Lessons Learned (or: Why I Love Editors)

I mentioned in my last post that I had won inclusion in the Wings of Renewal short story anthology coming out this fall, from Incandescent Phoenix books. This post isn’t about that.

SolarPunk-FB-Dragon-High-Qu (3)What it is about is the process of editing that I’ve gone through with the two excellently professional editors at Incandescent Phoenix, Brenda Pierson and Claudie Arsenault.

I write well. The story that got accepted is called Deep Within the Corners of My Mind, a title I chose because a song with that line was playing on Spotify when I needed a title. Yes, that’s sometimes how I do these things. I wrote one draft, edited it some (one pass), and sent it in on the deadline day. It wasn’t a gigantic contest, like some, but it got a fairly large number of entries (and some really outstanding ones) so I was very pleased to be selected to be included. The point is that the story was good before a real editor got to it.

But a real editor (two of them) did get to it, and it’s a great deal sharper now than it was. There were, on rereading (and having them pointed out to me), a lot of clunky sentences, weird dialogue (I do that) and just plain what-the-bleep-were-you-thinking moments. I’m not used to having my work combed that thoroughly. In fact, I’ve never had the experience before, except in Mrs. Russell’s English class in high school.

Here’s an example. First the original, then the finished edit:

“It’s definitely a dragon,” Imre said, looking at the satellite image on the wall. He waved his hand, held it still, brought his other hand up and pulled them apart, like stretching a thread, and the image grew larger exponentially, as if we were diving toward the ground. Stretched on a bare patch of mountain was a long, thin line in emerald green, like a scar on the hillside. It started narrow, bulged slightly, and tapered off again, something like a snake that had swallowed a large rat.

I liked that when I wrote it. I like this a whole lot better:

“It’s definitely a dragon,” Imre said, looking at the satellite image on the wall. He waved his hands in front of him, held them still, and pulled them apart, like stretching a thread. The image grew larger exponentially, as if we were diving toward the ground. Outlined on a bare patch of mountain was a long, thin line in emerald green, like a scar on the hillside. It started narrow, bulged slightly, and tapered off again, like a snake that had swallowed a large rat.

Example number two, from the middle of the story:

Even a carcass, the dragon was exquisite. Kodaly was lovely, silver and sleek, but this…the dragon was an iridescent crimson that rippled down the skin as if it were chasing prey, as if it were in flight even laying dessicating on the forest floor. The color was deepest at the spine, which was lightly ridged, and a forest green so dark that it was almost black. Red lightened to a rose as it descended the flank, and had we been able to see underneath no doubt it would have lightened still further to a pale pinkish cream. The only things marring the perfection of the beast were the ragged nubs just behind the forelegs, up high near the spine, where once there would have been a pair of magnificent wings, gossamer and lace, a pearlescent silver that seemed far too flimsy to hold up such a massive creature, and yet no one could argue that they did.

I loved that description when I wrote it. It seems so clunky now that I have this instead:

Even a carcass, the dragon was exquisite. Kodály was lovely, silver and sleek, but this … the dragon was an iridescent crimson that rippled down the skin as if it were chasing prey, as if it were in flight even desiccating on the forest floor. The color was deepest at the spine, which was lightly ridged, lightening to a rose as it descended the flank, and had we been able to see underneath no doubt it would have lightened still further to a pale pinkish cream. The only things marring the perfection of the beast were the ragged nubs just behind the forelegs, up near the spine, where once there would have been a pair of magnificent wings, gossamer and lace, a pearlescent silver that seemed far too flimsy to hold up such a massive .

I don’t even know what I was doing with that first sentence now. Small things? Oh, but by small and simple things are great things brought to pass. They’ve made about 400 words of edits, and I’ve been happy to accept (almost) every one. Because they’re right. The edits make the story better.

I have scads of these examples, some much more egregious than these. The process has been wonderful for me. Not only are these ladies exceptionally gracious and complimentary, but they are thoroughgoing pros; they know the craft and how to achieve the effect I want without changing the essential voice of the piece.

I’m very fortunate to have been chosen, but I’m most fortunate to have been edited so precisely and capably. I’m a huge fan of these ladies, and I can’t wait to see the anthology when it comes out. If this is the kind of work they’re doing with everyone, it will be excellent.

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