Tuesday, November 11

The Writer as Editor



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Find this fun pin at Zazzle.com.

Most of you know that I make my living as a freelance copy editor. I hope one day the writing will bring in enough income that I can do it full-time, but right now, it’s important I maintain my editing clients. I’m okay with that because after over 25 year in the biz, I can be pickier about the projects I take on. I’m getting more into fiction editing, which I adore, and I have several nonfiction clients whose work is always a treat. All in all, things are good on the editing front.

This weekend at my RWA chapter’s annual Writers Retreat, my editor shingle seemed to be hanging out all over the place—I got editorial questions from nearly everyone there. It was great fun being the go-to girl for the grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation answers. I don’t mind a bit helping out my chapter buds with this stuff. I’m glad my skills are useful in that venue, and frankly, I confess I’m hoping that some of them will hire me to do the copyedit on their completed manuscripts because I’m crazy about the many and varied voices in that talented group of authors.

As an editor, I’m in the business of helping authors follow the rules of language, but in spite of the rules, I know that every writer has a personal style—their own special voice. I’m not sure how to define my own writing style, except to say that I’m a story teller and I can get very sappy, which in the romance world is not particularly a bad thing. I write with a lot of emotion, but I have a hard time writing anger, I think because I have a hard time being angry. I’m not good at it. My stories are character-driven, so the characters move the plot along and not the other way around.
I have to tell you that even when I’m critiquing a chapter for my critique partners, the editor kicks in occasionally. Let me give you an example: the use of “bad” versus “badly,” as in “He wanted her so badly, it hurt.”

Now, when I was critiquing a chapter for one of my crit partners, Editor Nan would have fixed this to read, “He wanted her so bad it hurt.” Here’s why. “Badly” is an adverb that describes the action, so the sentence as is tells me (Editor Nan) that the guy is doing a poor job of wanting her. “Bad,” on the other hand is an adjective that describes the level of his feelings–he wants her a lot. So, logically, well, grammatically, Editor Nan is correct.

But, that’s not how we talk. Most people would say “badly.” “I feel badly for him.” or “She wanted him so badly…” You get the picture. If you read the words aloud—something I’m learning to do as I write—“badly” just flows better. Maybe not to my editorial ear, but to most reader’s ears, it does. So Writer Nan left it alone and would probably write it the same way in her own book.

Do you ever let some of the writing “rules” slide when you’re creating a particularly touching, funny, or juicy scene? Tell me about it—I promise, no red pen!

7 comments:

  1. I drop the lys from adverbs sometimes. Copy editors don't particularly like it, but I do and it's one of the few battles I win. :-) I will say it's great having an editor friend!

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    1. You should never have to fight for your own voice as an author--copyeditors should always respect that. Glad to be your editor friend, baby!

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  2. Part of my voice is to speak in fragments. I do it in real life, my characters do it probably too often. I don't think I'll ever cut those fragments completely out but I'm learning to use them for emphasis rather than normal speech.

    One thing I'd like to conquer is the comma. The commas always get me and it's totally and completely because of my years in TV news. When I wrote for the news we put commas where they didn't necessarily belong so that the anchors could take a breath...and I *still* find myself writing that way 7 years after I left the news business.

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    1. I love this--you have a REASON. As someone who probably uses too many as opposed to too few, no one's excuse ever satisfies me, but I think yours makes sense, Kristi!

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    2. I agree with Liz, Kristi--that is a great reason for comma drama!

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  3. I'm like Kristi in that I tend to write a lot of fragments--at least according to my computer checker :)

    And I would probably use "bad" the way you did, so I'm good in that case :)

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    1. Hi, Margie! Nothing wrong with fragments in fiction, particularly if it's part of your voice.

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