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Editing Isn't Binary

(This post courtesy of my virtual-schooled kid info-dumping about his programming class at the desk next to me.)





I often talk about the way I edit as "seeing the Matrix," as a byproduct of the multi-layered story framework I trained into.


There's the 5 commandments of story (which I translated into more personalized questions for the 5 Minute Outline), several different four-quadrant structures (not unlike a three-act structure, but with different terminology for different uses), three dimensions, and then narrative device types layered on top of it all.

It sounds complicated when I put it all out there in one spot, and my clients from several years ago can attest to how hard I tried to do that (sorry, friends). But I'm actually still collecting more frameworks rather than eliminating them, because what we really want is to be able to find the most helpful language for a given moment.


I digress.


Since almost all of these frameworks can be numerical, I have caught myself assigning numbers to phrases, sentences, or larger blocks of text in order to know where they need to go.


That 5-step framework you've got buried at the end of your chapter? Probably an obvious-order/how-to/progressive revelation. That's a *2* (in several frameworks, actually) and needs to go up higher.


Oh, a personal narrative that gets at the heart of the message and the hardest part of the content to swallow? That's a 4, baby—move down, move down, move down.


That narrative is just empathetic, amusing, anecdotal? Entry-level 1: slap it up top.

Bonus: zoom with me while I'm editing and sleepy one day, and you'll hear all of this out loud. (Kimberly Kessler can attest to this.)


Because units of story nest inside of each other (or rather, spiral), it's almost like I can see numbers in place of text, when I'm trying to make structural changes. Kind of like The Matrix, where people could look at streams of 0s and 1s and see whole scenes playing out.


Back to this morning, and my kid infodumping about programming—some of which I understand, most of which I do not. When he started to explain the way whole games could theoretically be coded in binary only, and how it would take up less space (apparently?) but could be really difficult to learn, I perked up.


"That's why I call editing seeing the Matrix—I see it as 1s, 2s, 3s..."


He cut me off: "That's not binary?"


"No, I know. That's actually the point," I laughed. "Editing isn't binary."


And, of course I was on with Kimberly Kessler, the lightbulb went off and I almost yelled it back to her: "Editing ISN'T binary!"


Instead of 0s and 1s, we want "good or bad," "right or wrong," "keep or cut," "yes or no," "done or not done."


We want (but can't have) binary states.


As objective as those words sound, they're as subjective as you can get. Good by whose standards? Right for what audience? Done for what purpose?


Ironically, not even binary is binary. The only that coding works is in strings—0 is not 00 is not 001—because there's not enough information in just one digit or another to communicate something more than a single state.


Good by your standards for your audience and your purpose is not the same as good by XYZ editor's standards for that-other-author's audience for ten-years-from-now-your purpose.


Each string generates its own kind of output.

For a long time (mostly, when I was trying so hard to use every language on every manuscript or piece of content), I thought my Matrix was the complicated version. But I see now that the most efficient approach is the one that can be used. Period.


Usually, that starts by defining our states as clearly as possible. What's your intention with this project, and how much do we know about your reader's intention when they pick it up?


From there, maybe the coding of your writing is unlocked enough to flow—the text is rolling and Neo is out there doing backflips and you can keep going from Intro to Conclusion. When that's happening, let it. Don't get caught up in all the rules and frameworks and structures, and certainly don't get caught up in them for the purposes of getting to a binary good/bad state. It doesn't matter who else can understand your process, as long as you're able to use it.


Or maybe your writing keeps throwing good=null glitches. In that case, you may benefit from breaking out of the binary, or learning to see a version of the Matrix that makes sense to you.


And if you don't want to code at all, that's okay too. Eventually, Morpheus stopped hanging out at the keyboard, banging out the 0s and 1s of his training systems. The message is the thing you hold, and if you can't unlock the codes that will bring it to life, consider talking to someone who can. (Yeah, I linked to me, but I don't just mean me. If you're looking for someone specific and I don't fit the bill, drop me an email or click chat anywhere on this site. I've got several different networks and lots of trusted colleagues I'd be happy to point you to.)



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