Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | December 27, 2013

When Less is More: The Value of Good Editing

Good editing is vital. Without it the germ of whatever we are creating can lose its impact and be diminished. What if Da Vinci had included a hat with a pom-pom on the Mona Lisa? The painting would have definitely lost something.

I found myself thinking this while watching the extended version of The Hobbit. In the theatrical version, I love the scene in the goblin cave with the grotesque goblin king taunting the dwarves, Gandalf’s arrival and their escape (I’m referring to only the scenes with the dwarves and not the Bilbo/Gollum scenes). The extended version of the movie includes an extra goblin king song and dance. It was funny, but with its inclusion, the scene lost its strength. Its removal did not mean that we lost information, we got to that information sooner.

J.K. Rowling also understands the value of good editing. A few years ago I read an interview with J.K. Rowling where she spoke of an extra character she had in the Prisoner of Azkaban. There was a dog-loving witch outside of town with whom Sirius, in his dog-form, stayed. Apparently it somewhat detracted from the story so, on her editors advice, she removed the character. I was impressed at the time with how an author of her popularity was comfortable with taking editorial advice but it’s pretty obvious that Rowling is an author who wants to improve her craft.

As another example of editing’s importance, I have read every book of my favorite authors’ except one. She is the sort of writer who starts a story in one place and by the end of the book you realize that she removed your brain through your ear, turned it inside-out, and crammed it back in the other ear. One of her books is such a favorite I kept it in my son’s diaper bag, thus insuring it was with me at all times.

One day as I burbled on about this book, my sister (who originally introduced me to this author) said that there was a second book with the same characters. She didn’t gush about the book, which was unusual. In fact, she said that she had trouble finishing the book, which I thought was like saying she had trouble finishing a perfect chocolate.

Baffled, yet excited because I really had loved the other book, I started
reading. And then I stopped reading. I couldn’t get through the book. There was no tension. I didn’t care what happened. How could this be? This was an author whose grocery lists I would have been happy to read.

The book was so muddled; it cried out for serious editing. I have no idea why this one fell through the cracks–subsequent books were as brilliant as ever. My sister and I speak of it in hushed tones, like a beloved aunt who has lost the ability to differentiate between wearing underwear on the inside or outside of her clothing.

Good editing really is important.

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