Saturday, February 05, 2011
Problems an editor can't fix
In addition to writing children's books, I do a lot of editing, and when it comes to fiction (non-fiction is completely different in this way) I've concluded that there are some problems that an editor just can't fix.
An editor can take a good idea (even if the person can't write at ALL) and help the author make it better. She may even be able to help the author find the story. But she can't make a dull story, or point of view, interesting, or turn well-written description into a story -- she can't give the author something to say.
When it comes to something to say, people either have it or they don't.....you can help them write it, or even figure out what it is (I've done this with illustrators, and it's fascinating and inspiring -- to me, anyway!). But you can't give it to them or teach it to them.
I'm mentioning this because I think this pretty basic idea -- having something to say -- is often lost in the discussion of 'story arcs' and the like. What do I mean by something to say? An angle of vision-- a way of looking at other people and the world that's your own -- fresh and original -- deeply felt (or I guess very amused or just fascinated could count too?). If you want to write fiction, an editor can help you craft that into a story with a beginning and a middle and an end and all the other things that make books satisfying for readers. It's a lot easier for the editor if you have those three already, but even if you don't, an editor can help you find them.
And she can suggest ways of making the story more intriguing or faster-paced. She can suggest how to make it richer or deeper by adding add a secondary plot or more characters; or suggest that a different point of view might work better.....but the sad fact is that not everyone who wants to write has something interesting to say.
It has to start with that, not with wanting to have a book published. There's a big difference between those two points of departure!