28 July, 2009

Chopping and Changing

During the weeks since my last post announcing the completion of the first draft of my book, The Comic Strip Companion, I've been editing the manuscript. I was looking forward to this part of the process, but it is proving to be a bit of a challenge.

Having spent the best part of two decades as the editor of a fanzine, I've had a fair bit of experience of proofing and editing the work of other writers, and I think I've become fairly adept at this.

What I've discovered is that I'm not nearly so good at editing my own work. I can stare at something I've written and struggle to see the faults. The problem is simply that when I read over my own work I know in my head what it's supposed to say, which gets in the way of recognising what I've actually written.

Ultimately the book will need a fresh eye to read it over and pick up the bits I've missed, but before then I need to do an edit and a rewrite to pull it into shape, and that's what's keeping me busy at present.

It's not just about tidying up the words; I've also been rearranging the structure. The book follows the format of an episode guide and, as part of each entry, I've written about each story's various reprints. Reading back over the finished book I could see that the entries for stories without any reprints seemed a lot more readable. These entries didn't interrupt the narrative flow with diversions to discuss a reprinting that had occurred twenty or thirty years later.

Another problem I had with the reprint sections was that some of the observations I was making were common to a number of the reprints, such as (for example) the removal of artist credits, or the colouring of black & white strips. This resulted in a large amount of frankly rather awkward repetition.

The solution came to me as I embarked on the editing process: remove all of the individual reprint sections and group them all together in an Appendix at the back of the book. All of that unnecessary repetition was dispensed with as I discussed features relevant to a whole swag of reprinted stories within a few concise paragraphs. As a consequence, my word count plunged. I think I lost in the region of six thousand words in just one day, which sounds alarming, but they we re words I really didn't need and, much more importantly, the book has significantly improved.

Right, back to the editing.