Welcome to author Arshad Ahsanuddin who has written us an article on writing and editing. It’s an activity that sounds far less exciting than dreaming of fictional landscapes, or indulging in the free food and drink at a book launch, but is nonetheless a vital part of the journey toward a cracking good read and an interesting subject in its own right.
For old code monkeys like myself, there are also many parallels with software development. Design reviews, the agile manifesto, code review: all have their analogues in Arshad’s article.
Over to Arshad…
So you have an idea for a book. Time to start writing. Some people would counsel to just sit down and start typing, and see where your muse takes you. This is referred to as “organic” or “seat-of-the-pants” writing. It works fine when you only have a germ of an idea or you’re brainstorming. In my experience, however, a little preparation can make a world of difference in the quality of your first draft, and the degree to which the manuscript has to be extensively revised during the editing process.
Never write randomly. Always plan at least a skeletal outline, even if you only have a rough idea of where you want to go with the story, but leave the details to come out in the process of writing. It will stop you from writing yourself into corner more often than not, even if the finer points go right out the window once you start. You should have a clear idea of where you want to go, how you want to get there, and what you want to accomplish along the way. Then sit down and start writing, not before. Your outline will grow and adapt as you proceed. It should be frequently updated as more of the manuscript is completed, and divergences from your initial conception become apparent.
It isn’t usually a good idea to edit your work extensively as you go, because you will probably get bogged down in revisions and never finish your manuscript. The other reason not to edit an incomplete manuscript is that you will be working to unify the themes and structure of the earlier parts of your manuscript based on what you intend to write in the future, not what you will actually write. If your ending veers off in another direction from your initial intentions, then your early editing efforts may become outdated. Therefore, the first stage of editing should only commence once the entire manuscript is written and the structure of the story is complete.
Once the first draft is finished, then it’s time to start editing. There are three major forms of editing that I have identified: structural editing (also called developmental or substantive editing), line editing, and copyediting. The first two are most important to the neophyte writer, and the last is more a form of polish for the finished product before it goes to publication.
Structural editing is the practice of evaluating the larger themes and narrative flow of the manuscript. The focus here is on the nuts and bolts of a manuscript in order to determine whether its overall architecture is thematically sound, and to identify existing deficiencies that can be remedied. Some key questions to be answered are whether plot, dialogue, characterization, and setting are fully developed and balanced; whether the overall themes of the work are consistently maintained; and whether point of view is consistent and appropriate.
Line editing is the basis of most writers’ groups and focuses both on receiving critical appraisal of the quality of your writing. Key questions to be answered are whether your approach to any given passage is effective and engaging, whether your choice of words is accessible, and whether your dialogue is natural and believable. Generally, these analyses are based on excerpts of your work, and so do not have the same scope as structural editing, which focuses on the complete manuscript.
Copyediting is the technical review of language elements such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation which would otherwise detract from a well written manuscript as it moves forward to publication and distribution. In effect, structural editing is a review of the content of your manuscript, peer-critique is a review of its style, and copyediting is a review of its linguistic precision.
In the end, the writer is forced to critically examine his or her work, and decide what needs to stay, what needs to go, and what needs to be radically changed. Most likely, several follow-up reviews will be required to determine whether the revised manuscript has addressed the initial deficiencies, and whether new concerns have developed. The partnership between writer and editor should be viewed as a cooperative process, in which both work toward developing a good manuscript into a great one.
When he is writing articles about editing, or adding to his Pact Arcanum novels, Arshad Ahsanuddin is a hematopathologist living in Canada. Yes, he’s a blood doctor writing about vampires. The irony doesn’t escape him. Sunset is his first novel, and the start of the Pact Arcanum series.
Here are some ways you can find out more about Arshad:
Amazon.com Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Arshad-Ahsanuddin/e/B004YNJKKA
Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/pactarcanum
Arsahd’s book, Sunset, on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Sunset-Pact-Arcanum-ebook/dp/B005SIXXB2