Have you finished writing it? Now you gotta edit it.
Let’s talk about editing, the different types of edits and editors, and what kind of editing your story needs.
What is editing?
Editing is the process of refining a work of writing. There are many types of edits, and there are many types of editors. The main types of editing are developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. Let’s look at those in detail, as well as examples of each.
It is helpful to note that there is a big difference between a self-edit and a professional edit.
Every book needs a professional edit! Even if the writer is a professional editor themselves, editing their own book would require taking a several year gap between writing and editing to be able to come back to it with the new perspective required.
You would effectively have to forget your entire book before you could do a proper job editing it, and even then, you’d have to have substantial editing experience to do it credibly. The short of it: hire an editor.
However, before the professional edit, is the self-edit. There are several rounds of self-editing a writer might partake in. You can also use critique partners and beta readers as tools in the editing process.
Different Types of Editing
- Critiques – critiques aren’t edits, but I’m including them because I think they’re such an important part of the writing process. You can get critiques from writing partners, beta readers, or hiring a professional. Critiques should point out problems with pacing, voice, character arcs, story structure, and other macro edits.
- Developmental editing – this is substantive editing, where you evaluate an entire manuscript for problems with plot structure, character arcs, overall story, consistency, etc. You might rearrange or delete chapters, condense, expand, or even rewrite the whole thing. Critiques should give you an idea of what to do for developmental edits.
- Line editing – line editing is less about macro changes and more about micro changes. This is editing for things like style. It covers syntax, character dialect, realistic dialogue, verbiage, prose, etc.
- Copy editing (proof-reading) – copy editing gets down to the tiny details, like proper sentence structure, consistent spelling, and grammar.
Types of Editing Examples
Developmental editing has a bigger impact on a longer piece, like a full novel, but for the sake of brevity, this example is of a light developmental edit of a single scene. I only changed a few things, such as taking out one of the times the character is shot. Since I changed what happens in the scene, not just how it’s worded, this is a developmental edit.
The man laughed as he turned raising his gun and firing. Celine dove to the ground. Stone shrapnel and dust blasted her pants. Two bullets slammed into her vest with the force of a hard punch. Pain shot from her bruised ribs as she rolled behind a large boulder.
The gunfire stopped as sat against the stone. She assessed her pistol. Footsteps came towards her. She tossed the pistol aside as she scrambled away from him. As she slid behind another boulder a bullet tore into her right calf. Blood ran from the wound further staining her pants. Dust rained down onto her as he shot in her direction.
Her heart was pounding as she listened. She was patient. She grasped the hilt of her knife with her right hand and waited.
The gun stopped firing and she jumped over the rock. She ran as fast as her injured legs would allow. The pain tore through her body with a fresh surge of adrenaline. Her hand held her knife tight. Her tired body propelled her forward. Red ran down her pants. This was her chance to end this god, this man.
Celine lunged at him. He was fast for his age. His wrinkled face stretched into a calm sneer as he caught her first strike and crushed her hand. He grinned as watched the pain spread across her face. He glared at her as she swung the knife at his face. He caught her wrist and squeezed as he laughed. She felt her grip falter.
She kicked at his leg trying to free herself. landing several blows that he didn’t even notice. He dropped her injured hand and within a second his hand was on her throat. He squeezed hard. Her eyes bulged and her face went red as the black closed in.
The gunfire stopped. She pressed against the stone and assessed her pistol.
She grabbed the hilt of her knife and jerked it from its sheath. When she saw his legs, she chucked the busted pistol as hard as she could, catching him in the ear. She scrambled to another boulder, dust raining down onto her as more bullets lodged in the cave wall. She fell into the shadows, heart pounding.
“Celine?” he called, his voice calm. He sounded like he was smiling.
Celine clenched her teeth and squatted over her feet, clutching the knife. When his slow steps finally reached her, she launched herself over the rock. Pain tore through her body with a fresh surge of adrenaline as she lunged at him.
He was fast for his age. His wrinkled face stretched into a calm sneer as he caught her first strike and crushed her hand. He glared when she swung the knife at his face, catching her wrist and squeezing as he laughed.
Her grip faltered. She kicked at his leg, landing several blows that he didn’t even seem to notice. He dropped her hand and wrapped his fist around her throat. He squeezed hard.
Her eyes bulged and her face flushed with heat as black closed in.
