Ansley Asher

writing thoughts

Archive for criticism

Copyediting and You: Who Really Wins?

I like Seth Godin’s blog because his advice is often relevant to so much more than marketing. In a post lovingly titled, “Sucking all the juice out,” he writes:

Just got some work back from a new copyeditor hired by my publisher. She did a flawless job. She also wrecked my work. Totally wrecked it.

By sanding off every edge, removing every idiom, making each and every fact literally correct, she made it boring and dry and mechanical.

As fiction writers, we are supposed to know the rules, and also when to break them. Editing (for ourselves and others) is an art, too. When we edit our own (or other people’s work), the desire may be to make the copy “clean,” but the goal should be to “first, do no harm.” (Since the phrase “first, do no harm” was never actually in the Hippocratic Oath, I vote we writers and editors take it. At least it will finally belong to something.)

I used to dread going to those little writer’s critique sessions because I expected there would be at least one person who did not get this. That never actually happened, however. In fact, most of us were real newbies who wouldn’t know an elliptical phrase if it tripped us and stole our donuts. I am not sure where I am going with this, but you read this far so I suppose I should be polite and wrap this up. I think the real problem is that when you pay someone to do something they went to school for years to improve, they try really hard to do it well, especially if they like their job and want to keep it. Maybe the weirdest thing about this is that I can’t imagine a human actually changing, “I got a baker’s dozen of donuts and a cup of Joe then hit the streets,” to “I bought exactly 13 donuts and a coffee and left through the door because the window would be silly.” And, actually, that’s an elliptical phrase there, so it would have been changed to, “because leaving through the window would be silly,” since the copyeditor in question apparently copyedited all that human stuff out. Does that mean his copyeditor’s office is hiring grammar robots instead of people? Are they admitting robots into colleges now? And most importantly, I wish I had some donuts to go with this coffee, but I think that elliptical phrase took them. And that’s not a question. Didn’t it seem like I was going to end with another question? Maybe I should. Have. Crap.

The J.K. Rowling Lawsuit from Orson Scott Card’s POV

Slashdot tells us that Orson Scott Card has made known his feelings on the J.K. Rowling lawsuit against The Harry Potter Lexicon fansite. While it is an interesting read, at the end, he writes,

“Her Cinderella story once charmed us. Her greedy evil-witch behavior now disgusts us. And her next book will be perceived as the work of that evil witch.”

Oh, for a world where women are more than Cinderellas and witches, but that’s for another day. I disagree with this. I doubt she is losing fans because of this lawsuit–if anything, I think the exposure will gain her more. J.K. Rowlings is not the RIAA. She is loved even by the man she is suing. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Talk about something topical, and whether you speak well of it or ill, people will pay you some attention. Maybe Mr. Card knows this, too!

The Slow Death from Hypercritism

Last night, I watched Superman 2 with my honey. Having seen the movie many times before, we didn’t watch so much as laugh at all the inconsistencies. And let me tell you, a movie about dudes flying around in their underwear is full of them.

But you know, I still enjoyed Superman 2 much more than the latest one. It was charming and entertaining. Christopher Reeve was great as the hero and his alter ego. He could act! And so could Margot Kidder, though she was no raving beauty. They breathed realism into the whole crazy show; they were believable. They made the world they were in seem to function according to its own quirky rules.

The point is, yeah it was inconsistent. But it kept being funny. It made fun of itself. The actors got the joke and went along with it. The story did its job: People were entertained. Being overly nitpicky of events would have killed the story. It wasn’t The Bourne Ultimatum. It wasn’t meant to be. I could replace the title Superman 2 in this post with many popular stories: James Bond, Harry Potter, The Hobbit.

Stay on target with the point of your story. Don’t kill too much of it before you are sure it needs to go, especially if it’s funny and if you believe it works.