What Is The Difference Between Editing & Revising? (and how can you accomplish both? )
LISTEN TO TODAY'S ARTICLE:
Before we can begin polishing our manuscripts, there's something we need to discuss: the difference between editing and revising.
These two words are often used interchangeably, and that's fine for colloquial conversations. But when it comes to the work itself, these words indicate two unique tasks. Understanding the differences between the two can help you cut through editing overwhelm (see, there's that colloquial usage again!) and make the process of finishing your manuscript far more efficient.
So, what is the difference between editing and revising? And what exactly is involved in accomplishing both tasks? Let's break these questions down in today's article, writers.
What does the revision process look like?
To revise your novel is to change or strengthen its storytelling. I always recommend that writers tackle revisions first and separate from editing, the altering of a story's prose, as there's not much use in worrying over sentence structure or grammar when you may delete the entire scene.
When tackling revisions, here are some elements every writer should consider:
• Plot Holes
When revising, writers should work to both strengthen the positive elements of their story and to cut or alter that which isn't working. One of the first elements writers should seek out is plot holes — gaps or logical fallacies in a storyline.
Most readers can suspend their disbelief in small measure for the sake of an enjoyable story, but large inconsistencies and illogical events are likely to disappoint. For more information on how to find and fix your story's plot holes, check out this article on the Well-Storied blog.
• Story Structure
Whether consciously or unconsciously considered, most successful stories operate on the framework of an established story structure.
Reconsidering the structure of your own story as you begin revisions can help you strengthen your story's hook, increase tension, improve character development, smooth pacing, refine your story's themes, and even root out those pesky plot holes we mentioned above.
Everything in your novel should serve a purpose, whether it strengthens the plot, develops characters, lends to the story's themes, or adds rich and vital context to the world-building. Without purpose, story elements serve only as filler, weighing down your story's pace and perhaps adding to readers' overwhelm, confusion, or boredom.
As you revise, keep an eye out for these extraneous elements, especially those you're resistant to removing from your manuscript. These latter elements are known as darlings, and though they can be tough to kill, most stories benefit from their authors doing so.
• Character Arcs
Characters are the backbone of any good book, whether or not that book is character-driven. Even in stories driven by plot, character arcs serve as the emotional undercurrent that pulls readers along on your characters' journeys.
As you consider the work you'll complete during revisions, don't forget to take a second look at your major characters' core internal struggles and the arcs of events that see them wrestling with those struggles throughout your story, making changes as necessary.
Exposition consists of the knowledge readers must possess to fully understand the dynamics of your story, including elements such as setting, character relationships, backstory, and history.
Because we don't possess the objectivity of our readers, it can be all too easy to omit necessary details, to reveal far more information than is necessary, or to share information in info-dumps that leave readers feeling winded. That's why it's important to find a healthy expositional balance during revisions.
When it comes to the flow of your story, what matters most is not whether you've set a galloping or meandering pace, but that the pace you have chosen remains consistent as the plot progresses. Taking care to consider your story's structure can work wonders in this regard.
For additional guidance, check out this article on crafting strong pacing for your story.
Foreshadowing hints at events to come and can serve as a powerful tool in a writers' arsenal, helping them develop tension and establish or subvert readers' expectations. Making use of this tool can be difficult during the writing process, however, especially for those who prefer to discovery draft.
But with your first draft complete, revisions become the perfect time to weave a little carefully-considered foreshadowing into the heart of your story.
• Accuracy & continuity
Finally, as you work through revisions, don't forget to consider the accuracy and continuity of the facts you've included in your story. Most characters' eyes shouldn't shift colors between chapters, nor should Cuba be listed as an island in the Pacific ocean, and so on.
Many professional copy-editors will seek out such mistakes when working on your manuscript, but it certainly doesn't hurt to put in the work yourself. Depending on the nature of your novel, you may want to double- or triple-check the facts you've included as a result of your research as well.
But does the editing process look like?
As we mentioned above, editing specifically consists of altering and strengthening your story's prose. In professional circles, there are two common types of editing: line-edits and copy-edits. The former consists of tweaking prose for clarity and style, while the latter focuses on improving the accuracy and, for lack of a better word, readability, of the prose.
When diving into edits, here are the common elements you'll want to consider:
• Sentence Structure
There is an incredible amount of power in the structuring of sentences. Too many similar sentences in a row can make a story feel stilted and awkward, while varied sentence structure more closely mimics a natural storytelling voice.
On occasion, however, making use of repeated sentence structure can work to achieve the particular mood a writer is trying to convey, typically one of suspense or dissatisfaction. When editing your own work, consider sentence structure carefully to create an easy flow or purposefully disrupt it.
• point-of-view & Voice
When crafting prose, understanding whose voice is telling the story is essential. Whether it's a character or an external narrator, allowing that voice to permeate your writing style is key to crafting a novel that is both personal and original.
Understanding voice will affect many aspects of your writing style, including word choice, tone, and the sentence structure we talked about above, all of which should be reconsidered during the editing process.
Whether of setting, appearance, or some other contextual information, description can be a pain point for many writers. Too heavy-handed of descriptions can leave readers feeling bored or overwhelmed, while a lack of description can leave them afloat instead.
When editing your own story's descriptions, work to do so in a way that sees the characters interacting with what is being described. Make use of their senses and points-of-view, allowing description to also lend itself to character development and action.
This, I've found, is one of the surest ways to craft description that's both enjoyable to read and that fulfills its purpose, and it's one of the biggest tasks I tackle during the editing process. For more tips on writing description, check out this article from the Well-Storied archives.
Ensuring your prose is clear and effective is essential to readers' enjoyment of your book. Knowing whether your work is in any way overcomplicated or confusing, however, can be difficult. As the authors of our work, it's often tough to see the forest through the trees.
When it comes to editing for clarity, I recommend following these tips for employing your best objective eye or, if you're planning to self-publish, to hire a copy-editor to complete this work for you. (If you're publishing traditionally, your manuscript will be assigned a copy-editor.)
When a manuscript has been revised and edited, there remains one final step to its completion: proofreading. Such work finds and corrects mistakes in spelling, grammar, and formatting, the latter of which includes proper capitalization, punctuation, and the like.
In most cases, it is helpful to hire a proofreader to complete this work for you. As you copy-edit your book, however, it doesn't hurt to check for consistent verb tense, noun-verb agreements, unnecessary modifiers, and other common mistakes.
How many drafts should all this take?
Every writer's process is a little different. How you go about revising and editing your manuscript may vary greatly from other's choices. I do recommend completing revisions before moving onto editing, however, as I mentioned earlier in our article. Doing so will save you quite bit a time and effort, as there's no point in editing scenes you may re-write or delete later.
When it comes to the number of drafts you complete, however, anything goes. If you'd like to complete a host of small drafts, each addressing a particular revising or editing task, that's a fantastic choice, as is the decision to complete a large amount of work in one fell swoop. The number of drafts it takes to complete your novel your way is the right number of drafts.
But how do you know when to stop revising or editing? No novel is ever as perfect as the version inside the writer's head, but when big-picture changes turn into tiny nit-picks, you'll know it's time to consider your manuscript complete. Congratulations, writer. You've written, revised, and edited your very own book!