You: Edit without reading? How is that even possible?
Me: You can tell when a story has problems at a glance if the page is too dark.
You: Um. What?
Me: This page. Look at all that unbroken text.
(HOLDS OUT A MANUSCRIPT AT ARM’S LENGTH)
It’s an intimidating, heavy block. Unless you are Proust—wait. Are you Proust?
You: (SURLY) No.
Me: Okay. When there are big unbroken blocks of text, you’re demanding a lot of the reader.
You: So I should assume my reader is too stupid to handle a long paragraph?
Me: Attention spans are shorter. Big blocks of text do not skip along. It’s hard to get a sense of making progress when faced with all that text. You need to break it up.
You: Show me.
Me: The first thing is, have you used paragraphs correctly? Maybe the unified sentences are there but you’ve missed opportunities to paragraph appropriately. Think of each paragraph as one logically unified thought. Look for the flow, either progression or back and forth, to identify where the next paragraph proceeds.
You: Uh-huh. I’m not an idiot, you know.
Me: I’m sure you’re not. I didn’t create you to be an idiot, but a dialogue foil so I could parry back and forth a bit. Break up the didactic drudgery.
You: Wha–wait. What?
Me: (SMOOTHLY) So the next usual suspect is long speeches. Soliloquies usually need to be broken up with action, interaction and conflict from other characters.
Me: Or you get big blocks of text. Readers like white space, but this isn’t just an aesthetic issue. It’s an editorial issue. Shorter paragraphing looks more appealing, true, but when dialogue flies back and forth, shorter paragraphs are an indication of dynamism on the page.
You: And you think you don’t have to actually read the story to know it’s not dynamic enough?
Me: I don’t have to actually read the story to know that unless you get more white space on the page, no one will read it. I’m trying to give your story a chance at daylight. I haven’t read a word, but I’ve seen enough holding it at arm’s length and glancing through a few pages to see the pattern. If you send it to an editor or agent, they will heave a great sigh and turn away quickly. If you try to sell it yourself, it will not sell.
You: Do you actually talk to writers like this when you edit them?
Me: Of course not. This is just a blog post between me and an imaginary writer…you know, for educational purposes.
You: Educa…. About what you…hey! You’re saying I’m not real?
Me: (PULLS A WOODEN STAKE FROM BENEATH A DARK CLOAK)
The problem is real. The editorial trick is real. You, I made up.
(PLUNGES STAKE INTO THE FICTION’S CHEST AND ROOTS AROUND FOR THE HEART IN QUICK, GRISLY CIRCLES)
You: Ouch. Hey, that was…surprisingly painless.
Me: It’s okay. Sh. I wrote your reality this way so it doesn’t hurt anyone.
You: Oh. Thanks.
Me: You’re welcome. You live in the Matrix. It’s a bitch, but I try to make it easy on everybody.
(PULLS OUT THE STAKE AND THE SOUND IS LIKE AIR FARTED OUT OF A PARTY BALLOON)
(THE FICTIONAL AUTHOR WHIZZES AWAY LIKE SAID PARTY BALLOON AND, AT FULL DEFLATION, DISAPPEARS INTO AN UNENDING GREEN SEA UNDER A CLOUDLESS NIGHT SKY AND A BLUE, TROPIC MOON.)
THE WARM BREEZE, SMELLING OF COLITAS AND CARRYING THE SOUNDS OF THE JUNGLE TO THE WEST WHISPERS STERNLY: “Stop now, Chazz! It’s overwritten already!
Me: FADE INTO DARKNESS. THEN GOES SHOPPING.
And that’s how you edit without reading.
- Editing Part V: The Dead Grammar Rules Freedom Manifesto (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Organizing a Blog Post (xfep.com)
- The advantages of writing in bed | Robert McCrum (guardian.co.uk)