Ideally an author and an editor cooperate to create an even better manuscript. The author offers the product of her imagination and experience. The editor reminds her of her audience and the standard rules that will help readers understand her book. My finest and most memorable editing usually occurs when I dialogue with an author.
Several years ago I was honored to copyedit Lee Lynch’s novel Sweet Creek and among my suggestions told her that, according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (the standard for our book company), the word “far-out” needs a hyphen.
Lee had accepted all my suggested revisions but balked on this one. She insisted that the word was “far out.” I put on my English-professor hat and loftily explained that it has been around since 1954 and that compound words evolve from two separate words (far out), to a hyphenated word (far-out), and eventually to one word (farout). I concluded my mini-lecture but stating, “We’re now in the word’s second stage of evolution, so it should be written ‘far-out.’”
She politely kept insisting that “far out” doesn’t have a hyphen. After several exchanges, I discarded my scholarly mind-set and finally realized what she meant. Chick, the character who uses the term in Lee’s book, still clings to her hippie past, and even though the book is set in 2001 and technically the word had already become “far-out” by then, Chick has been formed by her experience during the sixties and seventies. Therefore, she would say “far out,” with a huge space between the two words.
Lee taught me that an editor needs to listen to the author she’s working with and to allow the author to break the rules when she needs and deserves leeway. To me that’s far out, as is Lee’s Sweet Creek.