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Author Topic: Writer-Editor Interchange
extrinsic
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How does a writer-editor interchange go? Editors are as diverse in their practices as writers. Their editorial practices run a gamut from overtreatment to indifference. Editors more often of late favor indifference for the sake of chasing revenue streams. There are yet a few old-school editors, new born or seasoned veterans, who practice the arcane arts of discretionary developmental editing. I sense writers by and large don't know about what publication editing goes on behind the scenes. So to it.

I won't speak to the indifferent editors. They have one standard response. Denial of anything that doesn't exactly conform to their expectations. They don't do enough editing to make an appreciable difference, regardless, nor illustrate a dynamic writer-editor interchange. Nor for similar reasons will I go into overtreament. Though skilled or semi-skilled or unskilled editors are capable of overtreatment, it's exhausting to do, and not likely to be well-received or useful, since if the writer appreciably grasped the writing principles involved in the first place there'd be no need, thus no point anyway. A skilled editor instead addresses large scale considerations one step at a time and top down.

A skilled editor is a writing whisperer, a gentler of writers. Of which I have significant shortcomings. Thus one of my goals at online writing venues. Interacting with fellow writers sometimes as editor so I may improve my skills in that regard.

The interchange is a widely varying dynamic, individually and across the spectrum. One editor might focus on craft, another on voice, another on mechanical style. Another editor might have limited grasp on craft or voice or, Providence forbid, mechanical style. Another editor might prioritize craft first, then voice, then mechanical style. Another might loop through recursively. Another might only strive for good enough for minimum conventional expectations. Another might strive for mutual performance growth of narrative, writer, and editor, and, perhaps, the state of the narrative arts as a whole.

Also, one narrative might benefit from only a light touch, maybe a few proofreading suggestions and one or two copyedit suggestions, little or no major developmental suggestions. Another narrative by the same writer might task an editor to a heavier touch.

Touch, that's a significant term for a skilled editor. The second of two primary editing guidance principles is to not take away creative ownership of a writer's writing. The first principle: Do no harm. Taking away ownership involves imposing an editor's creative vision on a writer's, altering voice to the editor's aesthetics, or reorganizing structure, from capricious impulses, among others.

Oftentimes a love-hate relationship, I've not encountered a popularly or critically acclaimed writer who doesn't have mixed emotions about her or his editor. They globally compare the relationship to a marriage, although with a greater degree of emphasis placed on a professional demeanor and less on compatibility. Compatibility nonetheless matters, just with more compromise and sacrifice than a Postmodern marriage typically enjoys.

Several writers I follow say their typical editorial interchange, while trying, strengthens their work, their skills, their outcomes. A novel-length narrative's editorial phase they say takes from six months to a year average from start to finish. These are writers who have several traditionally published books and nonetheless rely on their editors for upcoming and future works.

A typical interchange begins with a tentative and overtly courteous approach. Suggestions are couched in the form of questions. Hedging terms are amply used. A sampling of large, medium, and small scale voice, craft, and mechanical style concern areas is addressed. How's the writer going to receive suggestions? Buck every suggestion? Balk at every suggestion? Defend every creative choice ad nauseam? If so, that's it, refusal for refusal because writer and editor are too incompatible.

If the initial interchange is productive and a working rapport established, the real work begins. Top down, addressing areas like narrative distance, theme, overall structure, organization, content, and expression, audience targeting, genre conventions, originality, willing suspension of disblief, secondary setting attraction, participation mystique, and emotional stimulation. Though subjective, a skilled editor addresses those areas from as objective a standing as humanly possible, which is why all productive editorial commentary is couched or implied as suggestions. However, as writer and editor build a working relationship, an editor's demeanor becomes more imperative-seeming solely for expedience's sakes, for curtness not to be commanding, pedantic, condescending, nor patronizing. Which all too many writers are sensitive to and which a skilled editor must be equally sensitive to.

All those hedging terms get in the way of clarity and concision. In my opinion . . . I'd suggest considering . . . So-and-so does this in this circumstance, So-and-so does that. Chicago suggests this, Webster's suggests that, MLA requires this, as does APA and CSE, though AP requires the opposite. By this point in time an open-minded editor knows enough about a writer's mannerisms and audience to gauge which style manual to resort to and how curt to be.

From there, skilled editorial focus flows from large scale to medium to small concern areas, and frequently looping recursively through and through again. So long as both writer and editor have the patience and time to see it through, end results can be quite productive for all concerned.

