Monday, April 21, 2014

Remembering Your Reader During the Editing Process

While editing, yes, be the "editor," but also be the "reader." What do you, as reader, think of the story?


When I teach Writing for the Media, I talk a lot about audience. It's the first thing we talk about at the start of the semester, and as we move through our writing projects - traditional news stories, features, radio and TV commercial scripts, and mini advertising and public relations campaigns - I sprinkle audience across each project. From the pre-writing, research, legwork phases of their projects to the revising and editing, the students keep their focus on audience. Like I tell my students, we live in a fast-paced, technological society, and readers can go to any number of outlets - offline and online - to receive information. What are you going to do to make sure readers are reading you? If the students aren't focused on their readers, those readers will definitely not be focused on them.

Image by marin from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fiction writers are no different. We have to think about our audience, too. We might start out writing the story that only we can tell, writing the story that matters to us, but ultimately, consideration of our readers should come into play. The best place for that to occur is in the editing phases. I mean, let's be honest. It's hard enough fighting with the voices in our own head during the writing of a novel. The fewer voices involved in the actual writing process, not including those lovely characters, the better.

Writers often think about the audience after a story is written, and many of them focus on the audience when developing their marketing and public relations plans for the story. This is important because in the developing of a plan, writers are defining their audience and researching where this audience congregates - offline and online - so that they can reach them.

We should, however, be thinking about our readers beyond being able to pitch a book to them. A great marketing plan will do nothing for a book that doesn't consider the reader's needs in actually enjoying the book.

We spend months, maybe even years as the writer, crafting the story.

We move into our role as self-editor to revise and clean up the story. We further develop the story's content, making sure all elements of the story are sound. We comb through the story to make sure grammar and mechanics and structure are clean and consistent throughout the story.

Once we have that copy we believe sings off the page, it's a good idea to now become the reader.

You, the writer, love the story. You, as self-editor, think the story works. But what does the reader think? Who would read this story? What would they need to know about your characters, about the setting, about background information, etc. for the story to sing off the page to them?

The story we love as writer and self-editor might become, when in our role as reader, a story that could be even better with exposition trimming and scene development.


How often do you think of the reader during your editing process?


Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

12 comments :

  1. It's hard to be a reader of your own work. My husband reads my chapters as they come off the printer, and we'll talk about things that work or don't for him. And, I use beta readers, preferably the non-author type for feedback. Readers don't read like writers.

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    1. I have beta readers, too, Terry, people I know will give me an honest assessment of the project. But I also like to slash and burn and rebuild my work myself, too. I write with the heart of a writer, but I read my work with the heart of my ideal reader.

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  2. This is a thought-provoking post, Shon. When I edit a manuscript for another writer, I am first and foremost a reader. Of course the editing automatically kicks in with grammar, punctuation, character and plot development, flow, etc.; but the reader in me must remain engaged. If I'm not hooked, I go back to the writer and we address that problem.

    Self-editing is a bit trickier because we writers know our backstory and lots of details that make our characters interesting and engaging. The question is whether or not we convey that interest and engagement to grip our audience without over-burdening them with unnecessary details.

    Besides self-editing from this perspective, we can glean valuable insight from our beta readers. Listening to and acting on their comments and criticisms with our defenses down may well enhance the reader appeal of our stories. No matter how wonderful we may perceive our story to be, it will nothing in the long run if our readers are not engaged. And they won't be waiting in line for our next book to be released. Again, great post, Shon. :-)

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Linda. And you're so right about what we can glean from our beta readers. We do get awfully attached to our stories; they are our literary babies, after all, but the best stories are those in which the author puts aside that love and focuses on the well being of a great literary product.

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  3. This is a good reason to put the book aside for a while. Put the pen down. Read the book as if you didn't write it. No! I said don't touch that pen! :)

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    1. THAT is the biggest thing, Diana. LOL Put the book aside for a bit. Take all your pens and place them in a safe. LOL. Commence to reading your book.

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  4. Thanks for this, Shon. I try to distance myself from the piece by waiting a while before I start the editing process. My wife, who has an excellent memory and a sharp eye for grammatical/syntax errors, reads each chapter after my initial edit and points out those things I've missed. I also use an online editing suite (Prowriting aid) which identifies the more common faults that creep into our work. But I try to consider the reader throughout the process of both creation and editing; it is the reader I'm writing for, after all.
    Good piece, good advice. Thanks Shon.

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    1. Thank you, Stuart, and thanks for mentioning Prowriting aid. I have a client who uses something similar, and he really loves it.

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  5. Interesting post, Shon. If any part of a book doesn't work for me as a writer, it won't work for me as a reader. I know those parts too. They stop me every time, and I know I'm going to change them at some point. It's hard to be objective about one's own work, and it's hard to anticipate what a reader will or won't like. Just read any author's reviews and see the disparity. Not all readers react the same way to the same book. In the end, I have to please myself and not worry about readers.

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    1. And I think, Polly, that's ultimately where a lot of us writers fall; to please self and not worry about readers. And that's good in a sense because really, it would be hard to get a story on the page if we focused so much on what readers thought.

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  6. It's a lot harder to be your own reader! And even re-writing a story--I'm finding I'm just not objective enough!

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    1. Oh, it's definitely hard, Heidi, that's without question, which is why there are always beta readers and other editors to pass our work of to for fine-tuning. I'm not sure we can be totally object; the story is the child we birthed, but we can work at being more objective than the literary parent who thinks our story can do no wrong. ;-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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