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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Editing from THE Editor

I'm taking the liberty of writing an introduction for today's guest-poster.  Jenn Wagner reads.  A lot.  I go through a couple books a month if I'm lucky.  Jenn goes through a couple books a week -and finds editorial mistakes in nearly all of them.  Even those published by 'the big seven' publishers.  She reads across genres, fiction, non-fiction (I'd use the word voracious, but I absolutely despise the word.) She has an uncanny knack for picking things out of a manuscript that most people completely miss -even 'professional editors'.  I asked her to read Exiled in the later stages of the editorial process (smacking myself in the head for waiting so long) and she did a phenomenal job of picking out things (hundreds of 'em) everyone else missed.  Yes, she's that good.  This is why Jenn Wagner gets the title THE Editor. She doesn't know I'm writing her introduction -and will most likely find several editorial problems with it. But that's okay because she's on my side!

Ever been engrossed in a book, and then – “Huh? That doesn’t seem right!” You may have stumbled upon an anachronism, something that is
chronologically out of place. It might occur in dialogue. Maybe Samwise Gamgee saying, “Frodo, dude, we’ve got to destroy that gnarly ring.” Or it might be an action or mannerism. In today's world, men and women seem to be on equal footing, but a hundred years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a lady to rise to greet a gentleman. Most of the time, anachronisms are subtle, like a character listening to an iPod in a story that takes place before 2001 or using a ballpoint pen pre-1945, before they became widely available.

Here's where an editor can help. As a writer you are immersed in your story and your characters. Maybe a detail has slipped by that you can't possibly discern because you are so close to your work. An editor is trained to look at your work from an objective point of view, untainted by emotional attachment or familiarity. He or she can assess the flow of the plot, the consistency of the characters, and the logic of the action.

Not everyone has access to an editor, but you can have early readers of your work think like editors for you. Ask a well-spoken friend to read with an ear for dialogue – do the words sound appropriate for the character, the time period and the locale? Ask other people to read paying particular attention to a certain character for consistency or to do the math of dates and ages when they appear. If you know someone with an uncanny, if annoying, gift for rooting out spelling and grammar errors, put them to work for you. Spell check is a gift from the editing gods, but it's not infallible. Say you have a nervous typing finger and every time you meant to type "barely" you typed "barley." Spell check won't flag that because it's a real word, and many readers will gloss over it because their brains automatically transpose the letters to make the word correct in context. Use your sensitized-to-spelling friend to help you find those stealth typos.

Your writing is uniquely yours, so make sure it says exactly what you mean. Get your words in front of as many trusted eyes as you can to refine the language, weed out anachronisms, and catch stealth typos. In the end, you’ll have an untarnished work that you can be proud of. And don’t forget to tell your friends that they totally rock, dude.


Jenn Wagner grew up secure in the knowledge that she was usually right, whether in Scrabble, trivia or modern English usage. She attended The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and received her B.A. in English Literature. While at GW, she served as a student advisor at the University Writing Center. Her first real job was as a copy editor for The Regulatory Group, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in writing guidance and rulemaking documents for the federal government. She currently works as a copy editor and proofreader for Schubert Communications, an award-winning B2B advertising agency. She specializes in editing memoirs, and, as the Life Editor, offers her services to anyone needing an editor, proofreader, wordsmith and language maven. 

To contact Jenn about her editorial services, you may email her at askthelifeeditor@gmail.com


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