Recently, I attended a hands-on workshop where the presenter discussed the importance of editing in color. We were instructed to bring five different color highlighters and a red pen. First, let me start by making a confession. This wasn’t the first time I heard this similar editing technique. However, it was the first time I felt forced to try the multi-hue approach. We basically took the first few pages of our Work-In-Progress and turned the pages into neon rainbows. At least, rainbow was the goal.
- She had us highlight dialogue in blue.
- Internalization in yellow.
- Emotion in pink.
- Tension and conflict in orange.
- Setting and descriptions in green.
- Dialogue tags or cues we underlined in red.
So before I knew it, my pages were a picturesque burst of color.
Then we broke it down, color by color.
Reading blue only. Dialogue! What an enlightening experience. A lot of dialogue needed to be cut. Some needed rewording. I’d read the scene a million times, but until I read dialogue only, I had no idea I repeated myself. Or rattled on about unimportant things.
Pink for emotion. Visceral responses! Heart beat fast. Heart raced. Stomach knotted. In other words—clichés, clichés, clichés. I would have been the first to tell you that I changed up cliché. I added new twist to overused emotions. Nope. Not always. When I read the pink alone—you could say the blush of pink rushed to my cheeks.
Orange. Tension and conflict! I went to read the orange, but there wasn’t any. Well, maybe a few lines but not enough to keep the reader engrossed in my story. What the heck? Sure. There was conflict and tension, but it was obvious my orange high lighter needed to be put to use more.
Green. Setting and description! I had plenty of green. It was well spaced. No description dumps. My description was trickled in with just enough impact to keep the reader aware of the surroundings without skimming or yawning. Wow. I had one thing right.
Then, there was red. Tags and cues! He said, she said, way too many times. I thought I had mastered dialogue cues. Wrong. She asked—He asked—She said with a playful grin. My dialogue cues needed to be brought to the 21st century. I needed to freshen up my writing.
Honestly, before this exercise, I thought I was writing fresh. But I wasn’t. I was writing clichéd overused, overdone mediocre. I had no idea. Then I got upset. Why didn’t I edit in color two years ago when I was first introduced to this form of editing? Laziness? Hardheaded? Who knows? However, I’m a believer now.
I encourage you to give “Editing in Color” a try. If you don’t want to print and highlight, change the font color instead. Make it your own. I’ve made adjustments that work better for me. For example, I’ve changed my hero’s dialogue to blue and my heroine’s pink. Play with the colors if it works better for you, but please, give it a try.
If your first few pages are all green with description and there isn’t any blue, something’s wrong. If you didn’t remove the lid off your orange highlighter for the first three pages, something’s wrong. Sure it’s a lot more work, but I promise you it will be worth it.
If you have anything to add, or if you decide to give it a shot, I’d love to hear about it.
Remember to dream big!