It’s one thing to talk about editing, and what kinds of things to cut and why, and it’s another to see pre- and post-editing versions of a paragraph. I’ve been doing final edits for “The Magic Council” before its November release, and they’ve proven more extensive than I realized, having been through the editing process with the book so many times already. The other day I found a passage that really astounded me with how different (well, better) it ended up with a little fine-tuning. I immediately got the idea to plan a post about it. Here’s the “before” version, where protagonist Vane Unsten (the Duke of Ingleton) attends the first meeting of the king’s new Magic Council. In a previous scene, Vane’s wife has used an enchanted necklace, a crystal, to let her husband know she’s in trouble. This paragraph is when Vane receives the notice through his matching gem.
The Magic Council–or rather, Francie, Casandra, and Johann–was discussing the viability of converting one or more existing schools into institutions where children who worked magic were educated alongside non-magicked classmates. Francie submitted the council might have to compensate families who withdrew their children because of the proposed changes. Casandra asked whether there was an Education Council of some type? Johann was arguing that staff must be carefully selected, and current teachers taken into account, placed elsewhere if dismissed, when Vane felt something move against his chest. He had grown so used to wearing his crystal, to its weight and its bulk, that he now never marked the thing, and for vast periods never gave it a passing thought. When it suddenly burned him and he pulled it out by its chain to see it glowing blue, for a second, no one noticed.
That is so bad it makes me cringe. I don’t know how I ever left it in that condition to begin with! (I’m telling myself that to now be fixing it, to recognize the problems, is a good sign of my development as a writer. Better tactic than mortification over the past.)
Anyway, here’s what I did. I made passive voice (were educated, must be carefully selected) active. Some of the info in the paragraph is redundant or extraneous, so I cut that. For instance, it becomes clear as people talk which council members are discussing the proposition. No need to name them ahead of time. In other places, as when describing how used Vane is to wearing his crystal, I say the same thing two different ways. Adverbs like “suddenly” are almost never needed. Gone. I also took that question mark away, because while it references a question, the sentence itself, grammatically, is not a question.
I split the paragraph into two because I decided it was better to use one paragraph to set the scene, and then go to Vane receiving his wife’s desperate summons. Here’s the final version:
The Magic Council was discussing converting large schools—two or three in major cities—into institutions where children who worked magic studied with non-magicked classmates. Francie submitted the council might have to compensate families who withdrew their children because of the proposed changes. Casandra asked whether there was an Education Council; Vane said there was not. Johann was arguing they must select staff carefully and place dismissed teachers elsewhere when something moved against Vane’s chest.
The duke had grown so used to his crystal’s weight and bulk that he rarely gave the stone a passing thought. When it burned him and he pulled it out by its chain to see it glowing blue, for a second no one noticed.
So, those are some of the major things I look for when I edit:
- cutting redundancies
- cutting down on adverb and adjectives, but adverbs especially
- passive voice, and making it active
- simplifying sentence structure when possible (a high school English teacher once told me I wrote like Hemingway: that is, without frills. While I’m in no way the literary genius he was, my style definitely is towards the Hemingway side of the spectrum as opposed to say, Faulkner.)
I hope you find this post helpful! Lots of people like to talk about how to edit, myself included. That’s really useful, but sometimes it helps to really see the nitty-gritty of it.