Storytelling without Words

Perhaps that title is a bit misleading….

I recently started preliminary planning for a documentary project, and, as I did, I got to thinking about why I like to do what I like to do when it comes to video production. I’ve spent a good portion of my professional (job) life working with video, and much of that has to do with production. But, while I once fancied myself an actor, I’ve come to enjoy being behind the scenes more than being in front of a camera. Video production involves many steps, and many skills, but the one which I favor most doesn’t happen in production, at all. It happens in post-production: editing.

This is kind of my life.

I’ve edited lots of projects in my time: some small, some not. What I think I love most about that process, though, is that I get to be the one telling the story.

If you think about it, the editor has final input into how the story – especially one in video – plays out. We control the angles, the cuts, the music – all of the details, conscious and subliminal. And that controls how the audience views the characters, the conflict, and the outcome. A simple focus frame on a character’s face (whether they’re speaking or not) can give completely different meaning to a scene. That guy doing the intro for “The Outer Limits” was not kidding; we (editors, that is) control everything.

It’s the same in writing, too, I think. The editor – whether that’s you doing your first edit or your professional editor doing the final one – controls what the reader sees, how they view the story. The editor doesn’t actively write any of the words of the story, though. Not in my experience, anyway. They help tell the story without writing the words, guiding the writer’s hand and vision with cuts, suggestions, and insight.

We video editors do the same thing. We’re given rough footage, where plot, point, characterization can go one of any number of ways. And, when we’re finished, assuming we’ve done our job right and well, the audience gets a story. Hopefully a good one. But marked by our hands, no matter that.

I’m excited to work with an editor for my first real novel. I’m scared, too; I’ve never put such a huge work – such a gigantic chunk of myself – out there for someone else to tear down. But I want to build a better story than I could do alone. I just hope I get an editor who’s as careful and conscientious as I try to be.

Have you worked with a professional editor before? Was it a good fit, or a not-so-good one? What did you learn from that process?


2 thoughts on “Storytelling without Words

  1. Very informative. I’m a freelance editor, but I don’t know how professional I am, lol. Honestly, it is a business that I built for myself so that I could stay home with the kids rather than sending them off to daycare, etc.

    Before I embarked on freelance, I did work with a pro editor a long, long, loooong time ago when I thought my ms was ready to query. My biggest mistake was to pick an editor who had NO experience with fiction. He had come recommended to me by a mutual friend, and because I didn’t know anyplace else to turn, I hired him.

    He was not cheap. He knew his stuff, so he did great on the copyediting side. However, he did nothing to help me with the content, the substantive, creative editing portion. And that’s where another editor experienced in fiction would have been able to stop reading by page 50 and tell me, this ms isn’t ready yet. An honest editor would go on to say it’s not even worth paying me to copyedit this material because the story is all over the place, and you need a ms critique first, before you even think about the copyediting.

    Anyway, hard, expensive lesson learned. Yet, useful in an important way because it drove me to learn how to be my own editor. It also helped me to decide to become a freelance editor.

    I think your job sounds fascinating. Have you ever considered doing book trailer videos for authors? Or is that a different aspect to video production?


    • Thanks for the comment, Kate. Those are painful – but valuable! – lessons to be learned, I’m sure.

      I took a couple of freelance editing jobs for a while, but I suppose I was lucky in that my clients were always ready to go with their articles (they didn’t want any guidance from me), or it was just straight-up text proofing. I’ve tried looking around for people who’ll help me with this ms, but I think I’m just going to hire someone in my genre. Once this thing’s done, of course. 🙂

      Hmm. Book trailer videos. I’m not sure what that would entail, but it is intriguing. I’ll have to think more on that one!


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