Editing fiction and non-fiction: a comparison

The purpose of editing any publication, whether non-fiction or fiction, is to make the corrections necessary to ensure that the author’s meaning, and voice, are conveyed as exactly as possible to the intended audience.

Rules of editing fiction or non-fiction

Both fiction and non-fiction are edited in accordance with a set of rules and guidelines.

Non-fiction  publications are almost always edited according to the standard rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation in your country and/or organisation.

For more information about editing documents where those standard rules apply, go to: The different stages of editing.

Fiction and creative non-fiction publications are also often edited according to the standard rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation. However, the usual rules are sometimes waived when editing fiction (or creative non-fiction) if that is what is required to ensure the author’s meaning and voice are clearly conveyed through the pages.

The editor still has to follow a set of style rules (e.g. their own style sheet) but those rules may not reflect the usual standards of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Importantly, the editor’s role in editing fiction can be more of a ‘guide’ or ‘advisor’ than a ‘corrector’.

Communication with the author

When editing a non-fiction publication, the editor usually has one or two initial meetings with the author, after which the editor is usually able to complete the editing task without continual consultations with the author, although they may need to consult with the author from time to time to clarify an issue.

In contrast, when editing fiction (or creative non-fiction), it is likely the editor will need to consult with the author at least three or four times, and possibly many more times than that, during the editing process.

This is because fiction is subjective. The story may include things that are well-known to the author but which don’t make sense to the editor (or, potentially, the reader). The author may think their character’s dialogue sounds natural; the editor may disagree and suggest some changes.

The author may not have used the usual rules of grammar, spelling or punctuation in a fiction manuscript. The editor will need to suggest the best rules to apply, always with the end goal in mind, which is to convey the author’s intended meaning and voice to the audience as clearly as possible.

For more information about communication with the author when editing fiction, go to: The two basic rules for editing (fiction).

Editing poetry

The main goal when editing poetry is to ensure the poet’s intended meaning (including feeling, emotion, inner truth) is conveyed to the audience. Very close collaboration between poet and editor is required, and the usual rules about spelling, grammar and punctuation do not apply.  For more information, go to: How is editing poetry different from editing prose?

Image: thanks to Gellinger from Pixabay.



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