A Problem of Perspective

Yesterday, I told you about my experience with my editor and how wonderful it was. I extolled the experience of being edited as something uplifting and refreshing. And my conclusion was simple:

You should do it too.

But maybe you’re still skeptical. Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s all well and good for Albert, but really what does he know? Just because he needs an editor doesn’t mean that I do.”

But you’re wrong my friend, horribly wrong. And here is why:

1. You haven’t explained enough.

You know your story backwards and forwards. You know exactly what is happening and why. But nobody else does. Which is really why you’re writing that book in the first place right? Because you want to tell people the story in your head. But sometimes you don’t get it all out.

So you’ll get your editor saying things like “Why is the dog thinking about eating the brains of this zombie. Is he in the habit of eating purifying grey matter? Is this the kind of thing his owners leave lying around the house? This makes no sense.”

At which point you realized that maybe including the detail that the dog is ravenously hungry might be somewhat enlightening to your readers.

2. Hey Bub back off on the explanation!

What’s that you say? This is the exact oposite thing of what we just discussed? Why, how astute of you.

But it’s still a problem. Because clearly you’re not trying to be obscure. You want your readers to understand what’s going on. And sometimes you tend to include to much detail, just in case they don’t quite get it.

The line between too much detail and not enough is razor thin. So you need an editor to say, “You don’t have to say ‘She reached for the can.’ Anyone over the age of four is capable of understanding that if the can was in the cupboard in one sentence and being opened in the next that it did not in fact magically teleport itself through the aether. Cans are not in the habit of doing that.”

3. Everything else

Because, lets face it, there’s way more than three things wrong with your manuscript. An editor can help you with everything from structure to weak verbs.

And please don’t misunderstand. It’s not because you’re a bad writer. You’re just too close to see everything that needs fixing.

You’re a little like the woman I met yesterday who was looking for a way to lock her daughter’s bedroom window shut so that she couldn’t get out in the middle of the night and go out galavanting with her boyfriends. (And by “galavanting” I mean “having sex”.) She looked me straight in the eye and said “When I was her age my parents screwed my windows shut, but my boyfriend just took out the screws.”

You know, on second thought you’re nothing like that woman. But you have a similar problem, which is that you can’t see the absurdity of what is literally right in front of your face. You’re too close. Too involved. You need someone who’s not involved with the situation who can step back and say, “If your daughter’s doing exactly the same thing you did at her age maybe your husband shouldn’t be calling her a whore. And exactly how did you two get to know each other anyway?”

Before I close, I wanted to give a quick caveat that all the edits I included, even though they were inspired by problems in my actual manuscript, were my own wording. My editor, the lovely and talented Ellie Soderstrom is far too nice to say things so harshly. Which was one of the wonderful things about working with her. She was able to tell me what needed changing without making me feel like a douche for getting it wrong.

I’ve already thanked her privately, but I wanted say it here where everyone could see. Thank you, thank you, thank you Ellie. You don’t know how much you encouraged me.

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8 responses to “A Problem of Perspective

  1. Peter Saint-Clair

    I have an editor friend, though he more or less rips my stuff apart to the point where I just want to give up…lol But I don’t, because he won’t let me. But, then, that’s what I personally need. Congrats to finding the perfect editor for you and I can’t wait to check What the Dog Saw when you finish it. I read the short and now I’m intrigued. Good stuff, man.

  2. Your work is a complete pleasure to edit, Al! Sometimes I’d be reading the story and be like, “oops! I’m supposed to be editing.” It’s an exciting and excellent page turner!
    And this was a great post. Every edit I receive from my CPs are loaded with these same things. Red marks for overexplaining, underexplaining, passive verbs, grammar errors, and using fake words like overexplaining and underexplaining.
    Lookin’ forward to the debut of your first novella!

  3. Editor comments – positive feedback: 1. Impressive use of capital letters. 2. Most words spelled correctly. 3. Clever use of paragraphs. 4.I could not wait to finish the book. 5.You do have writing related skills. How about working in a paper mill or pencil factory? 6. Your mother must be very proud. 7.Manuscript was submitted with correct postage. 8. Artful use of periods to separate sentences. 9. No glossary of terms needed. 10. Many words have more than 2 syllables.

  4. No one has ever actually explained what an editor does until now. Usually these activities, the ones you describe above, are purported to be done by “readers” (those few who see the manuscript before it goes to an editor). So I never knew what an editor did. I figured that if an editor was going to go through and change your whole story then why didn’t s/he just write it him/her-self? So thank you for an enlightening post. If that’s all an editor does then what’s the big deal? The way editing has been described it’s as if the editor goes through and rewrites your whole story and by they time they’re done it looks nothing like it did when you began. If this is all it is then you (a general you, not you specifically Albert) have been through this a half dozen times already. Like I said, that’s what readers do. Right? All an editor is is just one more set of eyes. Geesh. All these writers out there making editors seem like mythical beasts with blood dripping from their teeth and evil in their eyes. Or like plagiarizing thieves– or maybe they’re the same thing?

  5. Yesterday I bipassed your post as in my inbox the title, “Zombies, Chainsaws…” was all that I saw…. :S I went back today after reading the first line of this post. The two posts coupled together are just really quite wonderful to read. Inspirational for people that have a hard time letting their ‘baby’ out into the world. I’ve had friends edit my work, then a stranger when I was submitting to a short story site. It’s actually a really wonderful feeling to get back something that you can improve. The desire to improve should be on the top list of being a writer. It’s all how you take the feedback.

    People are always worreid about rejection or the dreaded ‘red’ marks. Personally, I find it a growth lesson. It’s really no different than when your parents correct you for your own good. It really does make the story better.

    Congrats on finding a great editor to work with, and I loved the part of perspective, and the mom. Really good analogy.

  6. Thank you for sharing your editing story with us…I am battling whether or not to use one myself. I guess if I find someone I trust to edit my story I might consider it.

  7. It is hard to thoroughly self-edit. Critique partners and editors are awesome!

  8. Editors…it’s painful when they rip apart our works but they help us to get better.

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