Let me tell you the story of Mary the Editor. Mary loves words and is a talented editor. She can mentally juggle multiple style manuals and glide between them with the art and grace of a speed skater. She attacks a manuscript with the zeal of a marauding Viking pointing out repetition and slack plotting. In a precise hand she marks convoluted passages with “fix motivations”. And Mary never leaves her desk without a red pen. She’s the type of editor that copyedits the memos on the bulletin board while she’s photocopying. She gets the obscure proofreading jokes in the editor-only newsletters and seems to have reference materials for any situation and knows exactly what section to go to for answers. Yes, if there’s a piece of paper with an error on it, Mary will bleed all over it with her red Paper Mate. We need more pain in the butt editors like Mary!
So where was an editor like Mary when one of my favorite writers put out her last book? Has this bestselling writer become too rich and popular to need an editor? Or does the fault lay with a publisher trying to get a book out too quickly or rushing the writer to get on to the next book? Whatever the reason, let’s put the Marys back into the writing equation.
I know one writer who takes more than a year to write the very weighty novels in her ongoing saga. She accounts for every hour of her heroine’s day and describes every breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is thoroughness, but there is also plain old rambling. Because of the meandering storytelling it takes me nearly as long to read one of her books as it takes her to write it. A good editor would have advised this writer to tighten the plot by cutting out some meals and leaving unimportant actions to the reader’s imagination. We don’t need to catalog every bump in the road to know it was an arduous journey. Other judicious editing would trim the bulk from these massive tomes.
Sure the person that came up with cutting and pasting in our word processing programs was a genius. But don’t overdue it to the point that an editor like Mary would charge you with the sin of repetition. We’ve all read those books where the hero or heroine or another character repeats the same thing nearly word for word in the story. Just don’t have your characters describe the antagonist as insane. As in, “He must be insane!” “Yes, he is insane.” “Only someone who is insane would do that.” “Are you insane?” Instead use your thesaurus and mix it up a bit. Occasionally call him “crazy,” “nutty,” “loony,” or “off his rocker.”
Then there are those writers that get lost in the woods. Their plot goes every which way until it stalls halfway through the book. And why, you might ask, does this happen? Sometimes a writer wanders off on a tangent with some secondary character’s unnecessary story. Or perhaps they didn’t have a story to tell in the first place. But then why did they use 200 plus pages to prove it? The Marys of the world make sure some supporting characters never saw the light of day. They’d make certain the writer had a map to guide them through the story. Sometimes a writer can navigate by the stars, i.e., start a story without an outline, but it’s nearly impossible without a good editor like Mary on board.
Let’s hope the story of Mary has a happy ending and my favorite writer’s next book does, too. Anything is possible with an editor like Mary at your side.