Wednesday, March 26, 2014

From the Editor's Desk . . . Transcendental Editing

MaryChris Bradley

Someone asked me once about my approach to editing. Interesting question I thought, so here’s my attempt at explaining a major part of my job.

First let me say, I love what I do. I’m fortunate to be part of an industry that brings so much joy, entertainment and education to others. Then there’s the eternal grammarian in me who just enjoys editing. I always believe the simplest way is best. Indeed, my advice to wannabe writers is simplicity itself: “Butt in chair. Write.”

My approach to editing is similar:
Open manuscript file.
Click on Review>Track Changes.
Channel author’s voice.

Wait, did you just say “Channel author’s voice”? Is this some sort of paranormal experience you’re touting?

I suppose the answer is yes…and no.
Here’s the thing; an editor needs to correct the sentence structure, tidy up the flow, smooth out the bumps in the plot, doing any necessary nipping and tucking along the way. But, a good editor, first needs to get inside the author’s head. They need to hear and see those characters from the author’s point of view. Then, they must make those changes in the story, where necessary, but in a way that is seamless. The reader and the author should never be able to sense where the author left off, and the editor stepped in. If a character has a unique voice, perhaps the language of the story is not the character’s native language, then that needs to be reflected in any edits. If the story is taking place in another country, or world, possibly even an imaginary one, any edits must retain that flavor. Hardest of all, everything you edit, must still read as if written in the voice of the author.

So, how do you channel that voice? Meditation? Chants? A trance? 

Sometimes I wish it were that easy.

You really do have to get inside that story, walk around in there a little, poke the things lurking in the corners to see how they’ll react. It takes time and patience.

Early in my career I wondered why some editors always seemed to be working on books that were similar to ones they had done before. Not necessarily the same genre, but ones where the plot or tone of the story, the quirks and eccentricities of the characters, the overall flow and feel of the story, had a familiar ring to others they had edited.  

Were they re-writing those manuscripts in their own voice?

The answer is no, they weren’t re-writing. They were simply drawn to authors who were writing in a way they could get inside of. It was comfortable, safe, and familiar.

Because when they worked with authors who shared the same tone, they were able to achieve that seamlessness, meshing their corrections and edits smoothly with the author’s original words.

Does an editor re-write portions of a manuscript? 

A good one does, but you’ll never notice where they picked up the thread, or where they carefully wove it back into the author’s story.

Of course, there are several kinds of editors, including proof or copyeditors. Each of them is an important piece of the puzzle that makes up a good story.

My job as an editor is to work with the author, honing their work into the best, most engaging, smoothest flowing story possible. We may go through as many as three passes of the entire book before we are done with our work.

Then, I bring in a copyeditor. It is their job to find those nagging errors, like missing commas, or excessive ellipses, and rein them in. Their job is to make sure all the t’s are crossed, and all the i’s are dotted. They are a very important part of the equation, but they are not the whole equation, just as an editor is not the end answer. We work separately, but together, to create a finished product. Something the author, and the editors, will be proud to have bear their names. That, in an expanded-nutshell sort of way, is the heart of my approach to editing.

Copyright © 2014 MaryChris Bradley
 *Originally published 8th February 2012 on AmWriting

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