Monday, July 07, 2014

3 Tips for Self-Editing What‘s Not There (or What to Wear When Jumping Off a Train)

Have you ever spotted a staging or editing mistake in a movie? 

A stressed-out businessman is wearing a tie. The camera cuts away, and when it comes back to him three seconds later his tie has disappeared.  Uh, how did he get it off that quick, and where did he put it? 

My favorite is when an actress is wearing high heels—until she has to chase a bad guy or jump off a train. Suddenly she is wearing flats or running shoes. What? Were they in a back pocket and stopping to change shoes wasn’t a problem while in such peril?

I find this type of editing miss distracting. And, yes, the same thing can happen in books when some piece of the puzzle seems to be missing or another is somehow wrong.

Let’s say two people in a book are engaged in intense arguing. The dialogue is compelling and moves the scene along well. But the author has neglected to show how character A can suddenly be facing character B when two paragraphs earlier character B stormed out of the room, leaving character A behind. Did character A follow character B? When? And where are these arguing people now, by the way? 

The answer to those questions were no doubt in the author’s head while imagining the scene. And maybe at one time, before rewrites, it was on the page. But the answers are not there now, and a reader could stop cold to wonder about the how or where, disrupting the experience the author was going for.  

One of my tasks as an editor is to look for what’s not there and suggest how the author might address the problem to ensure the reader isn’t distracted unnecessarily. If you are a writer willing to do some self-editing, however, you can look for what’s not there before an editor takes a shot. Here’s how:

1.       Act out or imagine the scene again after you have written it, looking at it from each character’s point of view if the scene switches POV somewhere in the middle.
2.     Scene by scene, read specifically for staging misses, sometime when you have fresher eyes and are willing to delve into a less exciting phase of rewriting.
3.       Ask a beta reader to read what you have written a second time, this time with instructions to look for “what’s not there.”

For readers, are you distracted when you notice an unexplained action in a book like the one about characters A and B above?

For writers, do you agree or disagree that a reader is likely to be distracted by a staging miss in a book?  


  1. Thanks for the great advice. It's so easy to leave out pieces when we're writing.

    1. You're welcome, Erin--and thank you for the comment!


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