In practice, good editors are doing a very simple thing: they are recovering an author’s true potential from within a work where it has become confused with things which do not communicate. Effectively, they are converting non-communication to communication.
A fundamental principle of working with authors is that communication success is formed by a writer’s imagination compounding with that of a reader to make a living text.
Successful fiction rises from a writer-plus-reader equation.
Another basic principle of editing is that an author creates a good story by first becoming confused with it and then withdrawing from it, possessed of some of the laws of fiction; an author then returns to story-telling to produce a more orderly result.
An author's basic potential follows a sequence of contact with an idea, developing that idea either consciously or unconsciously and either through writing or just by thinking, then declining from that idea and finishing with it, again sometimes consciously and sometimes not. This sequence is often repeated over and over at several levels, a successful author each time using experiences gained during the process to better adapt works for readers. Authors therefore have the power of animating and directing ideas and bringing them into orderly, self-perpetuating shapes known to us as ‘stories’.
Fiction is its own universe analogous to the universe in which we live: its laws parallel those of the real world to some extent. Beginning authors encounter these laws usually in a disorderly fashion which can be so destructive that the result is no finished work at all. However, paying attention to the laws and their patterns, which include the patterns of language, can change this uncomfortable experience into one of understanding and power.
Each and every story develops to the degree that it utilises and understands these laws. In the process of putting a story together, an author and the underlying principles which make fiction work can be many times brought together in unproductive ways, but if an author persists and is observant, the final effect can be very significant for readers.
Pausing, stepping back and editing are vital mechanisms to avoid giving up altogether on this road. To be able to use the information received through attempts to write so as to create and construct new texts can produce more and more powerful stories. The great authors have done this through the centuries, knowingly or not.
Knowledge of these things can accelerate the learning process for new authors.
The laws of fiction are briefly outlined in How Stories Really Work, the reading of which can save authors a great deal of time and frustration.