Make Every Word Count: Editing your fiction

clarkkentWhen I was in college I interned for a city newspaper. One editor in particular seemed to have an aversion to everything I wrote, especially my first front page story.  It was about a walk to raise money and awareness for the homeless. It was my time to show them I could write more than just cute features about 4-H fairs and summer carnivals. I got up early and set out on the walk with hundreds of others. (O.K., not exactly hard news but still…) I interviewed people along the way, laughed and talked it up feeling mighty fine as a semi-professional journalist. Back to the newsroom I went and wrote from my heart, tapping away at the keys like Clark Kent. The following day I grabbed the paper and there it was: full color photo and my byline. And then I read it. I read it again because this wasn’t my story. I mean it was but it had been altered and turned around so much so it was like the ultimate wedgy. I choked back tears and gave that editor a look that I hoped would send daggers to her very soul.  She despised me. It was obvious. I mean I was an excellent writer with a natural gift and she was obviously threatened by this. There. I could be nothing else.

It would take me a minute but I eventually got it. In news writing especially, it is all about word economy. Articles are placed into blocks of space and have to fit perfectly within the space to which they are assigned and because of this news is told in the most efficient way possible.  Say what is needed and then stop writing. If a word doesn’t have purpose, if it is simply hanging around because he is friends with the other words, well– he has to go.

Thankfully this is one of the skills that I successfully transferred to my fiction writing; this system of word economics. Say what needs to be said and move along. This does not mean that fiction should be terse and without emotion; not at all.  But every word written should move the story along; no extra hang around words or characters or even scenes which do not progress the story. Words, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction should make the reader feel as though they are going somewhere at all times.

Pick it apart after you’ve written your heart

First drafts are easier when you simply concentrate on getting the words down on paper. Let it go the first round because it just feels good–the release of emotion and authenticity of the story. Don’t be embarrassed by what you feel or think; don’t be lulled into going lightly as the wagging finger of your English professor, your Momma, your ex; the preacher or politically correct society hoovers over you. (Deal with them later.) Write from your soul, write with abandon. Now you have something substantial to edit. Edit afterwards and you’ll be surprise at how pure and rich your prose is. To edit while writing is like a wrestling match of the right and left brain; it slows creativity and even the editing is not done well; neither side wins.

Expand your vocabulary

Sometimes our need to ramble on is due to our limited vocabulary. It takes us longer to say what we need to say because we don’t have the words to express ourselves both efficiently and effectively. I realize now that was part of my dilemma during my internship. Vocabulary takes time to build. At that time I didn’t have it. That pesky editor did. She was good at her job. Skimming through a thesaurus and replacing familiar words is one way to get it done, but a more effective way is to read; read some of any and everything.

Now what is it I was trying to say?

Even as you are writing your fiction, keep reliving the story—the point of the whole thing. Play it in your head and talk about it as if you were speaking of real people. Have conversations about the characters with your family and friends as though you were working through real life dilemmas. If they start to look at you as if you’ve lost it for real this time, find someone else with whom you can talk about it. As long as the story is on your mind it becomes less difficult to get side tracked and you can express yourself more effectively.

Well, as I am sitting here writing this, I realize there is an editor I need to thank. See you in a bit. Oh, and feel free to leave comments I love hearing from you guys.


About Dorcas Graham

I have been a professional writer for more than 20 years; primarily technical writing and freelance journalism. My passion for fiction writing brings me here. Now I have the opportunity to pursue what I love! My debut novel, In Three Days is now available on and I'm happy to share this exciting journey with you. In addition to updates of what's happening, I will also add tidbits of information and writing tips I have learned along the way. I welcome your comments. Enjoy!
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4 Responses to Make Every Word Count: Editing your fiction

  1. I’m finding as I submit fiction for critique that I don’t really mind it when people tear it apart. I consider my writing a product I’ve manufactured, not a baby I’ve birthed. Maybe it’s a male/female thing.

    • You may be right about the male/female thing; we do tend to become emotional with our ‘babies.’ And then again, it may have something to do with our maturity as writers. I think the more we write the more we realize that critiquing is inevitable and necessary.

  2. Susan Bratcher (Kroger) says:

    Dee, there is a rumor you will be in Gallatin signing copies of your book this week. Is it true? Where? When? Pam Brown and I are very VERY excited and would be so privileged to have a signed copy. Please let us know when you gave a moment! Many hugs!!

    • Hi Susan!

      So good to hear from you! Yes I will be signing copies of my novel at the Gallatin Public Library on Thursday, July 18 from 4:30 – 6:30 pm. I would love to see you guys there! Miss you guys much. Give Pam my best!

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