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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Line-Edits for Z Company


I am in the middle of a new experience -- making line-edits to a story so it's suitable for publication. I thought this was something only done for books, but apparently short stories need it too... if they're going into a book. Which makes sense.

95% of these changes are grammar-related. 40% of that 95% are easy -- avoid an acronym here, take out a bad word choice there. The others require a lot of thought: weak sentence openers, avoiding past perfect tense, sentence opener variety. And as I make the changes I find myself questioning myself: does this make the story better? Is this what I meant to say? How do I change the sentence so that A) it avoids the error and B) still maintains what I meant to say?

For example, the main character runs a zombie contingent in the army. I refer to them as "the zombies", as in "the zombies marched forward". This is in place of "the men", as I would have referred to them if I was writing about normal soldiers. The line-edits want to change this to just "zombies". ("Drop the 'the', it's cleaner." - The Social Network) If I just refer to them as "zombies march forward" the take on the role of the mass-consuming normal zombies instead of the zombies with army discipline I want to portray them as. In my opinion.

But I am not the reader. And the way the reader reads the story and the way the writer reads the story are two different things. And ultimately, it's the reader's opinion that matters.

I want to integrate as many of the edits as I can. Every writer says when they follow the advice of other (more experienced) writers, it works out for them. But I worry about whether whether I'm making the edits the right way -- whether I'm improving the story or screwing it up more. For example, there are a few instances where there's a line with passive voice or past perfect. And I look at the line and think "I don't even need that line", and remove it. Maybe the editor thought it was a good line, just needed to be in the right format.

Some of the tips contradict what I was taught in school (numbers 10 and under should be written out in narrative, all acronyms should be written out in dialogue) or are no-brainers (avoid passive voice, format first person character thoughts in italics) and some are just things I know are a problem in my style, but just hard to get rid of (avoid past perfect, questions are asked not said).

If I can commit these tips to memory, I hope my writing can improve to the point where it's even more publishable.
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