Saturday, November 19, 2011

Editing: How much is too much in the pursuit of perfection?


Every time I see a certain gorgeous quote from Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven, I have to read it several times, savouring each and every delicious syllable.
"And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming....."

Ahhhhh, gargle, gargle, drool....
I LOVE IT!

 <So hugs to fellow spec-fic writer Paul Mannering for ensuring my weekly taste of it all these years, LOL.>

Yet how many editors would leave that line alone if it came to them from a new author today? e.g. After Eddie junior's submission, it might come back:

... However, his eyes had all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming.
(From all those editors who'd advocate never starting a sentence with And)

However, his eyes had the appearance of a demon's that is dreaming.
(From those who'd advocate that modern readers wouldn't "get" the archaic literary use of seeming as a noun.)

However, his eyes held the appearance of a demon's that is dreaming.
(From those who always avoid the use/overuse of had.)

However, his eyes held the appearance of a demon who is dreaming.
(From those who'd argue the subject is human enough to be a who, not a that)

However his appearance seemed like that of a demon, dreaming.
(From those who'd argue that we'd never get close enough to see his eyes in the first place)

However his appearance seemed like that of an ogre dreaming.
(From those who prefer to remove all religious overtones.)

He looked like an ogre dreaming.
(From those who'd simplify their own deaths if they could.)

He looked like a sleeping ogre.
(From those who'd argue that ogres can't dream, because they're more like animals...)
<cough cough, like as if animals don't dream too>

She looked like a sleeping ogre.
(From those who'd prefer a female protagonist.)

She looked like a sleeping rat.
(From those who don't know what an ogre is.)

He looked like a sleeping rat.
(From those who just changed their mind about the female lead, now that s/he has more evil overtones.)

He looked like a dead rat.
(Because a sleeping rat looks like a dead one, and dead is more dramatic.)

He was a dead rat.
(From those who'd advocate that metaphors are stronger than similes.)

He is a dead rat.
(From those who advocate avoidance of passive voice.)

He's a dead rat.
(From those who advocate use of conjunctions for this genre.)

He died a rat.
(From those who avoid use of the verb to be at every opportunity.)

The bird died.
(From those who just realised what a Raven is.)

"... but he's not dead!" replies poor Eddie Junior, to which the only compromise left is:

He slept.

(Even though he wasn't really doing that either.)  

Sigh.... And how much have we lost, and continue to lose every day from every story in the pursuit of perfection?

There's a lot said about editing, and sure, virtually everyone needs it to an extreme extent at one stage or another, but gosh,  I really think more needs to be said about embracing rhythm amid the fantastical.

In my multi-award winning novel, Diamond Eyes, the sociopath was inspired in part by The Raven, and one of his seven personalities also mimics the same tone. However, I had a wench of a time getting Diamond Eyes published… until I finally found a publisher who "got it" that the sociopath needed a completely different voice to those of the other characters. (Because sound is everything to him, and to each of his sub-personas, and therefore all the rules of consistency also required a little leniency to accommodate such a quirky character.) Luckily, most readers seem to get it too.

So does anyone else have an "offbeat" character we need to stand up for? Not only in your own fiction, but also thinking of  favourite stories you’ve read or heard?

Would love to hear from you!

:))

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree that over editing is a bad thing because in this case it takes away from the mystique of what the character had witness with their own eyes in a narrative form. It would be unbelievable out of narrative form as in a retelling of an event. Especially if the character had a smart-a$$ for a friend.
As far as Poe's "The Raven" Pure delight!

Anonymous said...

As far as a piece of prose goes, what you've done is a very nice example of over editing. However, you did not approach it as part of a poem and take into account the lines directly before and after, as well as the whole stanza and the cadence of the entire poem. I doubt any poetry editors would change it, taking into account the nature of the entire poem.

Sharon said...

I do a large amount of beta work as well as reviews. There is such a thing as over edited. I've read books in which that was the only way to describe the prose. As a reader I can't connect to the characters. Those quirky and clever twists of words add depth to the characters.

As a beta I have to be careful not to "edit" out the characters personalities.

I loved the editing lesson above .

J. R. Nova said...

I'm glad I found your post. I am a perfectionist and tend to have a hard time "quitting" the editing process. It's stuff like this I need to read more of, and learn to move on.

Sherry Soule said...

Great post! Had me cracking up. And I agree, sometimes we trim too much of the fat...

~Sherry

Check out my Books.

Helen Lowe said...

Hey AA--I have just come out of the first pass proof for "The Gathering of the Lost" and your post definitely struck a chord as the risk of over-editing felt like the real danger at this stage of the game! And I have definitely seen where too much editing is the death of the soul in a piece of writing! Am off now to spread the word.:)

Kim Falconer said...

Anita, this is a fun metaphor for analyzing something to 'death', a decidedly 'Virgo archetype' that we can all be very aware of now that Mars (the planet of action) is in this sign until July 2012.

I am going to curb my own voracious red pen in favor of flow, at least for now.

Love EA Poe. OMG! Love him!

Kerrelyn Sparks said...

Oh gosh, that was funny! I've had changes made by copy-editors that cite all the reasons you gave, LOL! You just grit your teeth and write 'stet!'

AA Bell said...

Phew! Another deadline met! Yayyy! Sorry about the delay in reply... those editing deadlines really have a way of sucking the days away, don't they?

Re Anonymous #1 said: "... it takes away from the mystique of what the character had witnessed with their own eyes..."

Exellent point! And so true!


RE: Anonymous #2 said: "...you did not approach it as part of a poem and take into account the lines directly before and after..."

Yeah, but if I did that, it would defeat the point of the exercise, LOL... or else the whole thing would be edited down to 3 words: He went crazy... and then it's a plug, not a narrative. hehe

and re: "... I doubt any poetry editors would change it..."

So true. Most would simply reject it without any explanation.
(often without replying at all, sigh)

RE: Sharon said: "...Those quirky and clever twists of words add depth to the characters..."

Oh, absolutely! And to the mood, voice, style, and overall "literary atertaste."

RE: JR Nova said: "I am a perfectionist and tend to have a hard time "quitting" the editing process."

Yeah, ME TOO! I SOOOOO relate! There's dozens of ways to write each and every sentence, and I'll often spend hours on only one snippet... when the reader spends less than 3 seconds on it... however, it's not just the sentence, it's also the subtext and overall flow that matters... so very much worth the time and effort to perfect, but every now and then a sentence will grief me so much, I'm usually better off deleting it completely. Sigh... And I guess that's where the inspiration for the blog sprang from...

DOH!... EDIT, EDIT:
"... from whence the inspiration did spring..." LOL

RE: Sherry, Helen, Kim and Kerrelyn, who enjoyed the fun side as well...

Phew! Loved your responses too!!! (Especially the "stet"... BWAHAHAHAHAA!!!!!!)

I seem to spend more time editing than writing lately (counting all the editing I do while writing in the first place), so being able to laugh at myself helps a lot sometimes... almost hourly these past few days, haha...