Sunday, January 24, 2010

May I say a Word in my Defense?

In looking for some old posts to link to in a new blog post, I discovered that the Jan 5th post about what drives an editor crazy had 43 responses. Some of them made good points that encouraged me to rethink some of my editing pet peeves, a few were personal attacks -- but okay, I'm a big girl, I can take that -- and several defended the use of ordinary, common word usage.

One responder, who doesn't have a full Google profile wrote: "It seems editors feel they MUST be picky or they're not doing their job. The things you bring up are a matter of opinion. Some readers might enjoy flowery language and some don't have great imaginations and need things spelled out for them. Should we just ignore all those people and only write for the extremely literate? Should we only write to the level of editors?"

To her, and the others who said this is all just a matter of personal opinion, I remind you to think about the craft of writing. It is not enough to get a story down on paper using the same language and turns of phrase that you have read in a hundred other books. The craft of writing is about making it not like everything else you have read.

A writer can still use flowery language for a romance, or a sweeping saga, or a long historical, but that flowery language could utilize fresh descriptions and that same language is not used for a mystery, or a mainstream novel, or a western. When we apply craft, we know the difference, and when I am editing it is all about craft. I don't rely on just my personal opinion as to what could change to improve the writing. I employ what I have learned working with and for other professionals for many years.

Someone else made the comment that they like to write the way people talk. Well, the way people talk is often boring. Normal conversations are rift with polite speak -- all those hellos, goodbyes, thanks, etc. A writing instructor once told me to pay attention to how people interact when they talk, but don't necessarily use exact words you hear in a conversation.

When it comes to working with a client, I try to encourage them to rise above the ordinary in what they are writing. It is their choice to do that or not. Just like it is any readers choice to take the tips pointed out here at The Blood Red Pencil or not. One of the things I have enjoyed most about this blog is that we get into some great discussions and have all learned from each other. Nothing is cast in stone when it comes to writing or editing, but these posts and discussions help us all to grow and improve.


Posted by Maryann Miller. Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her editing services and her books. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play farmer on her little ranch in East Texas.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Thanks for the clarification!
    Sadly, writing reality with exactitude doesn't work well. Otherwise we writers would have it a lot easier! And even if something really did occur in real life, it might not be believable in a story.

  2. I absolutely agreed with most of your examples from that post, especially "He nodded his head." Drives me crazy. (How about "He nodded his head yes up and down"?)

    However, I recently read an interview with an editor where the very first example of her stellar services was that she changed "that" to "who" if it was modifying a person.

    Fantastic. Just what I want in an editor: a pedant who is not only overly literal, but also wrong. (Check out Wikipedia's article on English relative clauses with human antecedents: "that" isn't actually wrong, and it was good enough for Shakespeare and Twain.)

    "Who" vs "that" is probably the least of the worries of someone seeking out a professional editor—and it would never get you rejected by a publishing house.

    I agree, too, that we can and should write well—and "flowery language" is not that for the vast majority of readers. Even for those with limited powers of imagination, "vivid," "descriptive" and "figurative" language are going to evoke far better images than the kind of verbiage we commonly call "flowery."

    (But, more importantly, "flowery language" is anathema to editors, whom we have to get our work by before we get it to readers.)

  3. If I could afford a professional's services, I would utilize your advice and pay for it! I posted your original post on my FaceBook and it was well received by my writing comrades. I want to IMPROVE my writing. At the end of the day, my voice is my voice, but you, the editor, refine my ability to tell the story.


  4. "A writing instructor once told me to pay attention to how people interact when they talk, but don't necessarily use exact words you hear in a conversation."

    What a great insight! Thanks!

  5. Appreciate all the kind words from everybody. Christine, I am glad that my comments and suggestions were well received in your writer's group. I, too, rely on my editor to make sure that I am doing the best I possibly can with my novels.

    Jordan, I had to laugh at "nodded his head yes up and down." I have seen that in work sent to me for editing.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.