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Three lessons on editing from Richard Beard

  • Published at 04:01 pm November 20th, 2018
Richard Beard
Richard Beard Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

'When there’s not much happening in a story in terms of real time action, the story has to rely on other things'

Richard Beard’s much-anticipated editing workshop took place early on the final day of the Dhaka Lit Fest, at the Vaskar Novera Auditorium. Repeating the process that he tried during his 2016 visit to Dhaka, he had a live editing session, workshopping two creative pieces in real time, talking the audience through the process and providing tips for writers. The workshop was based on the principle that all stories follow some universal rules, which apply across languages and cultures.

Figure out the plot action to decide what to add

The first thing Beard did was to create a tweet-sized summary of the plot of each story, to give us an idea of the main action. He described this as assigning a made-up genre to the story and then working out what it needed. “When there’s not much happening in a story in terms of real time action, the story has to rely on other things, such as strong prose, vivid descriptions, dialogue, or compelling characters. When you don’t have those, consider adding more action to make it more interesting,” he suggested.  

Edit for repetitions

While repetitions are usually inevitable in a first draft, where the main goal for the writer is to get a story from start to finish, the job of the editor is to go through the text and seek out words or phrases that have been used enough times to be noticeable and jarring. He mentioned that occasionally repetitions were used for effect, but often enough, they are redundant.

Be judicious with the use of the second person

The second person can be a powerful tool or an annoying hindrance, depending on the story. Sometimes, by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader, it can create a conversational style in a story. But using the second person pronouns to force the reader into a character’s shoes can often misfire and put one off the story. “If you choose to go with it, be consistent. Otherwise, it becomes an uneven read.”