I’ve worked on the publishing side of tabletop RPGs for almost seven years, now. One part of that process which is newer to me is one that I think is the most vital: editing. A good editor will help a game designer make sure their words shine. And that means doing a lot of different things.
Today I’m going to talk about those things in brief. Truth be told, there’s an entire article series that could be devoted to just editing. To do that, I’m going to use a project I’m working on right now: Turn, by Brie Sheldon (live on Kickstarter now.) 
What Does Your Writer Need?
To start with, I set up a call with Brie to discuss how I would approach the edit, what my philosophy is, and to find out what his expectations were. This is so important. Everyone who edits text is going to approach things differently and I wanted to make sure we were on the same page.
My single biggest goal when approaching this game is to make sure of two things:
- That Brie’s voice as a writer is maintained and enhanced
- That someone who isn’t Brie will be able to run Turn without Brie at the table, just by reading the book
Those two things are the core of editing for me. Every game is different, as every writer is different. As well, every game should be able to help someone re-create the experience of being at the table with the creator, or to get as close as they can. That process takes a few distinct steps.
As a sidenote: if you’re writing a game, working to keep your own tone in mind and writing to ensure the game doesn’t need you at the table are important, too. Those things from the writer make the editor’s job much easier.
The Big Steps
This is an oversimplification because some of these steps happen concurrently, and there are lots of different terms people use. However, editing a game can be broken up into a few distinct types of editing:
- Developmental Editing
- Copy Editing
Developmental Editing is the most in-depth. It takes a sort of birds-eye view of the text and makes sure that all of the information that needs to be present, is present. It can mean moving chunks of text, rearranging entire sections, suggesting re-writes, additions, subtractions, or even telling a writer that they need to go back and think through their entire work again.
Copy Editing looks at the grammar and style. This is where you figure out which terms are going to be capitalized, if something is bold the first time it appears only, or every time, and you generally concentrate on polishing the text itself. This is making sure that the words the writer used are the right words to get everything across.
Proofreading is all of the fine detail of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This is often the last step before the game text is declared final and sent to layout.
With Turn, at this point, I’ve gone through the first part of the developmental edit. That means I’ve read through the entire game, I’ve broken it down into chapters, I’ve rearranged sections to ensure the content flows logically, and I’ve given Brie a bunch of edits to accept (or reject, as is the writer’s prerogative), and comments where I think more work might be needed.
As a game writer, I can tell you that this is the most difficult part of having a game edited. In my world, anyway. I’ve never been great at editing my own work. I long to be done with what I’m writing as soon as I’ve finished the first draft and, for a good while, the thought of going back and making revisions was anathema to me. I’ve since learned better, but it’s still difficult to receive edits on my work and see that I have so many changes to make.
Like a Refining Fire
That’s the thing about having an editor on your project, though: editors make games better. Editors help you take your text and turn it from a set of notes you can use to run a game into a book other people can use. That’s some alchemy, there. It’s a difficult process, for certain, but it’s absolutely worthwhile.
Being on this side of the edits is different and I like it. Having had my work edited before means that, at nearly every turn (har), I’ve tried to make sure that Brie knows that I love what I’m reading and that my changes are just to make his great game into a great book. I think great editors need to actively be cheerleaders for the book because getting it there is hard. Knowing your editor wants you to succeed is so, so important.
Lastly, I’m going to give a huge shout-out to Bob Everson, the Unsung Gnome. If you don’t know his name, it’s because Bob is the editor for all of our posts here at Gnome Stew. He’s also my editor for Iron Edda: Accelerated. Bob’s fingerprints are on every post you see here, even when the writing isn’t happening until the day the post is due (hi, Bob!)
What d’you Think?
What are your experiences with being edited? How open are you to having other eyes and hands on your work?