Overediting: Sucking the Life Right Out of Your Story


I had the pleasure of attending my local RWA chapter meeting last Saturday and hearing author Catherine Spangler talk about "Writing Right".  She gave a great overview of the most common writing mistakes she sees when judging contests and critiquing.  We've talked about many of them here, but one that stuck out for me was the mistake of overediting.


She said sometimes she sees work where the writing is technically good, clean, and flows, but there is no life in the work.  Writing is ultimately a passion driven practice.  That's what we're doing when we're drafting; we're letting our creative juices and excitement about the story spill onto the pages.  This is the essence of a our writing.

And oftentimes, when we put our editor hat on and go back through our work, we become story vampires--sucking the lifeblood from our words.  We polish and cut and rearrange, we nix the adverbs and dangling participles, we make sure no dialogue is buried.  These things are all well and good and you want to edit and rewrite and polish.  But you also don't want to do so much that you leave your story pale and gasping for air.

For instance, in my YA, if I had cut every adverb, my MC's voice would have changed.  She was the type of girl who would use words like totally and completely and seriously.  If I had nixed those, I think it would have taken something from who her character was.

Think of it like chicken soup.  Your grandmother's always tastes better than Campbell's (well unless you're grandma can't cook).  Campbell's is technically perfect-every ingredient precisely measured, the cooking exactly timed, taste tester approved, but it's sterile.  Your grandmother, on the other hand, after years of practicing her craft, can throw in a bit of this or that and always make it taste great.  Why?  Because she put her heart and her own spin on it.  This is what needs to be in our stories.

So make sure you edit and cut and revise--those things are absolutely necessary.  But take care not to drain the life out of your book.  Keep the heart of your story in tact.  (BTW, the delish picture above is to remind you guys that The Vampire Diaries starts up again tonight on the CW--yay).

So how about you?  Have you ever been a story vampire and overedited?  Have you critted work that seemed like it was written well but lacked that spark?


**Today's Theme Song**
"Drain You" - Nirvana
(player in sidebar, take a listen)