Context Editing by Mary Ellen Bramwell
Please enjoy this special guest blog by author, Mary Ellen Bramwell.
Before I explain my newly-coined term context editing, let’s start with something familiar—a challenge. Take a stab at what’s wrong with the following:
Dillon watched Lacey’s diminishing figure, the last light of day reflecting off her amber tresses like early stars warning of the encroaching night. Her twenty-five-year-old’s steps, strong and deliberate, would weaken soon enough during the long journey ahead. If only he could accompany her—or better yet, go in her place. But the “accident,” that’s what they were calling it now, had made that option impossible. Regret would be his only companion now … until she returned, if she returned.
What did you find? You might object to the use of the em-dash or starting a sentence with a contraction. Maybe you’d feel the need to modify or even cut some awkward wording like twenty-five-year-old’s steps. But in all honesty, I set you up. The edits you might make to the above paragraph are based on personal preference. You could argue that once you deal with correcting grammar, most edits are about personal preference. That would partly be true—but let me tell you the rest of the story.
What’s wrong in the above paragraph is actually about what’s outside it. (And, yes, the set-up continues. You couldn’t have known these things past the first one.) Here goes:
Lacey is leaving on a long journey, apparently on foot. Unless there are extenuation circumstances, one would not leave at sunset. One would leave at first light.
Unbeknownst to you, earlier in the book, the “accident” injured both of them. Dillon did not heal. Lacey must have, but the writer forgot to include that part. It could have been an oversight or something inadvertently cut in an edit.
In the opening pages of this book, the home faced to the west. So, if Dillon is watching Lacey leave the house, he’s looking to the west. The setting sun then would not have reflected off the back of her head, unless, for some odd reason, she left out the back door.
Lacey’s referred to as being twenty-five (which could be written 25), but when she returns later in the book (yes, she returns!) after being gone two months, she’s 23. Unless this is science-fiction, that’s going to be a problem.
That’s a sampling of what could be problematic with the above paragraph—things that go beyond personal preference and wade into accuracy or consistency. If you are a decent author, and I’m sure you are, you will read and reread your own work to the point of being almost sick of it. Because all the parts of your story exist in your head, it’s hard to remember what has been committed to the page at any given point—unless you’re better at keeping those things straight in your head than I am. (I do keep spreadsheets of my novels, but that’s a topic for a different day.)
This is where a content editor comes in handy. However, I believe context editing is a better term. All the issues I pointed out are problems because of context—the orientation of the home, the wisdom of leaving for a journey in the morning, the other parts of the story both before and after.
You can certainly edit your book yourself. But because of your over-familiarity with it, looking for inconsistencies in your story—your context—might be difficult. I recommend this kind of edit when you feel your story is complete, however many drafts that might be for you. After a context edit, and the ensuing changes, is when you’ll want to do your thorough proofread.
Regardless of whether you hire a content/context editor or not, I wish you the best in your writing. Authors are an amazingly supportive bunch. After all, you can always read one more book.
Mary Ellen Bramwell is a context editor, an award-winning writer, and best-selling author. If interested in her services, you can find her at www.maryellenbramwell.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy her interview with Karen here. Her fifth novel, The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far, was released October 21, 2021. She lives in the Mountain West with her husband of over 30 years and the youngest of her five children. She’s loved writing since she was young, but she loves her family more.