Friday, February 10, 2012

We need editors...Because the Danube doesn’t freeze in winter

Reason #1 in the continuing series: Why the World Still Needs Editors

Writers of fiction tend to love their work. I, for one, enjoy the rush of creativity that comes when I’m working on a good story. Sometimes, however, my creativity gets the better of me. In fact, sometimes I’m so creative I’m downright wrong.

A case in point: The Danube River does not freeze over in the winter. Yes, you heard it here first.

That fact, of course, didn’t stop me from writing a short fictional narrative for my forthcoming book Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices about an immigrant boy and an aid worker (both from Hungary) who were blithely convinced that the river routinely iced over.

In my defense, having lived in Minnesota for nearly a quarter century, I’ve come to assume that everything freezes over everywhere. Also, I was pairing this narrative with a historical photo of immigrant boys in detention, lying on the cold hard ground and playing marbles. I needed something cold and hard in my fiction to match the image and to match the isolation the boy would feel on Ellis Island.

The original went like this, with the aid worker telling the boy, “When I came here, I was like you. Hard as ice. Didn’t want to trust a soul. But even the ice on the Danube melts. Or did it stay all hard and cold this spring?” He answers, “No, no! It melted in April, just like usual. . . .”

Sounds great, right? Only, midway through checking the pages for the book, just before it went to the printer, an editor sent an email:

p.57—Danube freezing ok?

All it took was a quick check to find out that, in fact, a frozen Danube is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I like the revision more than the original—and not just because it’s accurate and plausible:

Have you seen Danube, early in the spring?
When the water seems as gray and cold as the ground you’re on now?

Most of all, I like that an editor saved me from putting too much faith in my own creativity, bringing me down to earth and making the book better at the same time.

Thank you, editors of the world!

1 comment:

  1. I have many similar examples and am always grateful that my editor caught them before they went to print. Great post, Gwenyth!