It seems fitting to outline my editing style for this first post. There’s also the pesky little matter of addressing the quote on this site’s home page, seeing as the page is littered with what could arguably be called “needless words.”
If I said I have a set of hard and fast editing rules, I’d be lying. Each book undergoes a similar process—read, analyze, reconstruct, edit. If I’m proofreading (an Overtired edit), I don’t read the book in its entirety before I begin, but I do read each chapter before I edit. I can’t say I have a favorite style guide per se. However, I shoot for consistency in relation to punctuation, numbers, and any other stylistic editing choices that have to be made.
In terms of grammar, punctuation, and syntax … some rules are meant to be broken. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I disregard rules for the sake of it, but language is living and the use of punctuation marks in some cases can go in and out of fashion. The latitude I grant to rules is most evident in dialogue, which need not be grammatically or syntactically correct. On the other hand, I use the serial, or Oxford, comma (the one before the last “and” in a list) religiously unless instructed otherwise. I’ll save my reasoning about that for another post.
In relation to “needless words,” it’s true that good writing omits them. If something can be written in five words, don’t bother writing ten. This is a good general rule to follow. If you’re not sure why, think about those twenty pages in that book that added nothing. After you read them, did you ask yourself why you bothered? Or have you ever wondered why an author chose to go into great detail about something that never made another appearance, had no relation to anything else in the book, and served no purpose whatsoever? Your readers shouldn’t be asking these questions.
I don’t believe there’s a single correct way to tell your story or present your material. Prose can be concise or lengthy, and neither is always good or bad. Words that some may consider needless could in fact lend themselves to the enjoyment, humor, or artistry of the writing. Or more importantly, some “needless words” may provide the flair that allows the writing to resonate with more readers, and perhaps convey a message (if there is one) more clearly to some. Unconventional styles can be employed for effect, and if it works, I embrace it.
In short, my ethos is to do my best not to let rules interfere with an author’s style and tone, and to accept a word as needed before I deem it needless. I use my ear to hear the author’s voice, and I employ my editing to make that voice as sharp or fuzzy or forceful or calm as the author intended—because self-publishing is still relatively fresh ground, and I believe it proves most fertile when new voices are heard.