15 November 2007

Editing anthologies

The last few days I've been preparing an anthology for a competition. Now, while I don't want to go into too many details -- because it is meant to be anonymous -- suffice to say we were over the word limit and so I had to do some cutting. Now, perhaps the easiest part was that I had more pieces and longer pieces than anyone else, so it was easy to be ruthless. I didn't want to touch other people's pieces too much, except to fix punctuation, and iron out any inconsistencies. It's strange the small inconsistencies that creep in.

And it's always interesting trying to make substantial cuts -- in this case akin to removing a subplot. One small change snowballs throughout the manuscript. Interesting, too, trying to edit for balance. I cut one scene completely to get within the word limit, but couldn't take the one that would have made the least impact, because that was also the writer represented least. The trouble was that my scenes impacted other scenes, which therefore also needed parts stripped out of them, just so that they still made sense.

Cutting like this is a great way to learn editing skills. I think I learnt many of mine while trying to cut more than 10% out of short stories to get them within competition guidelines. I get my class to do this every year, and every year there will be someone who is unable to complete the exercise, and I'll get them to hand it to me. They're always amazed at exactly what they can lose, and how much more smoothly the text reads.


ellen said...

Ah yes, something I'm very familiar with. At work, it's not uncommon for us to have the same story at four different lengths (from 600 to 2000 words), each one edited to a specific editor's requirements. (We're talking trade press here, so multiple submissions are allowed.)

Tracey said...

Yes, that's a completely different take but involving the same principles. It must be an interesting study to look at the four articles and see which you think you prefer, but at those sorts of different lengths were really talking content differences (as I was doing too, I suppose) rather than the more normal style issues that my students think about.