An Editor’s Art


I have been meaning to post on this subject for a while, using a short piece of mine that was one of the winners of Oliver Gray‘s  flash fiction writing competition on his (most excellently composed) blog, Literature and Libation. Oliver kindly edited the piece as part of the prize and made it, dare I say it, better.

In fact he made it a lot better as you can see below (please click on it to see his comments as they are, in a word, priceless).

Oliver Gray Editing 1

I have to keep saying this as it is hard for a writer to admit that someone can make his or her writing better. I am sure all of you have, at one time or another, felt what you wrote was perfect. Perfect in composition, perfect in the reading of it; expressing your thoughts, feelings and ideas in exactly as many words as they should be expressed in with no need for changes or the dreaded delete button – thesaurus be damned, dictionary be banished.

And then the Editor begins his craft. He takes your “perfection” and transforms it into delight. Delight for the reader and, if you can bring yourself to admit it, delight for the writer (click on the image below and see how he alters the piece to make it just that little bit better – putting finishing touches that give it a flourish rather than a peremptory wave).

Initially what started as this:

I have a confession to make…

I have committed murder. That’s right… you heard me. I have taken a life. Not just one but countless lives.

I have both prompted murder and I have put the knife in someone’s heart myself, feeling the surprise and pain in their eyes as I thrust it deeper. I have lusted after wives and whores aplenty. Slept with many and paid for more. I have drunk my measure of cheap wine in the company of frostbitten waifs and strays; and exquisite malts with rich and sweaty bankers.

I have eaten meagre meals with wrinkled widows on linoleum tablecloths and feasted on life’s blood. I have abandoned children just to see the look on their faces, and left orphans to rot in the hell of their despair. I have judged others harshly and spoken ill of many. I have been judged and have been found to be wanting, time and time again.

I have perjured to save my soul and I have lied to silence it. I have prayed to God in hell and Lucifer in heaven, desecrating both in the same breath. I have befriended ghosts and forgotten the living.

I have fallen in love. Yes, that too. And made others love me.

I have stolen hearts, and been hurt by the one I love. I have cried my fill of tears and worn them on my sleeve. I have been drunk with the sheer ecstasy of giving and receiving pleasure. I have laughed with friends on a sultry summer evening and walked through the labyrinth of emotions, sometimes wandering and often just wondering.

Do I regret the pain and heartache I have caused? No, I revel in the perversity of it. It is what gives my drinking sustenance.

Am I proud of the happiness I have brought? No, because it is but one side of life.

All these things I have thought in the name of the one thing I love…

Writing.

Barkeep! Another large one…

Oliver Gray Editing 2

Became this:

I have a confession to make.

I have committed murder. That’s right. You heard me. I have taken a life. Countless lives.

I have both prompted murder and have put the knife in someone’s heart myself, feeling the surprise and pain in their eyes as I thrust it deeper. I have lusted after wives and whores aplenty. Slept with many and paid for more. I have drunk my measure of cheap wine in the company of frostbitten waifs and strays; and exquisite malts with rich and sweaty bankers.

I have eaten meagre meals with wrinkled widows on linoleum tablecloths and feasted on life’s follies. I have abandoned children just to see the look on their faces, and left orphans to rot in the hell of their heinous existence. I have judged others harshly and spoken ill of many. I have been judged and have been found to be wanting, time and time again.

I have perjured to save my soul and I have lied to silence it. I have prayed to God in hell and Lucifer in heaven, desecrating both in the same breath. I have befriended ghosts and forgotten the living.

I have fallen in love. Yes, that too. And made others love me.

I have stolen hearts, and been hurt by the one I love. I have cried my fill of tears and worn them on my sleeve; I have laughed with friends on a sultry summer evening and stumbled through the labyrinth of emotions, sometimes wandering and often wondering.

Do I regret the pain and heartache I have caused? No. I revel in the perversity of it.

Am I proud of the happiness I have brought? No.

All these things I have thought in the name of the one thing I love…

Writing.

Barkeep! Another large one…

Oliver made the minutest of changes, kept his eye on the detail  and the writing improved  – well in my opinion it did. What do you think, I would love to hear your comments. And if you need a bit of advice on Peer Editing then here is a post by Oliver that succinctly sums up the “whats” and “hows” of it.

 

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2 comments

  1. The edits made it flow more smoothly. He managed to sand down the rough edges while making it sound slightly edgier than before. Excellent effect.

    Like

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