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Q&A: How I Edit

On my Patreon, Jason Pitre asked:

It’s been said that your superpower is putting yourself in other people’s shoes while editing. Could you explain how you do that? How do you manage the knowledge that you already hold and assume nothing while editing?

This is a surprisingly hard question for me to answer.

Before telling you how, some setup: I got into indie games in 2006, and back then many indie games weren’t edited or developed. I was part of a late wave of indie adopters in California, who didn’t have time with the designers to personally teach the game. We instead had to learn from the books, which were often poor teaching tools, and sometimes not even good references for those who have learned how to play the game.

That lead to developing a critical eye toward game texts, and in my first editing gig — A Penny For My Thoughts. The process of actually editing taught me practicalities that somewhat tempered my idealism (because I saw how much work it was to achieve), and somewhat bolstered it (because if some software designer can do it…).

But your question is “how,” and that took a number of years and, frankly, spending way too much software designer money. I started going to numerous indie-friendly conventions year and year, and what began as something fun to do with Internet friends became a form of study. I would read games that confused me, play then at conventions by those who understood them, and then go back over to see what was missing in the book. I would talk with others who were confused, and have long (and at times heated) debates on the nature of game books. It turns out that all of that time have spent dealing with that turned into a career.

When I’m reading a book, I put myself back in that old state of frustration and confusion. That forces me to start mapping term chains, cause-and-effect chains, and other places bit of information flow. I make notes when there’s a dissonant note in the flow — something is touched on but not followed up, an element is talked about before being introduced (or at least referenced forward), a section is clearly written in a stream-of-consciousness format with no organization, and so on.

So on a given page, I look for what should be there, and see if it matches what I’m reading. I note when overviews and introductions are poorly framing what’s to come. I note when casual statements in a text are contrary to the rules, which happens more often than you think. I just do it by being attentive and keeping in mind all of the questions I’ve had or heard over the years.

Maybe something in there helps you understand how I do this job.

– Ryan

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3 Responses to Q&A: How I Edit

  1. I’ve come to the same place by a similar, but different route. I’d hesitate to say my skill at it is a superpower yet, though.

    As a software developer, I’ve had to read lots of technical documents, and I started doing a similar thing. The writer just introduced a word without explaining it. Is that a known technical term in this context? No? Bad document structure.

    That non-designed, non-edited documentation still goes on in technical circles (at least the ones I’ve seen).

  2. Having had you as an editor, Ryan, it’s nice to see how you do what you do. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of edits for DHTG, so it’s cool to see what’s behind the curtain, so to speak.

  3. Jason Pitre says:

    Thanks for your response Ryan! Could you elaborate on the meaning of “term chains” or “cause-and-effect chaints”?