If you've worked and reworked your stories until they are as good as can be, and now think they are ready to edit, there are a number of questions to consider. Do you know what type of edit your work needs? Are you even aware that editing is a multifaceted process? If you answered 'no' to either of these questions and think all that's left to do is to check spelling, grammar and punctuation, read on.
A comprehensive edit, sometimes called a substantive edit, is one that covers all aspects of editing in a particular order. The first part to it is a structural edit. The second is a copy edit. The third is a proofread. Let's explore them.
A structural edit reviews overall story structure. It looks at how a story flows out by examining the order events or information is revealed in, assessing how effectively this aspect of the work has presented a full picture. It also looks for turning points, moments that add tension and drama, and considers how well these story elements lead to the all-important story climax.
Structural edits are fundamental in identifying what doesn't add to a story enough to earn a place, as well as what's missing and therefore needed to round out the tale. If done with careful attention, they help authors consider if some story elements are worth rearranging so the order they appear in provides a more satisfying read. For underdeveloped works, structural edits may need to be repeated.
Post any structural edit reworks, a story is copy edited. This edit targets finer points of style, voice and syntax, checks for unnecessary repetition in both wording and information, and, fingers crossed, finds factual errors or flaws that don't ring true in terms of time, place or character. Sure, some of these things may have been picked up in the structural edit. But, depending on the complexity of issues revealed in a structural edit, these can be missed.
Again, a copy edit may need repeating until all issues are fixed. Then comes the proofread. If you think that having done a structural and copy edit that there shouldn't be much more left, think again.
Proof reading focuses on spelling errors, unnecessary repetition, issues relating to specialist terms of reference, grammatical consistency and any preferred punctuation which may have been missed in copy edits. This can happen where a vast amount of issues needed to be addressed in the copy edit and is especially essential with regard to complex works.
Without understanding the entire editing process, it's normal to struggle with working out what type of edit a text is ready for. It may be that the work isn't ready for any particular type of edit at all. This is a clear sign that it is still in developmental stages.
Once a draft has a beginning, middle and end, many writers spend lots of time trimming and tightening their writing. If you think it makes little sense to do this before doing a comprehensive edit, think again. Tight, trim writing isn't just a key component of good writing. Clean, uncluttered text lets you see a work in the clearest way you can which is why this is the way it must be before embarking on a structural edit. As frustrating as spending so much energy before starting a comprehensive edit may seem, it's essential.
If the information I've talked about seems to contradict itself in places, I apologise. It's just that, when it comes to writing, theory and practice can sometimes be at odds and not everything that needs changing can always be done in one go. It takes repeated attempts to bring stories closer and closer to being ready to present to readers. That's what story development is all about. The fact it is interwoven with aspects of the editing process is all a normal part of the writing process.
The bottom line is that all parts of the editing process are extremely valuable but that none stand alone as being the only one you need do. The more you follow the full process, the more you'll learn about various aspects of writing. Whether under the label of editing or story development, every step you take is worth something. So, just keep at it.
Emma Cameron, an author and editor since 2004, is passionate about helping others on their writing journey. She's run multiple writing courses and her work is published in novels, anthologies, school education resources and magazines. Both Cinnamon Rain and View From the 32nd Floor (Walker Books Australia) received CBCA Notable listing, the second being shortlisted in the 2015 Sakura Medal. Her US title, Out of This Place (Candlewick Press), was a finalist in the 2015 Global Read Aloud.
Emma is a valued member of our Manuscript Assessment team and also helps authors via our Author Personal Training. If you would like to know more about these services, click on the Services tab on the Creative Kids Tales website.