I've done developmental editing for a few years now, copyediting and proofreading for more than ten. I "read" a thousand pages a week average and have for those ten years. Tens of thousands of lengthy business writing publications, a few published novels or book-length creative nonfiction, a couple hundred published essays or short stories, a few poetry chapbooks, and a couple cookbooks. My marketplace standing isn't very profound, though my clients are grateful for what I do do.

Well, a couple hundred pages just came in, expedited, due tonight. Back to work work I go, I go, hi ho, hi ho, I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.

[ December 19, 2011, 02:47 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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Quite insightful. Thanks for sharing. The difficulty, however, is finding an editor who is interested in you as a new writer.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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LDWriter2
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I think I agree with Dr. Bob. I have head its said that a good editor is worth their weight in gold. And many writers will say that their editors helped them become a better writer and to get the book published. But these days a lot of editors evidently forget that they work for the writer-- the writer doesn't work for them.
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extrinsic
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Finding an editor who is interested in coaching "new writers" is problematic, challenging from both sides of the street, so to speak. This month alone I've experienced several unpleasant interchanges with struggling writers. Inexperienced and experienced, published and seeking first publication.

Twice burnt, thrice shy. I progressively become a more tentative editor at first. More often than not anymore, I'll pass unless I see a promise of a professional and pleasant as possible interchange.

But I am a struggling writer too. About five figures lifetime writing income compared to six figures lifetime writing-related income, one success metric. I really appreciate the old adage about a writer not quiting a default livelihood job.

If I had it to do over again from the beginning so many many decades ago, I'd not listen to my future editor self anymore than any other writer newly entering on the poet's journey, though my present self would advise about the frustrations attached to that position. I remember I did refuse guidance anyway, bucking and balking, flailing, kicking, and screaming, and failing. I have authority issues.

Though, yes, a writer-editor interchange is a consumer-provider relationship, it's a more complicated dialogue than that. Not just one way. My biggest challenge comes when struggling writers ask for guidance, but really only want praise and approval and endorsement. They defend against every guidance comment. After all, their acquaintances say the writing is good. Who do I think I am, God or another irreproachable authority, to say there are areas which might benefit from reconsidering their creative processes?

A writer who I interacted with several years ago got bent out of shape over an unguarded comment of mine, one that wasn't as considerately courteous as I strive for, and then sent many unwelcome and unanswered vituperous messages over a month's time. It took a few years for the complicated guidance to sink in. Last spring, I got a message out of the blue from the writer apologizing and thanking me for my guidance, as my counsel was instrumental in an appreciable writing breakthrough. C'est la vie d'escritur. It is the life of writing.

[ December 19, 2011, 03:03 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MartinV
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Or just make a name with indie publishing and let them call you.
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Robert Nowall
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I can't say I've had much input from editors in fiction---some non-fiction, I've gotten some substantial stuff on how it should be improved, but fiction just lays there.

I worry that I may not be able to change something to suit an editor. I've gone on writing in a vacuum so long and I get the feeling I'm just writing for myself first and then others. I'd like the opportunity to try, though.

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extrinsic
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Having followed your writing Mr. Nowall, I feel your frustration. In my estimation, you've come up against a hard and bright imposing edifice barring many promising writers from full writing realization. It's an ephemeral barrier from the other side, narrative distance is.

Narrative distance is a complex writing topic few writers on writing dare more than a paragraph or two of vague impressions about what it is. I was first introduced to the concept at a creative nonfiction workshop in 2003 as psychic distance, John Gardner's term for the concept used in The Art of Fiction, later as dramatic distance, more often as narrative distance. It took me years to get a grip around narrative distance, mostly working alone with little guidance or direction. Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse gave me the strongest boost toward realizing the influences and methods of narrative distance.

Dave King "Decoding Narrative Distance" is the most insightful and accessible survey primer about the topic I've encountered. However, I don't fully concur with his position. Like third person is not the only narrative voice where narrative distance applies and can be artfully managed and implemented, nor that omniscient third is of necessity or default the most remote narrative voice, nor that narrative point of view overtops voice in writing principle considerations. Craft and voice, yes, tops. Narrative point of view is a function of voice and craft in my book.

