Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Editor as Chiropractor

Last night in class, you took a survey.  "How many of you," you asked, "Have seen the film, The King's Speech?"  A significant number of the assembled students raised hands.  There is an apt analogy, you said.  The analogy is between the king, as portrayed in that film,  and you.

You saw a flutter of bewilderment works its way through the rows, you pausing all the while to let the potential for understanding burrow its way in.

You all have the literary equivalent, you proclaimed, of a speech impediment.  A ripple of ahhhs; the connection was beginning to be made.

The editor is the equivalent of the speech therapist, portrayed in such nimble fashion by Geoffrey Rush.

To your ear, the manuscript you have completed sounds quite on the mark, quite effective in the way it addresses points you wished to make, then stretches beyond expectation, even your expectation, to make points you did.  

The therapist--editor--would hear the repetitions you do not hear, the locutions that might take the reader out of the moment and off along another path of awareness.  This person would hear the vocal interstices, the ers and ums, the moments where you explained what was already apparent and needn't have been explained all that much in the first place.

This is not limited to beginners or intermediate writers, nor--holding up an edited page of your own preface--your instructor.

Gasps and laughter of explosive relief emerged as your message sinks in--for the moment.

One brave individual is yet to be convinced.  How about, she asks, those books on sale at airports?

Paperbacks?  you ask.  Massmarket paperbacks?

A defiant nod.

You speak of your own experiences as editor at a paperback house and as writer of paperback fiction.  The quota system.  Well-prepared manuscripts transmit to the editor with a quota the semblance of professionalism, making that editor more prone to saying yes.  If the opening pages are dramatic, neither filled with weather reports nor clogged with sclerotic descriptions, bring on the contract.

Good story and good writing are essential.  But they can always get us a step closer to the true insides of the drama and the individuals to whom the drama appears.

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