Word, Words, Words (Part 1)

In the movie Amadeus, when Mozart is indirectly chastised by the Emperor for using “too many notes,” the composer responds with surprise and umbrage. He haughtily declares to have used just the right number of notes, no more, no less.

When someone tells me I use too many words (or commas) I get a little prickly too. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in the business of writing contracts (which I do for a living), most sentences can use a good editorial cleansing. I may be prickly, but I’m not dumb.

I’ve spoken in this blog about editors before, but not about what I did the first time I went searching for one – when I hadn’t a clue about editors except to suspect I needed one. When I started writing Embracing the Elephant I didn’t even know there were different kinds of editors!

According to the website eHow.com:

“* A line editor‘s job is to review every line of a manuscript for typos, misused words (i.e., affect/effect, advice/advise), grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors. Line editors need to be excellent proofreaders and be familiar with proofreading symbols.

“* A copy editor‘s role is to make sure the book’s content is concise, clear, correct, easy to comprehend and maintains continuity in its details (i.e., eye colors, names, sequences of events) from start to finish. For technical manuals, the editor also ensures that graphs, maps and diagrams are matched to the right references.

“* A developmental editor is necessary when more substantive editing is required to get a book ready for publication…to address weaknesses such as story structure, inconsistent pacing, poor character development and contrivances.”

Each of these editor types comes with a different price tag, of course. So what was it to be for Embracing the Elephant?

Of course I needed a line editor. The human brain fills in the blanks in text so that the reader sees what s/he wants to see, overlooking typos that may be glaringly evident to an editor. People simply don’t see every mistake in their own writing. I definitely needed a line editor.

What about the copy editor? I believed I was consistent in my descriptions, sequence of events, names, and with moving characters from one side of the room to another or into a scene and then out. However, I know what’s supposed to happen in my story. I may have those continuity details in my mind, but what if I failed to describe them adequately on the page? Embracing the Elephant was my first novel; perhaps I made those fundamental mistakes and didn’t even recognize it. How would I know without a copy editor? Okay, a copy editor it would be!

I couldn’t possibly need a developmental editor, though. After all, I’d written the most perfect novel ever. My story was strong, my characters vivid and consistent, the pacing perfect. Nothing trite or contrived had been set on my pages. I wouldn’t need to hire someone to correct my writing for these fatal flaws. Or would I?

You know that saying about a “dog with a bone” ?  That would be me. I began questioning my loved ones and friends who had read some of the book: Did I do this? Did I do that? What about this? Did you understand her motivation? Did that action make sense to you for that character? Did you read anything that made you roll your eyes and say “that wouldn’t happen?”

Not only was I driving myself nuts, I was doing a good job of irritating a lot of other people.

Perhaps the editors themselves could tell me what I needed: I would choose three editors to whom I would send a few pages (or a couple of chapters or whatever they wanted) and ask them to tell me what I needed!

Okay, I had a plan!

Until I discovered that it doesn’t quite work like that.

To be continued

About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit www.ontrackpublishing.com for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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1 Response to Word, Words, Words (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Words, Words, Words (Part 2) | A Lumbering Soul Trying to Fly

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