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Style editing ... it's editing for style

This is where you make sure your readers are definitely understanding you, and you're using the right words, and they're in the right order ... you're not overusing words, not repeating them, not inadvertently using regionalisms, which can sound unintentionally comical — or mean nothing at all to your readers. At this level of editing, you ensure that pivotal points are revealed once, while nothing is skipped over and forgotten. Material is not repeated, or repeated too often.

For example, a phrase used too frequently soon becomes annoying. Or funny. 'I'll be back.' Speaking of which, you'll be on the lookout for clich├ęs! (Editing to the rescue.)

As you edit, you'll be making sure enough detail makes it onto the page to 'paint the scene,' but not enough to become boring. Modern readers will skip over too much description, and if there happens to be something crucial buried in the middle of this passage, they'll miss it utterly. This is how they 'lose the plot' and put the book down, saying it's incomprehensible and it's all your fault, as the writer.'

And you'll be on the lookout for several more 'writer beware' points. Hazard flags go up when something isn't right, like the black warning flags signaling 'oil on the racetrack.' Words have a way of flowing together naturally, every writer has a unique 'voice,' and so will you; but you must be in control of how the words flow, why they flow, and where they're flowing to. Here, freelance editing crosses a line of fuzzy logic into a form of art.

For instance, Jilly Cooper and Clive Cussler 'sound' very, very different indeed. Both are fine writers, but not only is their material a world apart, they also approach the 'job of writing' from different angles. They're from different parts of the world, different social backgrounds. Their words have a way of flowing together naturally, but the similarity ends right there!

Both writers, being consummate professionals, choose their words to suit their readership. Comparing a social comedy and an industrial thriller is exactly like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they're both fruit, but every other quality is different.

The trick is, as your own freelance editing guru working on the fly as you write, to choose your words to suit your readership. Moreover, you'll soon 'get a nose' for what works, and you'll automatically, instinctually, choose your words to suit your changing material, from scene to scene within the same novel. In your intimate scenes, the words flow together in one way ... in action scenes, they flow another way.

If you're one of those 'natural, born writers' who make this happen without even thinking about it, bravo! Mother Nature gave you an advantage. The rest of us need to develop the instinct for words. The good news is, it doesn't take long.

Here's a grossly-exaggerated example, which will make the point. A short poem by John Macefield, entitled Cargoes, where the choice of words speaks for itself:

    Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
    Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
    With a cargo of ivory, And apes and peacocks,
    Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

    Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
    Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
    With a cargo of diamonds, Emeralds, amethysts,
    Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

    Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
    Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
    With a cargo of Tyne coal, Road-rails, pig-lead,
    Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

'Style' has little to do with how you spell or punctuate your writing, and whether the grammar is perfect. 'Style' is about how the words flow together ... which words you choose for what purpose ... and within all of that, keeping a tight grip on your own unique voice.

Daunted? Don't be. If you know how to score tennis, understand the offside rule, can put together flatpack furniture, bake a carrot cake, follow a knitting pattern, and program the DVD recorder, you can crack editing. It's an instinct, a 'nose' for writing and editing. And developing it is actually a whole lot of fun.

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