On Editing and Rewriting


Editing is a job which is best done by somebody other than the writer. And that somebody should not be one of the writer’s best friends. Unless, of course, the writer finds an editor first and then, recognizing the value of a great editor, quickly becomes a best friend. Which is a very good plan, seeing that a great editor makes for a great writer.

But rewriting is a chromatically variant equine entirely. Rewriting is what a writer does to improve the flow of a tale. Rewriting is just about 90% of the work involved in turning a decent story into a damn fine novel/short story/whatever. The other 10% is made up of equal parts of creative writing and good editing.

Rewriting is essentially re-phrasing. In many cases, the first draught of a manuscript is loaded down with fumble-fingered attempts at getting the author’s thoughts onto paper at any cost. The result is probably quite far from being ready for prime time; the resulting manuscript might well be riddled with incoherent, rambling attempts at scene description and poor if not downright non-existent character development and way too much ‘tell’ and little or no ‘show’.

That is not something you want to submit to an editor. That is probably something you would not want your psychiatrist to see, either. Or even your mother.

I write in layers, and in most cases what I described above is exactly the way my manuscripts look when I first complete them. Well, at least that is the way each chapter or scene looks when I finish it. Ant that is perfectly okay – as long as you, the author, recognize that as the first stage in producing a workable manuscript. Workable, meaning a manuscript that will one day be plenty good enough to pass on to an editor for mark-up.

Good writing IS Rewriting

There is no other way to explain this. Creative writing is a myth. Creative writing is done in the mind. What goes down on paper, boys and girls, is just plain hard work (not as hard as digging ditches or picking cotton – I’ve done both). Rewriting is a process, and it really does make up the majority of the time any author will invest in a manuscript. It has to, or you will never have a marketable novel.

Much of the first layer I produce will be narrative, with little in the way of dialogue, scene description or character development. That first layer allows me to lay out each major scene I will need to slowly expose the plot and introduce major characters in the tale I want to tell.

I suppose that now would be a good time to explain that all of my novels stem from a photograph; a single photograph of an instant in time. As any viewer of a photo, I have no idea who the characters are (if anyone is even in the photo), where they came from, what occurred just before the photo was taken or what happened to those people (if any were in the photo) afterward.

It can be somewhat confusing to explain, but the essence is clear; what story surrounds that photo in time?

That’s enough of a digression. Let’s get back to the second layer I mentioned earlier. After rereading the first run-through of the MS, the author knows what has to be done in each scene to clarify his or her thoughts about the progress of the story. The goal in the second layer is to expand scene description, provide just enough scene and character description to allow the reader to build an image of place, time and weather and just enough description of the characters to place them  in the scene. Dialogue is added or trimmed to provide information to the reader both to move the plot along and describe the characters through their speech patterns.

Narrative is added where necessary, but narrative is always problematic; it slows the pace of the story. And sometimes that can be a very good thing. I know of one author who favors short choppy dialogue with little or no narrative to create a full-length, fast-paced novel. I quit reading his work a long time ago because I couldn’t stand that pace any more. It just got plain boring.

So break it up; give your readers time to relax every now and then. Life, as you may have noticed (if you pay attention to such things) does not always run at full speed ahead. There always seems to be a bit of time to relax and unwind. So give your characters time to relax, as well. Your readers will appreciate it.

“Show, don’t Tell”

If you haven’t heard that little axiom before, you must be a very new writer. Use dialogue and narrative both to show your characters doing things. Don’t ‘tell’ a tale. That is boring beyond belief. Readers want to read about people, and they couldn’t care one way or the other about plots, or, for that matter, how clever the author is about plotting.

Don’t describe a character when you can introduce enough information about him or her through dialogue or action so the reader can build his or her own image of that character.

That and a lot more is applied in the second layer of a manuscript. That second layer is where I really begin to tell the story and set the pace of the novel. Most of the scenes should be in place and at least blocked-out 9by narrative, at least) at the end of the second run-through.

The third layer (or if you prefer the third time I work through a manuscript) is all about polishing and smoothing out the rough spots.

By the time I have worked through the third layer, I pretty much have a complete manuscript. All of the scenes, if they are not complete are at least present, all of the detail is laid out (if not clear to the reader) and the pace of the story is set in stone. All of the dates and times for the scenes are fixed, so I know when, where and pretty much why things have to occur.

As far as I am concerned, the story is done. Which is when I pick up the phone and call my  Beta readers and ask them – very nicely – what they’re doing for the net month or so of their lives.

By the time I get marked-up copies of the manuscript back from my beta readers and get their comments and edits into the manuscript it is ready for an editor to look at. Note I mentioned both comments and edits from the beta readers. Comments can range from “You had so-and-so start that trip in a tan Lexus, but when he got the hotel in Miami he was back in his tan Suburban.” Big oopsie there, good buddy, to “Sheila was first described as a blond but in this scene she’s a  brunette.”  That’s called continuity, or a lack thereof. Lacking continuity in a tale is the mark of a  busy writer. Allowing it to get into the finished/published novel is the mark of an idiot.

Not every literate person in the whole wide world is good at checking continuity. And since the author is the last person who is qualified to check his or her own work, finding someone who can do this consistently is critical. Especially important is to find someone you don’t have to pay $750.00 per run-through of your manuscript.

Beta readers are also very good at finding editing issues. But they will not find all of them, by any means. Only a professional editor can do that for you (well, pretty much, anyway). Good beta readers bring out the very best in a manuscript and make publishers and professional editors look upon you with a  warm glow in their hearts.

Why? Because they know that you are going to bring them a well-prepared manuscript and that you are a professional writer who values constructive criticism. They know that you bring them a well-prepared manuscript they can turn into a marketable product without having to put up with some damn incompetent prima-donna who thinks every word he or she ever wrote is absolutely perfect right where it is.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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One Response to On Editing and Rewriting

  1. jumpingmonkey07 says:

    I am really thankful that you are willing to share your knowledge in “the business of writing”! I have learned a lesson recently (the hard way) that editing should NOT be done by you (the writer) but more importantly NEVER a “friend”.

    The information that you share in regards to Beta readers is rather valuable. This concept is totally new to me in the writing field. However, it makes perfect sense to send only a “well-prepared manuscript” to your professional editor(s) and publisher(s). I will definitely implement this practice on my writing journey!

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