At some point in our writing career, we have to come to grips with editing our work. Everyone reacts to this prospect in their own way. Some enjoy it, others loathe it, while there are those who don’t even know where to start. The idea of going back over our hard work and pulling it to pieces (or so it seems) can be daunting, boring or even downright depressing.
I thought it might be helpful, then, to set an exercise which will help us get over our editing fears and start looking for what needs changing when faced with a raw first draft.
I’ve posted a piece of writing below. The extract is not intended to be badly-written, but the author has fallen into many of the common traps inexperienced writers are beset by, though not all of them are obvious. I’d like you to edit it. Copy and paste everything between the quotes into your favourite word processing package. Then go to town. Pick the piece apart, cut out the chaff, rearrange or rewrite sentences, paragraphs and dialogue and turn it into a beautiful, polished piece.
You may not like the genre, but ignore that and look solely at the writing. Consider plot, character, style and pacing. When you’ve finished, email your finished version back to me for uploading along with any comments regarding your editorial decisions. I look forward to reading your sparkling edited versions!
“Garth couldn’t guess the true reason behind his unprecedented mission, any more than he could imagine that the young woman, whose life he had sworn to protect, was about to be callously assassinated. For the moment, in blissful ignorance, he was simply intrigued by her.
He’d been involved with enough royal marriages in his time. Enough to recognise the look on the bride-to-be’s virginal face as she anticipated the power and influence her feminine sexuality would provide; although, with more than sixty rivals to contend with, the chances were not good that any woman could keep Emperor Antalia’s interest for long. This woman wouldn’t have that problem, though. For one thing, she was not about to be married to the emperor. Instead, she was destined to become Mother Superior to the celibate Sarn Order, and spiritual consort to the Brotherhood’s young and recently appointed Grand Master. So why did she have that look on her face? That look of supreme confidence in her own sexual power?
And if she’d ever taken holy orders, then he was a blowfly, he told himself sourly.
As tended to happen far too often these days, all conversation stopped and every face turned in his direction as the door irised open to admit him into the subdued nerve-centre of one of the galaxy’s most powerful ships. As he tended to do all too often these days, he glowered under the scrutiny, and stepped further inside the bridge, watching every stare turn away uncomfortably when he levelled his own straight back at it.
He had barely registered that the ship he was on, the Judge Jeffries, had already accessed the entry cullis and made its transit into abspace, but he could tell from the main screen in front of him that the interceptor was now making way at several powers to the speed of light.
To offset his discomfiture at the reaction to his arrival, Garth Mayla strode to the navigator’s workstation and peered over the woman’s shoulder at the projection she was studying. The nav-tech started in surprise as she realised who it was standing there and, flustered, she turned more attentively to her work. The ship was portrayed as a pulsating symbol in the centre of a moving 3-D grid, and the scrolling icon alongside indicated a constantly updating string of status conditions. Clearly there had to be some way for the navigator to tell where they were in relation to realspace, but Mayla hadn’t the training to figure it out.
‘Bored, your Lordship?’
Garth glanced around to regard Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Hansor, who had been watching him since he’d entered the interceptor’s command deck. Mayla shrugged, turning away from the uninspiring view on the nav-screen.
‘Appears my title’s more important than my other skills on this trip,’ he admitted wryly. ‘I feel a little redundant.’
‘It’s a short trip, sir.’ Hansor reminded him, ‘Two weeks at the most. Then we can take an even shorter trip back.’
‘Through Deadman’s Handshake?’
Mayla moved to join the policeman where he sat at the semi-circular command desk.
Mark nodded in reply to the question, and offered him the second’s chair – a courteous gesture that, had Garth but known it, was considered almost heretical aboard this ship. Hansor waited for the First Lord to ease his long frame into the seat before calling for some refreshments to be brought up from the galley.
‘So, what’s she like?’ the policeman asked, a twinkle of mischievous curiosity in his blue eyes.
‘My wife? Beautiful, as always,’ Garth said. ‘As are all royal handmaidens, of course.’
He had just come from a stolen visit to see Chari, who, along with three others from the royal household, had been generously loaned out for this puzzling but high-profile mission.
The superintendent had taken a calculated risk in behaving in so familiar a way with the Emperor’s right-hand man, but Garth actually respected the man’s attempt to level the field. Despite his considerable power, Mayla had limited influence aboard the Judiciary vessel, and he imagined the orders Hansor had received contained a remit he’d run across before: to offer no deference to the Premium Marshal, aside from what common courtesy allowed. This was not a good position to be in from Hansor’s point of view, especially considering the deadly authority afforded Mayla by virtue of his Prime Prerogative status.
The man clearly hadn’t anticipated Mayla’s unexpected reply, however, and he turned away with an awkward, almost shy smile.
Garth grinned at the reaction.
‘Oh, I’m sorry! You were referring to our mutual responsibility?’
He leaned on the arm of his chair, tilting towards the policeman, and lowered his voice confidentially.
