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Monday, August 24, 2009

Spirit Lens Copyedits: The Nitty Gritty

As my long ago post noted, I've been fortunate with copyeditors through the years, having only one bad experience - an overzealous copyeditor who worked on Revelation. I had to spend a lot of time undoing what she had done. I've never had any problem getting my copyedit changes accepted, whether I've rejected or altered the CE's suggestions.

One glance at the Spirit Lens manuscript, and I knew this was going to be more complicated than usual.

As you might be able to tell from other postings, I am meticulous about words. I tweak and change, ever searching for the right words to evoke mood, time period, character information, action. The difference between shout and scream is important. Burned and the archaic form, burnt, have a different sound and feel to them, and egads evokes a very different time locale than godamighty or by Grapthar's Hammer. Words are an intricate part of world building. I feel that my job isn't done until I have all the right ones.

I was also well trained in grammar and spelling, and a lot of my craft learning was how to adapt the formal writing rules I learned in school for fiction writing. My manuscripts are long, somewhere between 150, 000 and 180,000 words. By the time I turn it in after revision, most of the words are the ones I want, and almost all spelled right, and put together with every regard for proper grammar. Where the grammar is informal or incorrect, I've chosen it to be that way. Though, to be honest, I am terrible at compound words: sylph-like or sylphlike, mid-afternoon or midafternoon, and so forth.

Words are also a critical component of narrative voice. Is my narrator educated or ignorant? Thirty years old or ten? Is he verbose or terse? Is he a storyteller or is he a librarian converted into a royal investigator? All these things should be revealed not only in the character's dialogue, but also in the narration of the story if it is told in an intimate point-of-view. Sometimes, a character speaks in a rural or uneducated dialect. Sometimes a character speaks in fragments. Sometimes particular archaic or peculiar words show up in a character's voice to evoke a time that is not 21st century USA.

These were the sources of most of the corrections caused the problem with this copyediting experience.

One of the CE's tasks is to make "suggestions" for clarity. I deliberately chose to use the metric system in these books, rather than make up a system of measurement. Because Sabria is in the throes of a scientific explosion akin to the first half of our 17th century, I wanted the feel of a very precise measurement scheme. [And yes, I know the metric system came into use somewhat later than that, but this is not historical Europe! It certainly COULD have been in use in the 17th century!] Sabria is also a kingdom that is very much a Mediterranean-style landscape and feel, so I didn't want to use the US spellings of the metric measurements. I preferred centimetre to centimeter, and litre to liter. The CE kindly changed all the spellings to the US spellings and queried every single measurement as to whether I wouldn't rather use yards, miles, and gallons for measurement. Aarrgh. Lots of "no"s and lots of stets ensued.

Another of the CE's tasks is to correct grammar, and to make sure that a manuscript adheres to the publisher's styleguide with respect to spelling [honor vs honour, backward vs backwards, and so forth]. So I found some words in the narrative, which is Portier's voice, had been corrected. The aforementioned burnt as the past participle of burn. He speaks of ten days previous, rather than ten days ago. I had to stet all those well-intended corrections as well.

Portier also is a librarian, an intensely scholarly and logical man. He thinks in lists. He often speaks and thinks in bullet points. I express this in fragments. Every CE knows that sentence fragments are OK in fiction. Certainly in dialogue. Mostly they leave them alone, resisting the call of their formal English training that says sentence fragments are a no, no. This particular CE was really bothered by Portier's fragmentary thinking and attempted to create complete sentences out of many of them. In a few cases, her point was well taken, as the fragments did not follow logically from the prior sentence (which is what makes them work.) But for the most part, these efforts to neaten up the prose didn't work. That was a LOT of retyping and correction. I was really irritated as I did it.

But once I was done, I mellowed. The CE had been meticulous about the things she caught. Though I wished she had focused on more useful aspects of her tasks, the book was better for our mutual efforts. And that's what counts.


Unknown said...

Is there ever really a bad place to use By Grapthar's Hammer? ;) I submit that there is not!

miakodo said...

I love hearing about these details--being a CE is one of my biggest dream jobs.

Anonymous said...

> I deliberately chose to use the metric system in these books, rather than make up a system of measurement. Because Sabria is in the throes of a scientific explosion akin to the first half of our 17th century, I wanted the feel of a very precise measurement scheme.

Wow, that'll be different. For the first time, I'll actually be able to relate to the numbers without constantly having to wonder: fluid ounce? huh? how much is that? Miles, miles, that's roughly *1,7 km (actually, it's 1.61 for statue mile and 1.85 for nautical, but I don't like having to remember two numbers, so I'll just take the mean, OK?) Worse, Fahrenheit to Celsius (OK, rare in fantasy), but gee, was that 5/9 or 9/5? OK, numbers are a lot higher in Fahrenheit, so divide by 9 times 5 - 32, right? Yikes.

At least they don't have cars in Sabria, so you were spared having to convert miles per gallon into litres per 100 kilometres. ;o)

Can't wait to read it!



carolwriter said...

Anja - [laughing] and the CE was so worried about metric being alien to my audience!

miakodo - it is a difficult job. You have to see both the forest AND the trees.

Alyssa - probably not. It always gives ME a chuckle!

Kas said...

I still find it baffling she disagreed with the measurements, unusual spellings, etc. I've always been taught that if it's consistent and therefore appears deliberate to leave well enough alone or send a query. Usually if I'm in doubt about whether a fragment is deliberate I'll read the passage out loud-- a lot of times there's a specific rhythm to deliberate unusual phrasing. That's probably all the literature and poetry classes talking, though (Oddly enough, the first short story and poem I copyedited professionally were both by a writer I adore that my college poetry professor introduced me to...)

Anyway, hope the next book goes a little more smoothly through the process.

carolwriter said...

> I've always been taught that if it's consistent and therefore appears deliberate to leave well enough alone or send a query.

That's what I would expect.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, there's a much easier way to convert between F and C that's 'close enough for government work': from C to F you double and add 28; from F to C, you subtract 28 and halve. Not precise enough for, say, scientific purposes, but if you just want to get a general idea, it's easy-peasy. Forex, right now it's 12C where I am (early morning in northwest England). 12 x 2 = 24 + 28 = 52. Now I go switch my gauge to F, and, voila! It's really 54F. When you're talking about outdoor temps, that's really not a significant difference.

Oh, and Carol, I've been SOOOO lucky to have a light-handed CE for my books. :-) I dread the day I get a heavy-handed one.

Tami said...

Yeah!! Metric Rules! The US needs to just switch to the metric system already. And once you have done it for a few years, it is so much easier then the silly British style (which even the Brits have abandoned).