’ve been making:

Before:
——————————————————————————————-
Farlsborough took in the scene at once. Seeing the smoldering pile of clothing on the fire — for it was too wet to burn right away — he wondered what could have befallen the girl for her to end up in such a state. He rather suspected he would find out, in due time. “That’s better,” he said, gesturing toward her. “At least now your lips don’t look all blue.”

Involuntarily, one of her hands stole up to her lips. “They were blue?”

He nodded.

“Well …” She paused while they listened to the sleet rattling against the windows concealed behind heavy drapes. “It is rather cold outside.”

“Not a fit night for man nor beast to be out,” he agreed. Then he gestured toward a pair of chairs that were somewhat more comfortable than the hard wooden one Hughes had placed by the fire for her.
——————————————————————————————-
[Word count: 147]

After:
——————————————————————————————-
Farlsborough saw the smoldering pile of clothing on the fire — for it was too wet to burn right away — and wondered what could have befallen the girl. “That’s better. At least now your lips don’t look blue.”

One of her hands stole up to her lips. “They were blue?”

He nodded.

“Well …” She shivered, listening to the sleet rattle against the windows. “It is rather cold outside.”

“Not a fit night for man nor beast.” He gestured toward a pair of comfortable chairs.
——————————————————————————————-
[Word count: 86]

That’s a difference of 61 words, or 41%. Now, if I were able to reduce the entire manuscript by that same amount, that’d be roughly 82,000 words, which would at least be getting me into the right ballpark. Sadly, there are some sections which defy further streamlining.

I thought it would be interesting to look at what I changed and why:

Farlsborough took in the scene at once. I don’t need to tell the readers that he’s taking in the scene when I immediately launch into a description of what he sees.

Seeing the smoldering pile of clothing on the fire — for it was too wet to burn right away — he wondered what could have befallen the girl for her to end up in such a state. The “for her to end up in such a state” part can be implied if I just say he wondered what could have befallen her.

He rather suspected he would find out, in due time. Since that is the point of this scene, I don’t need to tell the readers that’s what’s going to happen. They’ll figure it out pretty soon. Also, by getting rid of this sentence, I don’t have to go back and delete the unneeded comma.

“That’s better,” he said, gesturing toward her. This dialogue tag is not needed.

“At least now your lips don’t look all blue.” Readers can infer that her lips are “all” blue if I just say they’re “blue”.

Involuntarily, one of her hands stole up to her lips. “They were blue?” If I say that her hand stole up to her lips, the reader probably knows it’s involuntary.

He nodded.

“Well …” She paused while they listened to the sleet rattling against the windows concealed behind heavy drapes. I seem to have my characters pause a lot. I’m trying to break that habit. Also, while it’s nice to know that the drapes are heavy, it’s not really necessary to this part of the story.

“It is rather cold outside.”

“Not a fit night for man nor beast to be out,” he agreed. “To be out” really isn’t necessary; nor is the dialogue tag. We know who is speaking.

Then he gestured toward a pair of chairs that were somewhat more comfortable than the hard wooden one Hughes had placed by the fire for her. Comparing the comfortable chairs to the uncomfortable one probably isn’t necessary. Also got rid of a “then” at the beginning of the sentence. I have way too many “thens” in my writing.

The revised scene still contains the meat of what I was trying to get across — that it’s a cold night, that the girl was out in it but is warmer now, that Farlsborough isn’t unsympathetic to her plight, and that they’re about to sit down and have a chat. Oh, and that she burned her wet clothes rather than have him see what shape they were in (she’s in a dressing gown during this scene, by the way).

So that’s how I approach an in-depth edit. How do other folks go about it?

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About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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