In June 2012, I ran a short workshop on How To Edit Fiction for the Student Editors of Trove. The team of six undergraduates – comprising aspiring artists, writers, editors, and publishers – are in the midst of completing their creative arts practicum that I was overseeing, and editing the journal’s latest issue. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when editing fiction writing. Please feel free to use with credits back to this page.
Remember that each submission is painstakingly crafted by authors who are emotionally attached to their creative work. Your job is not to be excessively harsh or condemning but rather, to help the author better their work. If necessary, ask authors to share their approach with us so that we may aid them in achieving their goals, rather than assimilating their work into our own POV/to suit our taste.
Offer suggestions for improvements with tact. Make queries to provoke the author’s thought process. Offer prompts gently without appearing to be pushy, or worse, attempting to rewrite the author’s original work.
Ensure that your critique and feedback is useful for the author. Instead of merely stating that you do not enjoy the writing, tell the author which aspects of the work you are not comfortable with and why.
Always offer positive points alongside your critique. Encourage the author to explore possibilities with their submissions.
Evaluate all submissions objectively. You may prefer a certain style or genre of writing to others, but try your best to read a submission based on its own merits.
Is the plot coherent or are there inconsistencies? Is it interesting or an oft-repeated cliché? Are there unnecessary twists or vignettes that do not contribute to the storyline? If there were any of the above, did they seem intentional? If so, did the author successfully convey their intent? Did you enjoy the story?
Is the character portrayed coherently or are there inconsistencies? If so, are these intentional and how do they drive the story? Is the character stereotyped? We want to avoid ethnic, national, and gender stereotypes unless the author intentionally crafted these for creative reasons.
Always read the dialogue out loud. Are the rhythms natural? Are the choice of words common in everyday speech? Does the author over rely on conversation speech to drive the story, and end up ‘telling’ more than ‘showing’? Does the dialogue drive the storyline or is it unnecessary?
Is the point of view consistent? Is the use of tense consistent? Is the author ‘telling’ the reader what is happening rather than ‘showing’ it? Are the depictions clichéd?
Style & Genre
Is the author paying homage to a certain author, or a genre or style of writing? If so, have they done so effectively and consistently, or does the work appear contrived?
While factoring in the license to be creative, if the same thing can be said in a more concise manner, do it. Avoid excessively lengthy sentences that are draggy and hinder the reader’s train of thought.
Is there an unnecessary use of multiple adjectives? If so, what is the author’s intent? Are there in-depth descriptions or extensive vignettes? Do they seem out of place or do they contribute to the storyline? What is the author’s intent? If you’re not sure, ask the author.
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