David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

An Inside Look at the Copy Editing Process

If you’re at all interested in the copy editing process that a novel goes through before it sees print, you might find this interesting. Here’s a conversation I just had this morning with my copy editor, Deanna Hoak, about a sentence in my upcoming book MultiReal. I’ve done a very minimal amount of editing to remove the “brb”s and such, but otherwise this is exactly how the conversation occurred.

MultiReal by David Louis Edelman The chapter in question is a flashback featuring a conversation between Marcus Surina and his daughter Margaret. In the original passage, Marcus says: “There’s a look people get when the Null Current is about to pull them under, Margaret. A look of inevitability. It’s the look of the stalk of wheat, watching the thresher approach and knowing that the time’s come for a newer, stronger crop to bask in the sun.”

Now Marcus Surina’s supposed to be a little — well, odd. But Deanna’s concern was that having him ascribe emotion to a stalk of wheat might be a little too odd. So we hashed it out this morning over IM as follows:

Deanna: With the wheat thing, maybe about a mouse that can’t get away fast enough?

Deanna: I’ll look at it more closely on second read, or you can let me know if you think of something.

DLE: Let me look at that sentence

Deanna: I just know it hit me as off when I read it the first time.

DLE: Hmm

DLE: You’re right… it does seem weird for a stalk of wheat to have a “look”

Deanna: Yeah, I was afraid the reader would perceive him as loonier than you intended.

DLE: He *is* supposed to be odd, and use really weird metaphors

DLE: But… you’re right. That might be pushing it.

DLE: What if I said something like “It’s the look that the stalk of wheat must get when it watches the thresher approach…”

DLE: Does the “must get” distance it at all?

Deanna: Hm. I think “look” is really the problem.

Deanna: “Look” with “wheat”

Deanna: From my way of thinking…

Deanna: It’s early in the book. The reader isn’t going to know yet if it’s just him who talks that way, or if you just write that way. I would fear someone picking it up in the bookstore and thumbing through the first few pages might think you continually use those.

Deanna: It’s made more clear when you get to the part that explains his daughter thinks it’s weird.

Deanna: But your call regardless.

DLE: No, I totally understand what you mean

DLE: I just really want to keep the wheat metaphor in there somehow

Deanna: Not a mouse among the wheat?

Deanna: Hm…

Deanna: Well, I think you’d want to avoid ascribing emotion to the wheat.

DLE: Well, the point is that it’s seasonal… the wheat gets old and dies, a new crop rises up, then it grows old, etc.

DLE: LOL Sure, no, you’re right

Deanna: Oh, I wasn’t getting that. I thought it was just about the thresher coming.

DLE: Well, there’s that aspect too

Deanna: (Trying to think of live things that come and go in seasons, like mayflies…)

DLE: Hmm…

DLE: I’m wondering if I can reconstruct that paragraph so that he can use the metaphor without using a “look” of the wheat

Deanna: I’m sure you can. :-)

DLE: I wonder if I did something like “It’s like the stalk of wheat, when the thresher approaches and the time’s come for a newer, stronger crop to bask in the sun.”

Deanna: That would probably work.

DLE: Let me think on it a few minutes here…

Deanna: NP. I’m just continuing to CE. :-)

DLE: Okay. How’s this: “Like the stalk of wheat when the thresher approaches, and the time’s come for a newer, stronger crop to bask in the sun.”

Deanna: Let me go back and look at context.

Deanna: Well, it’s better. But the context is still talking about a look.

DLE: Hmm.

Deanna: It doesn’t have to be decided right now at all.

Deanna: You can think about it.

DLE: When I say “look,” I’m thinking more about the aspect of something when *you* look at it…

DLE: What if I said “You can look at some people and tell when the Null Current is about to pull them under. It’s inevitable. Just like you can look at the stalk of wheat,” etc.

DLE: Something like that

Deanna: That would be better. It ascribes agency to a human then.

DLE: Yeah.

DLE: “Some people, you can look in their eyes and see that the Null Current is about to pull them under, Margaret. You can see the inevitability. Just like you can see the stalk of wheat as the thresher approaches, and know that the time’s come for a newer, stronger crop to bask in the sun.”

Deanna: Yeah.

