Joe Abercrombie On Editing

Today we’re delighted to be hosting Joe Abercrombie’s  insights into the editing process – read on, for all the details . . .



There’s nothing more important to a writer than some trustworthy outside input. In my case I have, since long before I was published, canvassed opinion from my mother, father, and brother. Believe me when I say I have no harsher critics. They read each part as I finish it and make comments, but at that stage it’s more about helping me maintain confidence in what I’m doing and making me aware of what might be ongoing issues than it is about tackling specifics.

My editor likewise reads each part as I finish it, which means that we can discuss the book as it goes along from a creative standpoint – what might be working well and what might not be, concerns for how it will develop and so on – but also that she can be as well informed as possible when getting the book ready from a commercial standpoint – just as important a part of her job as working on the book creatively.

So the chances are by the time I’ve produced a second draft I’ll already know her general feelings and probably have addressed any large scale points – this character isn’t working as well as they might, this scene might be better if, perhaps this could be cut, that expanded on with an extra sequence. She’ll then take that draft and mark it up in detail. You could do this by tracking changes in a word document but I still prefer working with the old pencil on manuscript method. She’ll be looking out for all kinds of things – details of the language, repetition, inconsistencies in weather, timing, positioning, extra thoughts and notions that come to her, stuff that just generally doesn’t work. Usually she’ll make alternative suggestions. What I do with them is up to me – often I won’t do what’s suggested but I’ll agree there’s a problem and find what I feel is a better way to address it.

It might well take my editor a few weeks to go through and do the detailed edit. During that time I’ll probably be taking a couple of passes of my own through it focusing on specific aspects. So one looking at the different points of view one at a time, trying to get as much of the personality of the narrator into every chapter from their point of view, trying to get the language right for them, trying to get across as much sense of their history and personality as possible. Another pass doing something similar for secondary characters, trying to get their dialogue as distinct as possible, replacing bland, general actions and responses with ones that are more individual, arresting, specific. Another pass then focusing on the setting and trying, again, to get as much telling detail, personality, variety into the backdrops as possible, all of these things hopefully bringing a little more thought and feeling out of the character who observes them. Hopefully, during this phase, we’re taking the stripped back, lean and mean second draft and making the whole experience of reading a bit richer, probably adding a few thousand words back in overall.

We have an edited manuscript, and are approaching completion . . .

Check back tomorrow for that magical moment: finished!

Joe Abercrombie is a full time writer and occasional freelance film editor who lives in Bath with his wife and three children. You can visit his website for more information, check out the cover for Red Country here, or follow the link to watch the teaser trailer for Red Country. You can pre-order your copy here .