Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Of Editing and Eternal Woe

Two things first: One, I will mention several authors in this post. In no way am I comparing myself to them, except maybe to specify where my "wanna-be" aspirations lie.

Second, keep in mind the Mishler post from several last month. I obviously don't share his pessimism, but he makes several good points.

I am so lucky to have Maria. She's been very supportive of this whole publishing venture, from allowing me to sit on my butt and write and revise instead of needing to go out and get one of those real job things, to making several up-front investments , to doing the trimming on the booklets, to being my proofreader. I don't want to go so far as to say "I couldn't do it without her," but those of you with the first version of the Creature Generator or Fantasy Fucking Vietnam surely can see a difference between "just me" and "with her assistance."

She's a pretty good proofreader. No, she's not a native English speaker, but she spent over seven years living in England. Her accent is English. I sometimes have trouble remembering she's a Finn because of this.

(It's weird, because while none of these people are Stephen Fry or anything, and there sure are enough that stumble all over English, there are an astonishing number of Scandinavians that have mastered English to the point of being able to pass as native speakers in the US or England, depending on which accent they pick up... and they don't have the annoying slang so I peg these people as speaking better English than most Americans.)

But yeah, good proofreader. I'm not going to say anything stupid like, "LotFP releases have no typos," but they certainly are much cleaner reads than they'd otherwise be.

But she isn't an editor. She never attacks my writing style in the opening sequence, forcing it to undergo a grueling training montage and gain its revenge in the finale.

And you blog readers know how my writing can sometimes get lost up its own ass.

Now I'd like to consider the things I've written for publication to be a bit clearer than that. And yes, Maria has caught some embarrassing contradictions in the descriptions. Yes, she's looked at some passages and pointed out that they were unintelligible to anyone not talking to the same invisible people that I do.

But I understand how a good editor magnifies a good writer. To me, editing goes beyond checking for typos, homophones, tense agreements, incomplete sentences, and gibberish. This is why Maria is credited as proofreader and not editor.

I've never been "professionally edited" before. Either that, or I'm far more gracious than I suspect... the process of changing things for the Goodman Games' version of the Creature Generator was very simple. "This needs to be changed for this reason." "OK, here's the new text." "OK!" But I imagine an editor being a person that doesn't care about the text as written or the feelings of the writer, but can read a work, determine what it is attempting to accomplish, and then being willing to go to war with the existing draft and the writer to better realize that work.

I'm equating an editor's work to violence because most truly creative people I know are very headstrong, and perhaps at least slightly insane, and usually sensitive about their work. And of course most people want applause, and people's friends are going to tell them how good they are. Being honest with an artist about their work, especially an amateur artist, often causes quite the scene.

It's an impossible task when it comes to creative works. As the editor of Green Devil Face, I've questioned some entries and kicked back a few for revisions, but generally I err on the side of "not pissing off these people who are graciously sending their work to me."

Then I start to wonder about how some of my favorite authors have been edited. Can you imagine being the guy responsible for taking the red pen to a Jack Vance manuscript and telling him "lose that, more of this, perhaps this part should go over here instead"? Trying to deal with Clark Ashton Smith and determining what's essential to something like The Monster of the Prophecy and what's unnecessary chaff? Impossible!

But maybe I shouldn't worry so much, or aspire to any sort of unreasonable textual perfection. Modern gaming books often seem like they're not even proofread. And neither the 1974 D&D booklets nor the first three AD&D hardcovers were edited in any meaningful fashion.

1 comment:

  1. I've had similar thoughts along these lines lately, it seems like real old-school editing is becoming a lost art, whether its in gaming or fiction.

    I bought a 2006 compendium of ERB's first three Mars books recently, and the typos and misspellings were abundant to the point of distraction. A quick flip through my frail 1950s edition of A Princess of Mars matched up with *none* of these errors.

    And as for editing content, well some recent "big name" gaming stuff I've flipped through reads like it was cobbled together from 9 randomly selected game-show contestants. Is there a show out there called "You Write A Paragraph!"? How much are they paying these so-called "editors" to cut-and-paste together a book, run it through spell-check, and off to the printers?