DLE: Cool. You’re right, I like that better.

DLE: As soon as you mentioned this, I started thinking of a stalk of wheat with a little cartoon face on it going “Oooooh noooo!!!”

DLE: And that’s not good. :-)

Deanna: LOLZ

So that’s how it went.

Don’t think that we’re going to have conversations like that about something on every page in the book. But we’ll probably have half a dozen or more of these kinds of conversations throughout the copyediting process.

My understanding of the business is that this kind of interaction between copy editor and author is an anomaly, and that most of the time the twain shall ne’er meet. But personally I can’t see the harm in it. It helps produce a better book, doesn’t it?

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  1. Real-time copyediting queries at Deanna Hoak on December 13, 2007 at 12:09 pm  Chain link

    […] Louis Edelman has posted (with my permission) an IM conversation he and I had this morning, as I was copyediting his novel MultiReal. I love it when I get to communicate with an author in […]

  2. Rosemary Lake on December 13, 2007 at 11:14 pm  Chain link

    The ‘look’ that the people and the stalk ‘get’ would mean their appearance, as seen by an outside observer. Maybe the problem is the stalk ‘watching’ the thresher approach.

    How about a kinesthetic image? The stalk vibrates as the thresher approaches, for several reasons: the heavy machine is shaking the ground, its noise is shaking the air, the blades are stirring the air, and the roots of the wheat plants are being disturbed. For a visual, an observer can see the stalk vibrating, perhaps just looking a little fuzzy or translucent, or tilting toward the thresher.

    “There’s an appearance people get when the Null Current is about to pull them under, Margaret. A look of inevitability. It’s the tilt of the stalk of wheat, shaken by the approaching thresher and knowing that the time’s come for a newer, stronger crop to bask in the sun.”

  3. Soni on December 14, 2007 at 12:14 am  Chain link

    Oh sure. Spoil the magic act for me.

    And here I thought you just pulled all that incredible writing out of your a…er, hat. 😀

  4. Peter Hollo on December 14, 2007 at 2:49 am  Chain link

    FWIW, I like the original. Especially if Marcus is meant to be a bit odd or unconventional. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of anthropomorphism, and a metaphor’s a metaphor after all. Comparing a person on Null Current to a stalk of wheat is kinda nice.

    Not that I’m not sure the changed version will be great too :) Just sayin’ that to me there’s nothing wrong with the way you had it to start with…

  5. David Louis Edelman on December 14, 2007 at 8:58 am  Chain link

    Soni: All right, just kidding! This whole post was made up. I really wrote the book in one long burst of inspiration after communing with the Muse in a darkened, incense-scented basement.

  6. Soni on December 14, 2007 at 11:32 pm  Chain link

    I knew it.

  7. Sandy on December 16, 2007 at 6:14 pm  Chain link

    Hi David – I like your original wheat sentence! I think you shouldn’t change it.

    I met you briefly at Capclave, which prompted me to find your blog – I find it quite entertaining. And I’m currently reading Infoquake!

    Happy holidays – Sandy

  8. David Louis Edelman on December 16, 2007 at 8:29 pm  Chain link

    Hi Sandy. Glad you like the blog (and the sentence)! Don’t worry, there will be plenty of other wacky metaphors in MultiReal to tide you over. :-)

  9. kendall on December 23, 2007 at 9:29 pm  Chain link

    I think having a really skilled copy editor makes a huge difference. I agree that the metaphor is just a little clunky. It’s extremely valuable to have someone (a) notice the problem, (b) articulate the problem to you clearly, (c) work with you to improve it, and (d) be willing to totally drop the whole thing if you decide to leave it alone. I personally think that your new bit of dialog flows nicely while keeping the feel intended by the original.

    I’ve been taking a class from a local writer (only six students!) and I should be getting back to my homework. I’ve got something like 30 hours of work into a piece 12 pages long, and now a huge appreciation for folks like you who can finish something with hundreds of well-written pages. Maybe it gets easier over time?

  10. David Louis Edelman on December 24, 2007 at 9:01 am  Chain link

    Maybe it gets easier over time?

    Maybe it does, but I’m still waiting for that point. :-) All I can say is that once you’ve finished something worthwhile, at least you know that you can finish something worthwhile again.

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