A link to Mr. King's Narrative Distance essay;
http://www.davekingedits.com/pov.htm

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Robert Nowall
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I find that an intriguing bit of advice...I've worked with the notion that I should present the world my characters inhabit in their own terms, not mine...I've got to look into my last couple of stories to see where I've strayed from the viewpoint in terms of word choice and info dumping...
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extrinsic
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King goes into word choice in terms of idiom but not idiosyncracy. Both of which have strong persuasion appeals and character development potentials. The more specifically a character is developed, the more identifiably unique yet familiar a character becomes, the closer narrative distance readers experience.

Idiosyncracy has a greater persuasive power in that respect than idiom. Idiosyncracy from being easily identifiable as off center from a generic commonplace circumstance, like an everyday, generic redhead as opposed to a redheaded stepchild drudge. Idiom from being a regionalism that might not be easily translatable outside its origin. Nor does an idiosyncracy or idiom require a great deal of words to be amply effective. See the tapping cane below, for example.

King speaks somewhat about "info dumping" but not in particulars. Tell, as he refers to it, he says can be artful when hefty quantities of artless show suck the emotional life from a narrative. He doesn't go into how to use show to create artful, strong emotional stimulation, like through symbolism or imagery or similar metaphorical sensory details: sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and feelings with imagery-like qualities.

Aural example including a minor idiosyncracy: an auxilliary character walks with a cane. The character is artfully deployed as a mysterious individual. The tap-tap, or dit-dot-dit, or dit-tap-click, or thunk-thump, or tick-tock sound of the cane striking on a cobblestone road, a cement sidewalk, an asphalt pavement, a wooden boardwalk, or a terrazo floor marks a time tempo. With artful word choice and timely, judicious, occasional deployment, and redeployment, a recurring thematic motif (repetition, recylcing, and renaming's artful creative writing methods), the sound of the cane tapping foreshadows upcoming events' time pressures, metaphorically signals that time is a mysterious, intangible force through the concrete meaning of a mysterious person tapping a cane on hard surfaces.

King speaks of how narrative distance is the separation degree between narrator voice and character voice. He doesn't address how author voice fits in the mix.

Nor does he go into how reader orientation to a narrative's persons, places, times, and situations is impacted by tense and grammatical person choices and viewpoint shifts, another area of narrative distance that's significant: how close a distance readers experience to a narrative's characters and settings and events.

First person present tense does, indeed, have the closest potential narrative distance in that respect, immediate person and time; however, first person present weights against questionable narrator reliability and severely challenges if not jeopardizes willing suspension of disbelief.

[ December 20, 2011, 03:36 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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I can pull out two examples from my latest stuff.

My last two things I've worked on have an alien (just one) in them. Now, I'm not good at the biochemistry and biology of it all---I just come up with a specific shape and appearance. But I'm terribly conscious of making sure I describe them in terms that don't suggest the alien is just another human being---but I don't know if I'm successful at it.

The narrative distance issue reminds me that my story-before-last, right now halfway through second draft, is largely "told"---there's a distinct narrator, who seems to be me, and not anybody else. It's just the way it arose in the telling. I'm plowing ahead (or at least I was till a later story consumed my attention), but I don't think it works too well. (Not a problem in the later story, where I try to stick to what one character sees and senses and says and does.)

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extrinsic
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The first example, writing about the other seems to me to be in play. Writing the other is a character development writing principle that favors showing character mannerisms, traits, behaviors, and personalities through interactions with other characters and objects and settings. Favored over physical description details, which too easily become burdensome, tell, or exposition blocks, from a narrator's voice, the dread "info dump."

Physical details don't especially develop character much anyway. Interactions reveal more about characters than physical appearances and can artfully close narrative distance from readers identifying with and making value-based judgmental associations about characters' personalities.

An alien should be familiar in some accessible ways, but also strange. For example, familiar in the sense the alien is like So-and-so who delivers interoffice memos. He wears an expression of bucolic stupor and bewilderment. Strange in that he smells like scorched garlic and stale hay. Note two of each and two characteristics.

Twos are important because one is vaguely nonspecific. Two is sufficiently interpretable. Threes, or triplets as I know that kind of serial listing, are artful and less equivocal yet. Artful from invoking voice's attitude feature through overstatement when timely and judicious.

Thematically connected is also important when characters are portrayed. The above alien's characteristics relate to agrarian or pastoral people's circumstances, for example. If a central viewpoint character is from an urban situation, then the alien's strangeness would be credibly noticed by the viewpoint character. Thematically, the connection could go to something like an individual in society, potentially a dystopian theme, where urbanites and hinterlanders are at odds.

