For Wednesday, February 24, 2016:
“You must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader.”
This is one of the reasons we need at least three drafts. It’s as if we have three different heads. The first version is the story, the main points of the plot and action and purpose. The second focuses on the characters, how they fit in the overall storyline and with each other, where we see their insights and struggles. And then we need to put ourselves in the heads of potential readers. Will they understand, do the characters feel true and real, does the conclusion satisfy?
This is also why good editors are essential in the process. Yes, we writers are capable of creating from these three-headed beings, but we can’t help but be subjective about our work. Editors are objective. Instead of three heads, they have three eyes.
No, actually, they have four: the fourth eye makes sure everything – all these perspectives – hangs together, comes together, for a complete and satisfactory whole.
Of course editors do the other work, too: checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, and all that fun technical ‘stuffage’ of writing. I think this is one of the fourth eye’s jobs, though, because it’s part of what makes the whole complete, at least for discerning readers. If an author’s run-on sentences, for example, cause the reader to stumble, or read over again, or skip portions of the work, then the writer needs to know this.
Editors are trained to develop both the writer and the characters – to put makeup on them, if you will – so the reader is attracted, and stays attracted to, the book that is in their hands. Or, as I often say – apologies for mixing the metaphors here – the editor helps the writer dress up the good bones that are already there. This holds even if it’s a horror story or a similar genre. There’s an old truism about readers’ willing suspension of belief: if the characters are true to themselves and the story, whatever happens, the reader will believe it for the sake of the story and the characters. It is part of the editor’s job to make sure the reader is willing.
For those of us who love books, who love writing, a good editor is invaluable. Editors want to see more writing out in the world – that’s one reason they become editors – and they’re ready to help yours make it on that stage.