Thursday 26 April 2018

Ink Tip: But That's Not What I Meant! (Working With An Editor)

There are days when I wonder how anyone is able to communicate with one another... most of those days happen when I'm doing edits. 

Maybe I meant to say he grabbed a bear and took a drink!  It could happen!
Words are supposed to be straightforward.  Say the right ones and other people will grasp the information you are conveying.  This is the myth that we cling to and it's probably the basis for all civilization and culture.  But it's not quite entirely true, as is obvious to anyone who takes half a minute scrolling through the arguments on social media.

There's a lot of variation in interpretation of the words we use to communicate.  And often what we think we've said is not what we've actually said.  Editors and beta readers can help an author to narrow that gap, but it is an ego-shredding process.  

My rule of thumb is that I will not argue with my editor about a problem that she has identified, though I may not agree with her about the way to fix it.  This has saved a lot of headaches and arguments on both sides.  If she is asking why a character isn't jumping through the window to save the day, then I can't argue that I've laid out a dozen reasons already.  Either potential readers aren't making the connection with the previous reasons or those reasons don't seem like a sufficient excuse to avoid window-jumping.

That brings me to a choice: I can take out the window-jumping scene, I can tweak previous scenes to emphasize the reasons, or I can add a direct thought about why they're not window-jumping.  There are lots of options, I just need to figure out which one works best for my story and my style.

Sometimes there are other issues which can start to infringe on an author's voice.  Personally, I love using unusual words and descriptions but I know it can become off-putting for a reader to constantly have to guess what I mean.  So when my editor starts indicating that I need to take them out, it can feel like a personal sting.  But it forces me to consider each one: do I really need this? does it match the pacing of the story or am I slowing the reader when I shouldn't be?  I fight for the ones I really want and that I think are critical, but the vast majority get simplified.  By making me face how many times I've used the word "eeled" in a manuscript, I'm forced to hone my writing and avoid repetition.

One of the biggest reasons I use an editor is to ensure consistent writing style, i.e. use of commas, tenses, and italics.  There's a fair amount of variation in what is actually "right" in the English language (I have friends who will live and die in their defense of the Oxford comma) but it's inconsistency that makes most readers cringe.  My editor keeps my style consistent and I am eternally grateful, even if I sometimes go wide-eyed at the number of commas that I apparently missed.

None of these things are easily handled by an author on their own.  I know some authors who pay for three or four editors in the developmental stage, just to make sure they get a variety of viewpoints looking at it.   I know authors who do multiple line edits to make sure all of the typos, grammar and punctuation errors get caught.  (Though if you are going to do this, make sure that each line editor is familiar with the style that you have chosen: Chicago, Strunk and White, etc.)  An editor isn't your friend, but he or she is absolutely necessary if an author wants to move past the amateur stage.  It is a partnership and both sides have the same goal: to make sure a book is the best possible book it can be.  

My next best possible book, Judgment, will be coming out on May 14th and you can pre-order it now.  Sometimes the most ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things and you should never underestimate a mom with a mission.

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