‘You know I’m not at liberty to discuss that,’ he said. ‘But if I were, I’d say that she was fairly attractive. Very young, blonde, blue-eyed…’
‘Hmm, my favourite flavour. And she’s going off to cloister herself away on Sarn?’
Their ‘mutual responsibility’, Chrystal Andres, was currently ensconced in the executive wing of the attack ship. Her forthcoming role in the Sarn Brotherhood was a mystery to everyone involved in this hugely expensive, over-resourced operation, Imperial or Judiciary. It was little wonder, then, that the two men found it an easy common subject to fall back on as a conversation opener.
Garth allowed the policeman a nod. According to his orders, he was to accompany the Sarn woman until she reached the Preceptory itself. He had never imagined that such a female role existed within the elite, austere Brotherhood, and to his mind she didn’t seem old enough to bear the title of Mother or Superior. He just hoped she knew what she was letting herself in for, whatever that might be.
Hansor took a cup from the tray which had just arrived from the galley two decks below. Garth did likewise, nodding his thanks to the steward. The tea was too minty for his taste, but he was grateful for it anyway. He settled back to watch how this enormous strike-ship was run – a new experience given that in his previous role, even as an officer in the emperor’s elite Opal Guard, he’d always been restricted to the troop section whenever he’d travelled in one of the military interceptors.
Today, however, both the Sarn and Antalia were using Garth’s title to gain access to this essentially neutral peacekeeper ship, and thus he felt no qualms in using it to get himself onto the bridge, whether he was welcome or not. Besides, the whole point of having a military figurehead on board was to slacken the legal protocols while they traversed this notorious region of space. His presence on the bridge ought to be mandatory, he told himself.
‘Ship ahead, sir,’ one of the bridge crew advised. ‘A sloop, judging by its silhouette.’
Garth regarded Mark curiously as the man set down his coffee cup on the narrow surface in front of him. As far as Mayla understood it, Hansor’s role aboard this vessel was not to run it. That particular undertaking was normally the responsibility of Captain Howard Morg, who was currently on shore leave attending some unexpected family crisis, leaving Hansor to fill the role as Acting Captain. In fact Mark Hansor had far more Judicial authority than his counterpart, but he was primarily an investigator: a policeman. Highly trained to apply subtle means by which to read people and appraise situations, Hansor’s usual purpose was to determine whether the law was being broken, and if so, by whom, and then it was his job to facilitate the means to get them apprehended and punished. As Chief of Operations aboard the ship, the policeman had a substantial complement of criminal investigation officers serving under him. The Jeffries and its technical crew, on the other hand, were merely his support system; an extension of his investigatory powers, existing solely to enable him and his team to do what they were trained for.
Although he was not the interceptor’s captain, Hansor was still fully qualified to take command of this mobile police and emergency station. His records showed that he had often done so when the situation demanded and that he was conversant with everything he needed to know about the everyday handling of the ship in the absence of Captain Morg or the ship’s first officer, who was at this moment taking downtime.
While a significant part of the Judiciary’s services involved responding to life-threatening catastrophes throughout the Empire, its most overt role was that of policing the galaxy. Dealing with people committing crimes was Mark Hansor’s forte, therefore, and the more organised the crime, the more hands-on he became. Although Mayla had so far detected no evidence of it in the man’s demeanour, he guessed that the detective was frustrated by this diplomatic excursion, which was probably keeping him from work he no doubt regarded as more important, and for which he was far more qualified. It did not entirely surprise the First Lord, then, when this little ship, so far from regular trading routes, clearly piqued the policeman’s interest.
‘Any registration?’ Hansor asked the crewman. ‘ID flags?’
The man on sensors regarded the information he was getting through his manual and cerebral instruments then shook his head slowly.
‘Nothing. Looks like the registration lapsed some months ago. Two glitches in the bow field which might indicate torpedo ports, but nothing else I can detect.’
‘Are they transmitting any Badge of Marque?’
Another negative reply.
‘Hmm.’ Mark gestured to the comms tech. ‘See if you can raise them on jump.’
After a brief pause the transparent cube sitting above the backrest of the command chair glowed into life, and a projected image appeared in front of the superintendent’s face, placed at exactly the right distance to minimise the effort required for him to focus. Garth could see an oblique version of the image from where he sat. It showed heavy interference – too much for any detail to be made out, although there was the impression of a shadowy figure moving about behind the static. Hansor looked at the projection briefly then gave a wry smile. He glanced at a dark-haired Judiciary officer seated to his right and the two grinned knowingly.
‘Corsair,’ he advised Garth, ‘Nothing to worry about, just a small-scale smuggler by the look of it.’
Activating the comms dot on his collar, Mark said crisply: ‘Unidentified vessel, this is DCS Hansor of the Judiciary interceptor Judge Jeffries. Please be advised: you are in breach of indexing protocols. You are no doubt aware that you are required to display your registration at all times. Are you having a problem with your ID transmitters, by any chance?’
