Thursday, April 28, 2011

Editing Your First Draft? Don't Forget Audience and Purpose!

Anne-Mhairi Simpson had an interesting post about what to expect from your first draft, and I wanted to comment on her experience. One paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

Now, if you’ve ever wondered about this, chances are you will have come across a huge amount of advice regarding the quality of your first draft and 99% of it will say exactly the same thing: that your first draft is 100% guaranteed to be a complete crock and you will need to do drastic re-writing and editing, including filling in numerous plot holes and wholesale murder of little darlings before you should even think about letting that beast see the light of day.
Perhaps it's irresponsible of me to say this, but some people don't need to tear apart their first draft in order to get to something good. Some authors will make a pass through to check for technical errors, and then call it good. Others will tweak and fiddle and agonize until they have something that's been revised so many times it bears absolutely no resemblance to the original.  Some people are never satisfied with their work, even if they started with something fantastic, and other writers will be pleased far too quickly by far too little. Editing too much can be just as detrimental to your novel as too little editing.

In an effort to smooth out the prose, fix all the grammar, remove passive voice, and expunge florid description, you may remove the very thing that makes the manuscript unique. When you "kill your darlings," don't kill yourself in the process. Your quirks contribute to your style, and sometimes a work is interesting for the reasons it "fails".

Different genres have different rules and expectations. When you edit your manuscript, consider what your audience wants to see, not simply what blogs call "good writing." As Anna-Mhairi discovered, what fails in one genre might be the strength in another genre. She went too far in one direction and lost the spark her readers loved up to that point. I think the primary lesson from her experience is to always let audience and purpose be your guide while editing. It's more important to find a style that works than it is to blindly follow writing advice.

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