The Necessary Hell of Editing

When I completed the first draft of my third book, Ancients & Death, I was proud of the fact that I had managed to slog through over two years’ worth of work to produce a 180,000-word book. Even though I realized that, with some chapters in excess of 10,000 words, there would be some editing to do, I didn’t consider that at the time; it was simply a matter of getting a huge amount of writing done.

Now, of course, I’m faced with a different dilemma. Although writing a book is hard enough work, editing it is, if anything, even harder. And I’m not talking about fixing grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes; I’m not even talking about plot holes and continuity errors. I’m talking about cuts. Drastic cuts.

I had originally intended the third book to be around 150,000 words – half as long again as the first book, yet by no means the longest I intend in the series overall. And as wonderful as it is to think of an epic tome as being simply long, there comes a point where a book becomes too long, and thus dull and uninteresting to the reader. (Stephen King, though he’s one of my favorite writers, seems never to have learned this lesson.)

This meant, of course, cuts to the novel. In some cases, drastic cuts. after all, reducing a chapter from 6,500 to 6,000 words might be a case of removing a few unnecessary details or paragraphs; cutting a chapter from 11,000 to 6,000 means removing entire scenes, and ones that have a lasting importance throughout the novel.

Here, of course, comes the true pain of editing; not the arduous tedium of line editing, but the emotional pain of removing huge tracts of text that you worked so hard to craft in the first place. An example comes in the eleventh chapter, where a pivotal scene in which the main character is saved by Death. As important as it felt to make it clear that the forces of Death can also preserve life, it didn’t advance the immediate plot and action, and so it was cut. It hurt, because I’d thought of it as a pretty damn good scene.

In the end, I managed to cut almost 15,000 words from the total, bringing it just within 10% of the original intended length. And while there may be more cuts in the future, I’m at least happy that the overall story is a little tighter, a little shorter, and a little easier to read. Now comes the process of going back over the cuts and joining  them back together, stitching the seams and smoothing the gaps, so it sees as though it’s how it was always meant to be.

Then I can start the line edits.

Oh, what hell editing is.

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