Manuscript Editing: Two Editors Compared
Thirteen editors perform a Story Edit on the same manuscript.
We’re going to share the results, so editors and writers can learn from the experience.
Fictionary’s series on manuscript editing is just beginning. The goal of this series is for writers to know what they’re buying and for editors to know what to offer as part of their editing service.
First, we’ll review a scene where two editors performed a copyedit as part of a Story Edit.
As a quick refresher, a Story Edit, also called a structural, developmental, or substantive edit, is the primary structural review of your manuscript and the story you’re telling.
Story Editing is your big-picture approach to preparing for publishing. It’s your first structural revision. This is when you rework your characters, plot, and settings to ensure the story line and narrative flow smoothly while every scene contributes to the story’s purpose.
Story Editing means looking at the characters and asking why each one is in the story. It means looking for patterns, finding emotion, evaluating the structure of scenes, structuring chapters and word count. It means testing the setting against the plot, and so on.
After you’ve finished a Story Edit, copyediting is the most essential and fundamental preparation you need before publishing.
A basic copyedit includes checking your grammar, spelling, and punctuation for accuracy; ensuring consistency in your writing, word choices, style and compositional spacing; and eliminating jargon and repetitious words. It’s your last edit before formatting and proceeding to proofreading and publishing.
Two Story Edits Performed by Two Editors on the Same Manuscript
Both editors worked on a story where a writer requested a Story Edit and not a copyedit.
(1) Comma removal
Editor 1 recommended removing the comma after the word “grief” in the following sentence.
Death was there along with sadness and grief, but the real problem was the gathering of people.
The sentence is made up of two independent clauses joined by a co-ordinating conjunction. Therefore, the comma is required. The advice to remove the comma is incorrect.
The sentence could be written as two sentences and still be grammatically correct.
Death was there along with sadness and grief. The real problem was the gathering of people.
(2) Deleted sentence
Editor 1 has used the track changes functionality to delete the sentence “Too many people.”. The first problem is there is no explanation why this is being recommended. The second problem is this is a sentence level style recommendation. This type of recommendation should be given during a copyedit and not a Story Edit.
(3) & (4) “Unfamiliar” versus “not familiar”
Both editors recommended changing “not familiar” to “unfamiliar”. It’s the same advice, but Editor 2 explains why they recommended the change. The more informative advice will teach the writer how to improve their style and show them what to look for when they eventually perform a copyedit.
Know What You Need
Imagine you’re a writer who has paid for a Story Edit. Are you going to be happy with copyedit changes that are incorrect or come with little explanation? Probably not.
Sometimes a copyedit can give the impression a lot of work was done. That may be true, but it’s the wrong work at this phase of the editing journey. Both the writer and the editor may feel productive, but spending time on style changes before the story is strong can waste time.
I’ve only shown you a small portion of the Story Edit to illustrate different styles editors have.
My assessment based on the edit of the full manuscript is that Editor 1 is a copyeditor who is working outside their area of expertize or comfort zone by taking on a Story Editing job. Editor 2 performed minimal copyediting during the Story Edit, and when they copyedited, they gave the writer an explanation of why they recommended changes.
As a writer, you need to be clear on what you want from an editor. If your knowledge of grammar is strong, having changes recommended without an explanation may be perfect for you, so you can accept or reject changes quickly. If grammar is not your thing, and you’re learning as you write, then you’ll want an editor who gives explanations.
Knowing what you need as a writer will help you choose an editor who is a good fit.
Knowing what a writer needs from you as an editor will help you deliver exceptional edits.
Post Written by Kristina Stanley.
Combining her degree in computer mathematics with her success as a bestselling, award-winning author and fiction editor, Kristina Stanley is the creator and CEO of Fictionary.co — creative editing software for fiction writers and editors. She is a Fictionary Certified Story Coach and a Story Editing Advisor to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Her novels include The Stone Mountain mystery series and Look the Other Way. She’s the author of The Author’s Guide to Selling Book to Non-Bookstores. She’s a passionate guide-dog trainer and hiker.