Thursday, February 23, 2017

Do I Have to Love a Genre to Edit It?

As a reader, I can choose whatever book strikes my fancy, and if I don't like it once I've gotten part way into it, I can simply stop reading it.

As an editor, the "put it down" option is nowhere to be found. If I take on a job, I finish it. That's what I'm hired to do. So there's the question: Do I have to love a genre to edit it?

The answer is a big fat NOPE.

I've edited a decent number of books from a decent number of authors, and it goes without saying that those authors don't all write at the same level of skill. If a book isn't ready for edits (major issues), then that's one thing, but if a book is ready and I take on the job, it's now a matter of accepting that the writing level is either good or waaay good. Genre really doesn't factor in.

[I should clarify: genre is only a factor if someone asks me to edit erotica. I'm no prude, but I don't think editing erotica is compatible with my job as assistant to the worship leader at a large church. Call me crazy if you must, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.]

Anyway, I've found that, regardless of my typical reading preferences, the genre of a book I'm editing doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I've enjoyed certain books I wouldn't think to pick up for pleasure reading. Now that my kids are no longer of the age where I sit down to read to them—and we did read aloud to them well into their teen years as a nighttime thing so we could all enjoy a good book at the same time—I rarely pick up juvenile fiction, or even young adult fiction, and yet I enjoy editing those books when they come my way. Part of it is, I think, that it reminds me of how much discovery is out there for kids who read, and part of it is that I've just worked with good writers who tell an entertaining story.

The one thing I have to be cautious about (and I don't think I actually do this, but it's always good to be alert) is to not change an author's voice while editing something I'm not really enjoying. A few years ago, I agreed to beta a novel for someone who approached me through Goodreads. I was between edits at the time and thought it would be nice to do a new author a favor. The book was science fiction, which I love, so I thought it would be enjoyable.

Silly me. The book was not enjoyable. It was a confusing read, because it was full of time travel and the dialogue was written in the present and future tense at the same time . . . and it took me a long time to get into the flow of it enough to read without constantly rereading. It also pushed an agenda, which I do NOT like in works of fiction, even when it's a viewpoint I might agree with. It was super lengthy, too, and was only the first part in a ten-part series, from what I gathered.

The bottom line: even though I was beta-reading this and not really editing per se, I had to be careful to not let my (lack of) enjoyment cloud my judgment of whether the book was ready to publish. The book was written skillfully, and the author did a heck of a job self-editing (which I would never recommend to anyone as a general rule). Though there were many things I would have wanted to change, it was just fine the way it was. I felt like a huge success just by being able to give a neutral opinion when I did my report.

It may be difficult, but editing should not be a matter of opinion. I try to think of it like a doctor thinks of his/her patients. Wouldn't you always want to deal with the pleasant people who are fit and attractive? Or be the dentist whose patients all have great teeth?

Editing is like that in many ways. The manuscript is the sum of its parts, and it's my job to make sure all the parts are in the condition they're supposed to be in so the whole is at its best. It's not my job to judge whether the parts are attractive to me personally, because those same parts, when put together as a whole, will be attractive to someone else.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Editor's Notes #27: Hooked On a Feeling

Writing fiction is all about plucking at people's emotional strings, whether you're aiming for tender feelings, indignation, laughter, fear, or any number of the bajillions of things that encompass the spectrum of emotions.

How do you get people to feel what you want them to feel? I've gotten steaming mad at a character's stupidity or self-centeredness. I've also laughed along with a protagonist who happens to be a serial killer. [Only semi-related side note: if you've never read anything by Tim Dorsey, you're missing out on an absolutely entertaining killer named Serge and his sidekick, Coleman, as they enjoy everything Florida has to offer. "Quirky" is not quite the word for it. I came across the "why dead people show up in later books" section of Dorsey's site, and couldn't believe how many more books he's released since I last picked one of his off the library shelves. And now, back to our regularly scheduled program . . .]

The classic "show, don't tell" is one way of getting those emotions across. Think about it: if you're telling someone about a traumatic event that happened to you, they're going to respond in a completely different way depending on whether you're listing "this happened, and then this happened," or whether you're trembling and fighting back tears as you struggle to choke out the words. Why would writing a scene be any different? Show how a character is physically dealing with things, and you're on your way.

With a sympathetic character, you can create a sort of bond between the character and the reader, so there's a bit of investment there. This can be brought about in a funny way, like how you just can't help but root for Tuck Watley (Tuck Watley: Freedom Fighter Fighter by Brandon Meyers and Bryan Pedas) because he's just so . . . well, he's indescribable, but trust me, you're rooting for him for the sheer entertainment value. Or you can root for the underdog who's been screwed over way too many times, because everyone's been treated or judged unfairly at least once in their life. Or maybe you can even root for Nick or Kevin from S.K. Anthony's series, The Luminaries, because they're incredibly sexy, yet intelligent good guys who are also some of the baddest guys around. Whatever tugs at you will pull you in if it's done well.

You could also create a character who is NOT sympathetic, and make the reader hate him. The emotion is still a strong one, and they'll not forget him easily. However, take care to not make him unlikable in every way—I edited a book once where a character was such an absolute jerk that I couldn't stand him . . . and he was supposed to be one of the protagonists. I ended up telling the author that I didn't even care what happened to him and would not want to keep reading if I had bought the book. Fun fact: turns out this particular author (who I knew was actually a skilled writer) had cowritten that particular book and was not happy with the other person's contributions (that awful character being one of them). All that was needed was a neutral voice (mine) to allow the author the necessary backup to break ties with the other writer and redo the book completely.

Letting your emotions into the writing can be an odd thing. If your character is insane, I'd imagine it's a tough call for exactly how crazy to write him. Will people think he's over-the-top freaky? Will they think you're like that in real life, and that's how you write crazy so well? Will they think you're wimpy if you're a guy who writes a really tender scene? Do writers even care if anyone thinks they're writing from experience? I need to know these things.

Have you ever written anything really strange and wondered what someone would think of YOU after reading it, even though it was fiction?