There was a long pause, during which Hansor regarded his fingernails with exaggerated patience.
‘Um… Hi.’ A static-ridden male voice eventually sputtered out of the image. Garth heard Hansor groan softly.
‘Profound apologies my good sirs,’ the voice continued, ‘but there appears to be a slight malfunction on my comms.’ To emphasise the fact, the speakers buzzed and fizzed rhythmically. Even Garth could tell that the ‘faulty’ communicator relay was being deliberately jiggled. ‘Can you repeat, please?’
Mark cleared his throat, erasing the pained expression from his face as he did so.
‘No I can’t,’ he replied curtly. ‘Am I correct in thinking we have the dubious pleasure of addressing one Darius French, also known as Darius Dark?’
Garth stared quizzically at Hansor, who gave a slight shrug. He covered the pickup with his fingers.
‘Old sparring partner,’ he explained with a conspiratorial wink. ‘Recognise the voice. I ought to – I’ve been running across him since he was fourteen.’
There was a long pause at the other end of the jump beam.
Finally: ‘Um… Detective Hansor, is that you?’
Mark grinned. ‘Hello, Darius, you’ve found yourself a new ship, I see. You’re a bit off your old hunting ground, aren’t you?’
There was another moment of static on the comms and then the interference miraculously cleared up.
‘To be certain, Superintendent, sir – Just moving in wider circles as it were. If I may be completely honest, though, Mark, I’m not having the best of days today.’
Garth peered at the image the jump beam was producing and frowned. The man Hansor was conversing with had an indeterminate ethnic origin, although some variation of Indo-European seemed the most likely candidate. A few strands of black hair tumbled haphazardly across his shoulders, but most of it was snarled back into a pigtail behind his left ear. The man was clean-shaven, save for his right cheek, on which a spiral of dark stubble had been allowed to grow. The painstaking effort it must have taken the man to achieve that effect vied with the general air of flamboyant shabbiness he otherwise exuded. French’s left brow was pierced with a small golden hoop from which hung three strands of fine, golden chain. They flickered in the glow from the man’s instruments as they dangled across his vision. As Darius Dark reached towards the instruments in front of him, Garth caught a glint of bluish metal, and at first thought the pirate was wearing a steel prosthetic on his right hand. He watched him enter something onto a keypad, and realised that this was not the case. The long fingers protruding beyond the serrated metal gauntlet were clearly made of flesh. Some decoration or protection then, Mayla surmised. How bizarre!
‘Sorry to hear that,’ Hansor was saying. ‘How about we make life easier for you? Heave to so we can give your ship’s systems an overhaul.’
The Corsair looked uncomfortable, but managed an almost convincing grin.
‘As always, Mr Hansor, sir, you are guilty of displaying impeccably good manners, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I really do. But I will admit that the specific nature of my difficulty is, in fact, a very impressive Judiciary interceptor seemingly intent on preventing me from carrying out my legitimate course of business.’ Dark blinked at the pickup.
‘Sir,’ he added, for good measure.
Hansor smiled without humour.
‘The reason for that is that you’ve failed to display your registration and ID Flags. Heave to, Dark, and get ready for our scoops. You know the routine.’
‘We don’t have time for this!’ Garth hissed, his patience wearing thin.
Mark flung a glance at the First Lord and gestured with his chin towards the screen in front of him.
‘This man’s a Corsair! He’s travelling in an unregistered ship and probably has contraband on board. It’s my job…’
‘Not today, it isn’t.’
Garth speared the detective with a cold gaze, fully aware of the impact his intense silver eye-colouring tended to have on people. To his credit, Hansor didn’t flinch. Mayla leaned forward to make sure his voice reached the policeman’s communicator.
‘Today this ship is under my authority. If that pirate -’ he spat the word out as if it were an insect that had inadvertently wandered into his mouth, ‘- doesn’t get out of my way in ten seconds flat, it’ll be my job to slice him and that wreck of a ship into shreds, and feed them both to abspace.’
Across the jump link, Dark’s grin became even more strained. It was unlikely he could see Mayla through the command pickup’s narrow visual angle, but he had obviously heard the verbal exchange.
‘Well, Mr Hansor,’ he managed. ‘Sentiments aside, I have to agree with the good gentleman. What say I bugger off, eh?’
The muscle in Hansor’s jaw twitched visibly.
‘Okay French, count yourself lucky,’ he grated at length. ‘Now get out of here.’
The pirate’s eyebrows rose in disbelief at his unexpected stroke of good fortune, but he instantly turned to the sloop’s controls, preparing to change course.
‘Thanks, Mark,’ he muttered. The chains dangling from his brow ring glittered as he swung back to address his comms. ‘And ta very much to your very cordial and highly distinguished friend.’ The man winked a dark-irised eye. ‘Be seein’ ya.’