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Monday, January 18, 2010

Mystic Monday

Editing and Voice

I was all set to write about something else today, but an email that I stumbled upon last night made me change my topic.

To say that the email was a surprise was an understatement. Yes, when you are part of an author blog, interview and write reviews for authors that you connect with them. When you contact an author to mention some errors you've found, and that author asks you to be more specific, that's really super cool, but when an author wants your opinion on her next WIP, that's something more. This is a whole new level for me, that an author would respect my opinion enough to seek my advice.

Yep, that was the email I received last night. An author contacted me because she wanted to know what I thought of some new proposed edits for the second book dealing with a specific character. I read the previous book about this character and really liked the book and the character.

What was this author's dilemma?

Well, she has a different editor and she felt that the new edits were awful. However, she wanted to be sure that her feelings weren't biased (at least that's my take on it, or she wouldn't have asked me) and wanted to get an outside opinion.

So, I read an excerpt of her original story and compared it with the edited version of the same section. It was an "author vs. editor" problem.

So, which side did I fall on?

I did take the writer's side in this, but not because I am a writer, but because it was the right side to be on, for the sake of the character.

Let me elaborate: Yes, I've read about this character before, but it had been awhile, so I couldn't remember every little nuance when I started reading. I was glad that the author's original version was first because it helped me to reconnect with the character that I really liked and appreciated. This connection is important because it helped me to make an unbiased decision.

In my opinion, the person who edited the piece isn't necessarily a bad editor, just someone who didn't know the character. The changes to the character's thoughts made it seem like the character was possessed or something. It was a total 180 spin in personality.

But that wasn't all. The personality of the character wasn't the only thing lost, the author's voice was too. That was what was most disturbing to me. The editing that took place wasn't to fix word choices and stuff like that, but it changed the perspective to someone else's or what someone else thought it should be.

It's one thing to contact an author and say, "It would be (have been) really cool if this (had) happened to that character (or set of characters)!" I know, I've done that, but it was usually saying that I would have liked to see the secondary couple in a story have a book of their own. But it's a completely different animal to go to an author and say, "I didn't like what you did, it should have happened this way."

To me, that's what this editor did to this author when they edited the book the way they did. They didn't take the time to get to know the characters, the author's voice or the product in their hands before taking a red pen to it, they just wanted to say what they thought was wrong.

Is there more than one way to say a sentence? Sure, but not from the same person/writer/author. From my experience, people are fairly consistent in how they speak (with or without an accent), talk (eloquently or street slang), act and think. [Yes, I know that speak and talk can be the same category, but I classify it differently because one is something they can't control (dialects, stutter, accents, etc. - for the most part, but anyone who knows their stuff can spot a fake) and ones that they can control (how eloquently they do or don't speak - this can be a conscious choice. The most educated person can still use poor English when alone or with closest friends).] So, a character isn't going to change much from one book to the next, especially when there hasn't been that much time elapsing.

In the technical editing courses I took, the first thing we learn is the importance of editing a piece without altering the author's voice because when all is said and done, the document needs to reflect the author's voice and not the editor, unless of course you are contracted to "ghost write," compose, or completely revamp the document. My philosophy as an editor is to make sure things are working, that the words are flowing, and that they are the correct words for the situation. However, if I find mistakes, I don't change them, I suggest and offer explanations for my suggestions. If something sounds awkward or doesn't quite roll off the tongue when reading, I mention that too and offer suggestions, but I do not rewrite. That's for the author to do.

Now that you know my theories, what are yours?

Have you had a similar situation with an editor? What happened? How was the situation resolved?

3 Moonbeams (comments):

Molly Daniels said...

I'm still in the learning stage of how to edit; but unless I see something really bad, I'll rewrite it as a suggestion; it's up to the author to decide if she chooses to keep the way I rearranged her words. Thankfully I'm only just an editor-advisor!

And my editor makes suggestions, and we argue good-humoredly when I don't agree. But we usually find middle ground:)

Carrie said...

Good to know that you have a positive experience about it!

Kimberly Joy Peters said...

Great post, Carrie! I personally believe that voice is what draws a reader in - especially with first-person narration.

As a teacher, I came up with this sample to explain how a change in "voice" can affect a story and it's readers:

"A solitary scaled cold-blooded aquatic vertebrate, a second scaled cold-blooded aquatic vertebrate, a vermillion hued scaled cold-blooded aquatic vertebrate, as well as an additional creature of the same persuasion in an azure hue"

Doesn't quite have the same ring (or audience) as Dr. Seuss's "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish". But it does have the same plot.