The examples posted here are intended to introduce you to the power of the editing process. Editing focuses on a number of key qualities of written language, not limited to correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Editing encompasses so much more! Should the writer define the terms, or leave it to the reader to define? Should the character, “Get the hell out of Dodge” or just “Leave immediately!” Are the sentences boringly all the same length, or are they varied to create rhythm in the sound and feel of the language? Should he elaborate just a little bit more to increase the visual imagery so the reader can suspend his foolish habit of disbelief? Would this paragraph be better placed in the previous chapter, or pulled out like a bad tooth? Has the writer fallen into the trap of “starring” in his memoir, Cheshire grin and all ? These are just some of the considerations that an editor will address in the editing process. Below is an unedited piece of a memoir followed by the edited version as an example of this. Note that there are approximately the same number of words in each paragraph.
Captured by the Hillbillies
I was a young boy growing up in a south Florida town and being young with little to no understanding of danger in the world it never occurred to me that it could be possible that other people could be that mean and nasty as to grab a 7 year old boy and hold him hostage against his will. Unbelievable! This is a true story! And because I was so stupid and never gave it a thought, I walked right up to them when they called. They were in the open hallway of Saint Stevens Catholic School calling me over to them. I had two brothers who were older and should have had a little more concern than they did for where their brother was, than to leave me in the hands of these 7 older kids. I was scared right out of my mind, for one thing, and what made it worse was I could barely understand a word their southern drawl. I told myself that they had to be hillbillies, which made me scared even worse, if that were at all possible. They were calling me over to them telling me that they wanted to show me something like it was real interesting.
South Florida was no place for a naïve 7-year-old boy to grow up in 1962. I was from street wise New York, but in my case it didn’t matter. I was naïve… but like all naïve young boys, they have no idea that they are naïve. I mean, that’s the definition of naïve, right? That was me, and here I am walking right up to a group of six or seven hillbillies who were probably twice my age and height, simply because they called me over to the open hallway at Saint Stevens Catholic School by the water fountain. How did I know they were hillbillies? Well, not a one of them had shoes on. I could see dirt all over their feet, most had no shirts on, and it looked like a dog might have been tugging at the bottoms of their jeans, leaving them shredded and hanging. But most of all it was their talk. The looping sort of sing-song sound of their words, especially the ends of the words that sort of rose up to a wispy high pitch…it reminded me of Jethro and Ellie, only on steroids. I think that’s when I peed my pants: “Hey, you thar boy, woncha come ova heaahhh, real quick, we wanna sho ya sompin.”