Sleeping with the Enemy…ahem…the Editor

Sleeping With the Enemy…Editor

sleeping with the editor Note to reader:  You know those news clips on TV where the soldier is captured behind enemy lines and he’s forced to say, “I am being treated very well, and I regret everything I have done.”  Well, keep that thought in mind as you’re reading this article because this is supposed to be a back-and-forth exchange between a writer and an editor, only… the editor is also going to be editing this article.  Also, did I mention that she’s also my wife?  I see a minefield up ahead.

Note from the editor:  It works both ways!

Henry  “Soooo…how many types of editing are there?”

Pamela (editor) Basically three.  There’s proofing (proofreading), line-editing, and substantive editing.   When you’re proofing… if your protagonist, Tom, is wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and hops in a red ’92 Vette in the beginning of the scene, you expect him to arrive in that red Vette with the same clothes and same name at the end.  Remember in your first go-round with The Antlers Inn?  You started out with Al Piccolo, and somewhere in chapter three, he became Al Gombosi.

Henry I was just testing to make sure you were paying attention.  So, how’s that different from line-editing?

Pamela Line-editing is the nitty-gritty.  It’s chasing comas, apostrophes, spelling, extra spaces, and making certain that things like…ellipses aren’t over-used.

Henry Boy… you’re getting nasty…early.  …It just occurred to me that… I’m really channeling Captain James T. Kirk.  I think of ellipses as just adding a little extra…drama.

Pamela Are you ready to speak seriously or are we just gonna screw-around?

Henry Sigh…  Okay, so what’s substantive editing?

Pamela The first two kinds of editing are just highly-refined versions of what you use in a high-level program like MicroSoft Word.  Substantive editing, however, requires first, an editor whom you trust, and an editor who gets what you’re trying to say and has a regard for it.

Henry For instance…

Pamela  All right.  In the original version of, Playing on the Black Keys, Sam and Delta had three kids, only one of them was dead wood.  He didn’t contribute  anything to the plot, and so he was written out.  Or…same novel, I suggested you put the last chapter first, and play the book as a flashback.

Henry Yup, that worked big time.  Only you didn’t invent it.  Remember Citizen Kane?

Pamela  Of course, I didn’t invent it.  Neither did Orson Welles.  I just thought of it at precisely the right time and suggested it.  The point is, a good editor is like a good dance partner.  You have to dance together and the smoother you dance, the smoother, the better the book will be.

Henry  What trends do you see in writing now, compared to ten, or twenty years ago?

Pamela  There are, of course, going to be exceptions to any rule, but generally speaking, white space is good, grey space…not so good.  Which is another way of saying, today’s writing is dialogue-intensive.  Gone are the days, where pages are spent describing the scent of the lilacs out on the veranda, and how they reflect the bone-silver light of a gibbous moon.  Dialogue is what moves the story ahead, and people, for the most part, are geared for action.  The corollary to this is:  good dialogue is a lot harder to do than laying-in adjectives with a trowel. 

            First off, it has to ring true.  Second, the characters  need to have their own voice, their own mindset.  Give me two characters who can mix it up, read from different scripts, and I’m happy as a clam.  Wait a minute, I think I have a way of segueing to the next topic of this unfolding serial.  I’m not happy as a clam…I’m happy as a fire ant on a dead pig.  The topic for our next encounter shall be:  The Agony of a Bad Simile, the Glory of a Perfect Metaphor.

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