Monday, July 20, 2009

When Words Sing: Editing for Voice and Style


When I read for pleasure I usually choose mysteries, well-written stories like Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries, which are set in England in the middle ages. I love the language, have to look up the occasional word (Peters, whose real name is Edith Pargeter, was a language scholar) and lose myself in Peters’ writing and voice. Unfortunately, once the editor, always the editor, at least with other people’s work, and I still find myself making mental changes to the text. But I do it differently than I would another style of writing. Peters’ language is lyrical and needs to stay that way, so the changes need to match her voice and the period in which her stories take place. The example is analogous to music. Jazz, pop, rock and classical are each different, and part of their beauty is their individuality. Any change would need to respect the parameters of the musical style and the composer so as to retain the integrity of the piece. To make the connection to editing, I'm reminded of advice from Revision and Self-Editing, where James Scott Bell says, “A good rule of thumb … is write hot, revise cool.” Write in the moment, not with the editing side of your brain. Then, when the work has cooled (more than a day is good), revise. You’re less likely to hack up what you’ve written or carve it in stone.

For a way to put today's musing into action, check out the writing tip at the top of the list, and let me know how it goes.

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