Writer’s Craft #18 – Who Edits You?
Eli Effinger-Weintraub‘s avatar on a recent comment to the Writer’s Craft was a image that read something like: “The one universal truth is everyone wants to change your text”. It’s so true! So after visiting her homepage and discovering she edits professionally, I asked her to comment on the phenomenon. – lynda
Bad news. Your baby – the precious angel who’s going to reverse global climate change and broker peace in the Middle East (from space!) – needs braces. And remedial math. Also, she’s way too tall.
Don’t you sometimes feel like that when red-pen-wielding fiends swoop down on your manuscript? Every word was perfect! The very commas sparkled!
Truth is, even peace-brokering, space-faring ecowarriors need teachers and doctors and friends to guide them.
And our copy needs help. But where to get it?
COPY EDITOR: Pro: Copy editors bring an objective eye. We care only about cleaning up mechanical messes to help your story shine.
This paragraph comes from “Accidental Encounters”, a short story I edited for E.M. Ben Shaul.
And, thankfully, he stepped up to help me out. “C’mon,” he said. “We’re all a little – or more than a little – frayed right now. Let’s not get into something right now where we might say things we shouldn’t. It won’t help Avi at all, and I know, at the crux of it all, that’s where all this is coming from.” I could understand why Avi has said that Jake’s the family peacemaker. “Let’s go eat, and you’ll get a chance to talk this all out when we’re all more relaxed.”
“C’mon,” he said. “We’re a little – more than a little – frayed. Let’s not say things we’ll regret. We all want to help Avi, not fight about him, right?” I understood why Avi calls Jake the family peacemaker. “Let’s eat, and we’ll talk this out when we’re more relaxed.”
The substance remains the same, but subtle changes improve flow and make Jake’s dialogue feel more natural.
Con: We’re a pedantic lot. If you choose nonstandard spelling, sentence structure, or punctuation, we will make you fight for it, and we’ll probably still tell you to take it out–which some writers feel mutes the unique style and flow of their work.
FELLOW WRITER (friendly): Pro: A fellow writer can offer sympathetic, germane advice dipped straight from the well of experience.
Con: My solo show Bye-Bye, Beirut opens with the line, “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty bored sitting here not getting shot at.”
A fellow writer complained, “The opening is abrupt; there’s no context for what’s going on. Start by saying you were looking at pictures from your trip to Israel and thought of this story.”
That’s how she would’ve started it. But I prefer to drop my audience into the scene and let them piece things together, without frames.
Critique from other writers may reflect not what’s best for our story but what they would have written if it were theirs.
FAMILY MEMBER: Pro: Relatives are plenteous; they rarely charge for their opinions; and they’re under contractual obligation to love you.
Con: Love and honesty can clash. A family member may withhold a painful but necessary critique to spare our feelings and avoid friction in the relationship.
After my wife read an early draft of my story “The New Prohibition”, she set it aside and said, “Huh. Interesting.” We conflict-averse Minnesotans say “Interesting” when we dislike something but are too polite to say so. The draft clearly needed a lot of help, but because she loves me and didn’t want to hurt me, I could get no other comments out of her, although clearly she had plenty.
Who gets to play with your copy? What kinds of changes do they suggest? How many of those changes do you end up making, and how many do you leave behind (and why)?