Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Editing Hat

I've put my editing hat back on this week, as I proof the galley for When Mike Kissed Emma. And I'd forgotten how different copy editing is from critiquing or reading double checking your work for continuity and things like that.

Lately I've been doing a lot of critiquing, since I'm in two critique groups. This is a general kind of edit - for function and story and things like that. This is big-picture stuff. Sure, typos and grammar issues can (and should) be pointed out, but that's not the main focus of the critique. The main focus is to see if the story makes sense, if it's coming together as it should, if there are outstanding questions for the reader - that kind of thing.

Self-editing of a manuscript tends (for me anyway) to be about making sure that word choices are correct, that the characters are true to themselves, that scenes are where they should be, that the story flows and makes sense. This kind of editing often involves lots of cutting and pasting and whole new scenes being inserted.

Copy-editing is a different animal all together. This isn't a time for the big changes. This isn't when you want to decide that maybe you really should have put this paragraph before that other paragraph. No - this is the nitty gritty, the nuts and bolts, the stuff you hoped to never have to worry about once you got rid of those grammar text books in high school. This is are the commas in the right places, is everything spelled right, are stylistic conventions upheld throughout (for example: if you italicize your characters thoughts - did you do it every time). This is the time to figure out if that is two words, or a compound word, or a word with a hyphen. This is the time to realize that when you read quickly you imagine the right word in its place - and maybe that word isn't really there - or the wrong word is there.

I've found things like "more" that should be "move", "of" that should be "off" and "if told" should be "if I told". What's interesting is that so far no one else reading this has caught those. I think it's because our eyes put in place what we're expecting. If we expect the word to be "off" and we see an "o" and an "f" we kind of fill in that last "f" automatically in our brain.

This is a slow kind of editing - at least for me. I need to pause between pages, between chapters - between sentences sometimes, to make sure that what I'm seeing is what is really on the page.

And each time I read it through I find things I didn't find the other times (or don't find things I did find earlier). And I'm sure I'll find more things now. I only hope that I catch everything. (Or that someone else who is reading it will catch what I don't.)

Because I have experience with errors making it into print. For years I was the editor of a cruise guide. Okay, saying I was the editor maybe doesn't give the full picture. I was the writer and sole editorial staff for an annual 800-page directory. Oh, and I did a fair amount of the production work too. And every year, when I'd have my brand new copy in my hands - after writing, editing, proofing, double checking, reading blue lines and everything else - I'd invariably open the book up to some mistake or other. It got to a point where when I got the new book I'd just sit and admire it, but not open it up.

So, my editing hat is firmly in place. And I'll check as carefully as I can now, but when I have that finished copy in my hands, that editing hat is staying put away so I can simply enjoy my new book.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Opening Lines

We struggle over those opening lines. Wanting to capture just the right tone, grab the readers attention and make them want more. We write and re-write and agonize over those words.

And then I glance at a scrap copy of something my eleven-year-old is writing. I see the first few lines:

She stared out the window nervously. "He's bound to come soon. To take him away." She sputtered, wringing her hands.

Now I don't know what that story is about - but from that first line, I sure want to. If I were helping my daughter edit, I'd tell her that she can leave out the word "nervously", that "wringing her hands" conveys that quite nicely. But I think she's got a great opener here. I'll have to find out what the rest of the story is about.

And one more from my daughter - another opener that makes me want to keep reading.

"Sir, will we have to go to the chessboard?" I asked weakly.

"Yes, of course. It's another battle, isn't it?" The king asked me, peering over the rims of his wiry glasses. His crown was slipping off of his oily head, and with fat fingers he tried to catch it.

Peeking ahead I see that this is a story told from the point of view of a pawn on a chessboard. These lines make me want to find out more. How about you? What grabs your attention, makes you want to read past the first line? And conversely: what kind of first lines make you fee like putting the book down right away?