Because top-notch editing is a crucial element in raising the quality bar on independently published books, I modify my writing manual to train editors. Just as all writers are not created equal, neither are editors. Nor do we come to the table with the same training, experience, and education. However, it’s reasonable to assume that all editors started out as readers, and many of us are also writers. The purpose of my manual is to level the playing field, as the cliché goes, and create a win-win-win for writer, editor, and reader.
Taking the step from reader/writer to editor requires a significant degree of thought adjustment and introspection. How do we feel about grammar rules? Do they take on new meaning when we learn that they can be broken without garnering a big red X from the English teacher? Can we accept that not only can they be broken, but they sometimes should be broken?
Consider this, for example: Those fragments that drew the ire of our pedagogues—along with dire warnings of our future failures if we didn’t learn to write a proper sentence—can be very effective in making an occasional point or answering a question or creating dialogue. Of course, the writer’s adherence to the rules in most other instances heightens this effectiveness because it indicates purpose rather than grammatical error.
From that discovery, we move on to parts of speech—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and so forth. They all perform specific functions in a sentence, and we need to know what those functions are and how they relate to one another. No doubt we learned all this in school. Nonetheless, these single words can be troublesome, as noted in an ongoing thread about pronoun/antecedent agreement—an outgrowth of the “political correctness” discussion. And then we have those pesky adverbs (-ly words) that crop up like weeds in the garden in place of the powerful verbs that could make the sentence or passage blossom with color and life.
Is that inner editor stirring yet?
Another problem occurs with “proper” sentence structure. Bottom line: A properly constructed sentence may not, itself, hook the reader. Consider the following examples, which describe the same scene:
Mary saw the bulldog running toward her. She pedaled her bicycle as fast as she could, but the dog was faster. It grabbed hold of her leg and refused to let go. Mary screamed and fell off her bike. The bulldog released its grip and walked away.Our inner editor twitches to life.
We get the picture, but do we care? Have we been pulled into the scene? Are we rooting for Mary? The sentences are complete, but are we compelled to read the next paragraph or the next chapter? How would we relate this little event?
The bulldog bounded out of nowhere. Mary pumped her six-year-old legs harder and harder against the oversized pedals. The dog’s hot breath drove her onward as strings of saliva slapped her bare legs. Sharp teeth punctured her calf and refused to let go. She screamed. Her bike teetered back and forth, then fell. The bulldog released its grip and pranced away.Wow! We feel Mary’s panic and the bulldog’s triumph. The scene lives and breathes, and we want to read on. Great job, we tell ourselves. Or is it?
Our inner editor, now alert and feeling frisky, slips into the mind of the writer and sees our rewrite . . . as ours. The writer’s style has changed; her voice has been lost. The editor’s partnership with the writer—an alliance that must never become visible to the reader—sticks out like that proverbial sore thumb. This can’t happen. How do we fix it?
Next, we plunge into the meat of editing and discuss the writer’s voice—keeping it intact.