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What Is Editing?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Do you edit your work?

Do you edit your work?

Leave Out the Outtakes!

Ever see advertising for the DVD release of a major movie that says, "Includes 3 hours of outtakes and deleted scenes!" Is that a selling point? Not for me! There's a reason that these bits ended up on the movie editor's chopping block. They may not be very good, they don't add to the story and, in fact, can detract from the overall work.

That's why one of the most important roles in movie production is editing. For those of you who think that a movie (or television show) is shot straight through from beginning to end, you'll be surprised to learn that sometimes the end is shot long before the opening scenes… and is sometimes shot several times. The actual shooting sequence depends on a lot of production factors. What results is miles (or gigabytes these days) of footage. Then the editor's splicing, dicing, and organizing skills turn it into an artistic whole that reflects the vision of the director and writers.

The editor's work is on par with that of the director and writers. Yet, rarely do moviegoers and TV watchers get excited about this or that Academy Award® or Emmy® for editing.

But they should.

What Does Editing Do?

As discussed in Editing versus Proofreading: What's the Difference and Why You Need Both, the editing process asks if the work—written, audio, visual or performance art—is presented in a way that is appropriate for the intended message and audience. Editing is concerned with these elements:

  • Clarity: Will this message or story be obvious and relatable to the intended audience?
  • Cohesiveness: Do all parts of the work appear to fit together in a logical whole?
  • Continuity: Does the work guide the audience through it in a way that makes sense?
  • Content: Is this message or story appropriate—and appropriately presented—for the intended audience? Does it fulfill the audience's needs or desires?
  • Voice: Does the tone and style of the work accurately reflect the author's or artist's true personality?

Fear of Editing (FOE)

One of my author clients confessed that she was afraid to open her edited manuscript document from me. She was scared that it was going to be filled with (virtual) red ink comments and changes.

Much to her surprise and relief, my extensive comments and edits provided her with a lot of insight into how her book could be improved. In fact, after that editing process, she converted the book into a different format (physically and functionally), thereby creating a much more valuable resource for her clients than the original book-style presentation. In turn, the book became an integral part of her business' service package.

Whether you hire a professional or do it yourself, thorough editing can be scary. Like my client, you might have to let go of your original plans in order to create (or recreate) a work that will resonate with your audience. Or you might have to deal with some humbling changes to make your work acceptable.

It takes courage to edit.

Editing Example: Hail, Caesar!

In the movie, Hail, Caesar!, the editor's art is perfectly demonstrated in the storyline of the cowboy film star. He's great at roping and stunt riding. But speaking parts and interacting with other actors? Not so much.

Out of necessity, the studio plops the cowboy into a high-brow film project, much to the frustration of the meticulous director. Shooting the scenes is a lesson in futility for everyone. But the studio needs to make it work…not only for their benefit but for their movie-going audience's pleasure, too.

Enter the battle-tested film editor. She cuts and cures the blessed mess of footage, transforming the cowboy into a dark, but sophisticated, character to rescue the film.

Yay for editing!

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Is Editing Ethical?

The example of turning a less than skilled actor into a sophisticate made for a good story in Hail, Caesar! It was a fictional story about the fantasy world of movie-making.

But what about the real world?

We (usually) try to self-edit our thoughts before speaking them. We want to portray our lives as beautiful, successful, and positive by carefully selecting what we post on social media and our websites. Creative cropping and "Photoshopping" of images can make things seem better (or worse) than they really are. Headlines written to grab attention tell readers what they should think is important, regardless of whether it's truly important or not. We can't possibly consume or enjoy everything, so we pick and choose.

So is editing ethical?

We Are All Editors

To not edit would mean an unfiltered bombardment of information and forces that would be unbearable, rendering us dysfunctional. So we edit to handle and focus on the sheer volume of communication we broadcast to and receive from our environment.

The ethical question arises when the editing intent is to harm or manipulate others.

We are all editors.

— Heidi Thorne

This Shouldn't Surprise You

I've edited this post several times before posting. There's a lot sitting on my digital cutting floor. But you don't want to see the outtakes anyway, right?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2016:

Got that right, Lawrence! Even if parts of a work seem to be great on their own, if all parts don't work together, the message can be confusing for readers. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation and good luck with the editing!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 16, 2016:


This is a timely piece for me as I'm in the middle of the editing.

It's good to know that the edit is more about the 'flow' of the piece and whether the end result is coherent.



Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 09, 2016:

Sadly, that's true, FlourishAnyway! Even if authors would take even a 2nd or 3rd look at their books before hitting publish, it would be a vast improvement. They're treating Createspace, Kindle KDP and other publishing platforms as if they were Microsoft Word. It's public, people! Thanks for adding that insight to the conversation. Have a great week ahead!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 08, 2016:

Hooray for editing. When I read something that should have been edited but wasn't given the time, care or attention I feel frustrated as a reader. It's often one of the bad things about self-publishing -- there's not enough of a filter.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 05, 2016:

It sure is, rajan jolly! Thanks for taking time to stop by and comment. Cheers!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 04, 2016:

Agreed! Editing is the basis of all things good I would say.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 30, 2016:

Hi Ron! I'm glad to see I'm not alone. :) In fact, for this post on editing, I lopped off a huge portion of it that, as you note, upon reflection was not an ideal fit. Especially for self editing, this can be hard to do. Thank you so much for stopping by and adding that important insight to the conversation. Hope all is good in your world. Have a great weekend!

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 29, 2016:

I think the hardest part of self-editing is when you have come up with a beautifully expressed paragraph that, upon reflection, simply does not fit the overall flow of the piece. Everything within you wants to hang on to that bit of self expression that you put so much into crafting. It really does take courage to do what must be done for the health of the article or story and let it go. Sigh.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 29, 2016:

Hello Diana Lee! Oh, I can so relate! It's those moments that make our writing career all the more "interesting," eh?

You're right, we all get a little too close to our work and getting a fresh perspective through editing can give us more accuracy and clarity.

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us! Have a lovely weekend!

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on April 29, 2016:

This is great information that many of us can follow as a guide. Most of my own editing involves fixing grammar or the misuse of common words. Eyes don't always see what is right in front of them. I like to write fan fiction for the classic western dramas that inspired me as a child. A couple years ago I wrote several good stories with feedback that I felt good about. Some time had passed by when I notice that I spelled CORRAL with one R. Talk about embarrassing moments, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. Not one dear fan of my stories ever told me of my goof. That, of course give me material for a hub called "The Only Horse with a Coral is a Seahorse".

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