Editing with Your Mind’s Eye: Stories as films
Posted April 30, 2009
Get too caught up in word-by-word editing, and you can miss the bigger picture—and its problems, said Merrill Perlman, formerly of The New York Times and now a consultant, to a packed room in one of the final sessions of Day One of the ACES Minneapolis conference.
Taking a stories-as-films approach, Perlman used problems you may encounter while viewing—that character’s shirt is pink now, but wasn’t it just blue?—to point out errors in story flow that can get overlooked while focusing on nuts-and-bolts editing. These flaws, Perlman said, cause the reader to stop and ask, “What just happened there?” and thus ruin the story’s effect. She challenged those in attendance to, among other things, look for what might have been left just outside the frame, question one-source stories, translate “bureaucratese” and police jargon, weed out unnatural passages that do nothing but show how good a writer the author thinks he or she is, maintain continuity, and prevent “film breaks”—unusual leaps between the narrative and background information.
After the conceptual explanations, those in attendance tackled five example passages in group-edit mode, employing Perlman’s system of rearranging paragraphs and “stitching up where needed.” The passages served both as examples and a way for Perlman to promote diplomatic editing, as while she took suggestions for changing the stories, she also explained how the approaches that could be used when talking with the writer about drastic changes.
Last updated May 4, 2009