Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guest Post: Jane St. Anthony on...Copyediting

Today's post is a new addition to the series Why the World Still Needs Editors. Written by Jane St. Anthony, author of The Summer Sherman Loved Me and Grace above All, this is the very first Guest Blog Post in Story-Slinger history. THANK YOU, Jane!


Where the Little Looms Large

by Jane St. Anthony

          I’ve sunk into the couch cushions, my worries vanquished. I’m reading a mystery, closing in on the suspect. I turn the page and see the name Mark. Mark? Who’s Mark? I’m hot on the trail of Marcus. I flip backward, page after page.
There is no Mark.
Mark is a copyediting mistake. 
         Perhaps the author had a momentary lapse: Marcus, Mark. Granted, she had about 50,000 words to keep track of. But the copyeditor missed it, too.
         I am instantly pulled out of the narrative.
When we read, we expect to immerse ourselves in the story. For that to happen, there must be a willing suspension of disbelief. I trusted this narrative, with Marcus at the center. The book cast its spell over me, but suddenly I was disgruntled. What else might be wrong? Who’s in charge of the elements of fiction that must be grounded?
         In one of my drafts of The Summer Sherman Loved Me, the main character, Margaret, alludes to the Aqua Follies. The troupe’s “swimusicals” were a kind of synchronized water ballet with comedic touches. I wanted to paint a picture, with words, of crazed dogs as Aqua Follies performers.
         My copyeditor wondered how, years ago, a girl in Minneapolis would have known of the Aqua Follies, based at Green Lake in Seattle. I couldn’t answer that question.
         So I left the Aqua Follies alone and simply wrote of an imagined “canine club of synchronized swimmers, fanning out in formations.”
         Yes, a small detail. But why give the reader pause? Or a chance to distrust the author? The reader, we hope, swallows the story whole.
         A great copyeditor works to create the clearest, cleanest narrative possible through attention to the facts, continuity, grammar and a mass of minutiae.
         In expert hands, all these things contribute to time on the couch, sinking into a book, luxuriating in the miracle of a seamless story. 

Story-slinger Note: If you enjoy Jane's writing, then you really must read her online journal. It's full of wonderful stories and insights and always leaves me feeling refreshed...

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