The second example to me goes to voice. The narrator recites the story as if from a lectern. That discourse method is not particularly in favor at present. However, when it works, it works. It works when the narrator's voice is in the foreground and has the strongest attitude, like approving or diaspproving of the subject matter.

When a narrative emphasizes voice, it can be quite engaging. Voice is one of the several emphases on par with plot, character, setting, event, and idea that can be in a narrative's foreground and with which readers most associate.

The recital voice is a traditional voice that was very popular before the Modern era, pre-Twentieth century when narratives retained much of predecessor oral traditions. It is the voice of folklore, of raconteurs, of traditional spoken-word storytellers.

Let loose the attitude whirlwind in a recital voice and, whoa, that too closes narrative distance, only from within a narrator's standpoint rather than a narrative's immediate persons and settings. Recital voice requires in this age some sense of a narrator's interests in the stakes and outcomes of the action, thus a presence within the secondary world of the narrative.

Staying in touch with one viewpoint character is an artful method, much favored now. It stays close to character voice and estranges narrator (or writer, really) voice as much as humanly possible.

[ December 20, 2011, 01:13 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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LDWriter2
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Robert, As you may know already Hal Clement does a great job of describing his alien's world on their level.

Other writers probably have also but his seem to be most memorial.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, I found Clement's work somewhat problematical---too much of the world building and too much consciousness of the world building in the reader's mind. More of a game than literature. I didn't care much for Mission of Gravity, his most famous work in this oevre. (I think my favorite of his was Needle (I think that's the title), where an alien detective POV character, who lived inside a human, had to hunt down another alien living inside another human---but that dealt with "our" world more than "their" world. There was a sequel that I thought less good.)

As for finding narrative voice, well...I try to engage all the POV character's at some point along the way, though sight and sound do a better job of conveying precise information through the POV character to the reader. The aliens in my abovementioned stories are not the POV characters...though, to a limited extent, I try to get into their heads too, if only to pull things out and put them before the reader.

Which leads this conversation back to the writer-editor thing. I've never had an editor---the closest I've come was one story during my Internet Fan Fiction period, where I worked with a beta reader on making the grammar and sentence structer as near-perfect as I could manage. ('Twas needed for the story to work.) Editors return my work, usually without serious comment, leaving me wondering if anyone read it. At least when someone takes the trouble to write me a note about my Internet Fan Fiction or the stuff on my website, I know they've read some of it...

So I've come to see editors as more of a barrier between me and the reader (they control the gateways and deny me access) than something that could be of actual use.

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extrinsic
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Editors come in many stripes: in training as screening readers, as journeypersons honing their craft, acquisition editors making final determinations, managing editors who are not so much editors as bean-counting business managers, using editor as a title for a publisher; and then proofreaders, copyeditors, and developmental editors, or all of the above for small publications.

A copyeditor or a developmental editor coach might enhance any struggling writer's writing skills.

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Robert Nowall
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One thing about that beta reading back-and-forth---after it was finished, I thought I was a better writer than I was before. So I think the exchange did me some good. Maybe actually working with an editor would do me some good...
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extrinsic
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What do you want to work on?

Some areas for consideration;

A narrative can take several distinguishable forms: character and/or scene sketch, entertaining anecdote, slice-of-life vignette, story in a limited sense of reporting an account of persons, places, times, situations, and events, or drama (tragedy or comedy). They have differing basic organizing principles. All have one common quality: emotional stimulation. The classic short story and novel forms are dramas, which have a plot, where the other forms don't necessarily have a plot. The basic qualities of a plot are causation, tension, and antagonism, which compel an appreciable change of a person, setting, event, etc.

E.M. Forster Aspects of the Novel, "'The king died and then the queen died,' is a story. 'The king died, and then, out of grief, the queen died,' is a plot." Illustrates the fundamental plot principle of causation.

A short story or novel's plot starts moving when a central character's main desire and a main problem opposing the desire are revealed -- causation, tension, and antagnosm are in play -- ideally within one hundred words or less. That's the average any given reader will read to give a narrative a chance. Emotional equilibrium should be destabilized to some degree within a first sentence, though, say as few as five or ten or so words.

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Robert Nowall
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In some ways I'm pretty happy with my work. It all seems to hang together, and it's interesting to me, at least after the last draft...but I'm looking for improvement. It's hard to pin down any one thing about my work that seems wrong. (I exclude "not selling"---which would be the effect of what's wrong with my stuff but not actually what's wrong---if, indeed, anything is wrong.)

So I can't put a finger on anything...

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