This developmental edit mostly toned down the violence in the scene, which makes the violence left much more impactful. Developmental editing is usually used to fix much bigger problems, but this is a good example of slight developmental edits, since the actions have been changed.
If you would like to see the full edit and reasoning behind my changes, check out this video!
Line editing will clean up the language of a piece, but it won’t change what actually happens in it. Here’s an example from a flash fiction.
Conversation hummed around me in the diner as I waited. The waitress cleared her throat, forcing me back to earth. I looked up into her expectant face and faltered.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” I asked.
Her deep brown eyes flashed from mine to the pile of shredded napkin on the table in front of me and back.
She let out a slight chuckle and said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt, I just thought you might want a refill.” She held out the coffee pot clutched in her right hand and gave a nearly indiscernible shrug.
“Oh. Yes, please.” I lifted my mug, glancing once again toward the entrance at the front of the little building.
“Hot date?” She asked, giving me the full force of her ‘customer service smile’.
“Something like that,” I replied.
“Well, good luck,” she said. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?”
With that, she turned and walked back toward the counter. I watched her leave, her dark ponytail bouncing against the back of her light blue uniform shirt. She really was very striking.
The diner hummed with conversation.
A waitress cleared her throat.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you say something?”
Her deep brown eyes flashed from mine to the pile of shredded napkin on the table in front of me and back.
She chuckled. “Sorry to interrupt. I thought you might want a refill.” She wiggled the coffee pot in her hand.
“Oh. Yes, please.” I lifted my mug, glancing at the diner entrance.
“Hot date?” she asked, giving me the full force of her customer service smile
“Something like that.”
“Well, good luck.” She turned back to walk to the counter. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” Her dark ponytail bounced against her lower back. She really was very striking.
This is a line edit, because I didn’t actually change anything that happened. I cleaned it up to be more concise and effective, but the actions are still there, whereas in the developmental edit, I changed the actual actions the characters took. Since this example is from a flash fiction, I only left the bits that I thought were absolutely necessary, so it turned out to be a bit shorter than the original.
If you’d like to see my full edit of this flash fiction, check out this video.
Copy editing, or proof-reading, will check for technical mistakes. I’ve highlighted the changes in this excerpt.
Waking up everyday to that god damn shrilling tea kettle shooting steem into our kitchen, adding to the evergrowing smear on the ceiling. You’re always their, rushing to grab the handle and turn off the stove before it wakes me, but your never quick enough. You see me, and smile offering a cup of green herbal that I never refuse and also never drink. I pour it down the sink you leave. I wash my mug and yours and listen to the gravle crunching beneath the tires as you pull from the curb.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do it.
Waking up everyday to that goddamn shrilling tea kettle shooting steam into our kitchen, adding to the ever-growing smear on the ceiling. You’re always there, rushing to grab the handle and turn off the stove before it wakes me, but you’re never quick enough. You see me and smile, offering a cup of green herbal that I never refuse and also never drink. I pour it down the sink when you leave. I wash my mug and yours and listen to the gravel crunching beneath the tires as you pull from the curb.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll do it.
Copy editing checks for things like missing, mis-used, and misspelled words, punctuation, and syntax.
Now here are some general tips for editing most types of writing!
5 Editing Tips
- Editing should be done in rounds, starting with macro changes to fix problems with overall structure, then ending with grammar edits. If you edit in reverse and start with the smaller problems, you’ll make small mistakes again when you do developmental edits. Start with big edits so you don’t have to backtrack!
- A lot of writers benefit from editing with a physical copy, so you might print your piece! Some writers use mark-up systems with different colored highlighters for different types of edits. I like to mark with a red pen.
- Take some time from your piece before you try to self-edit. For short stories, I’ll wait a day or two. I just finished the first draft of my novel, and I’m waiting until the start of next month to begin my second draft! Getting some space from the piece will allow you to return to it with a fresh perspective, and that makes editing a much easier process.
- Read it out loud! Hearing your words–especially your character’s dialogue–helps you spot mistakes.
- And the most classic piece of advice on editing: kill your darlings. If something isn’t serving your story, you gotta be able to let it go. Here’s a list of things you can almost always cut from your writing to get you started on trimming.
Editing is tedious and time-consuming, but it’s the most important part of the writing process and should never be skipped or rushed! Take the time to revise and polish your story into the best version it can be.