Writers and Copyeditors

So, I wrote a story called “Fair Ladies.” It was published in Apex Magazine, and then Jonathan Strahan asked to reprint it in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Five.

I received the copyedits, and I could immediately see that they were terrific. When you’re a writer, there’s nothing you care about more than having a good cover and a good copyeditor. The copyeditor, in particular, saves your life. There was one suggested change that amused me: I had used the “kroner” as the currency of Sylvania, where the story is set, and the copyeditor informed me that kroner was plural, and the singular would be krone. He was right of course. What was amusing, to me, was that I hadn’t even thought about the fact that a krone, or krona, depending on which country you’re in, is an actual unit of currency. In my mind, I had just seen the Sylvanian kroner, with the head of King Radomir IV on it. Of course, it had come into my head because there was a krone, a krona: because there were currencies out there named after the Latin for crown, corona. If that hadn’t been floating out there, I would never have thought of “kroner.” I wanted my currency to sound vaguely but not exactly like any other European currency.  But in Sylvania, the kroner is singular.  Nowadays, you can buy coffee with about ten kroners.  (Or about five Euros.)

I mentioned all this on facebook, and Marty Halpern, who turned out to be the copyeditor, wrote me a comment about it. And then we exchanged some comments, me and Marty and Paul Witcover, who joined in, about the writer brain and the copyeditor brain, how they were alike and different. Marty asked if he could reproduce and comment on that conversation on his blog, and the two of us said that of course he could, so here it is, on writers and copyeditors: Writing with Style (Sheets, That Is).

It’s a fascinating account of how copyeditors think and why writers should produce style sheets. One comment of Marty’s particularly intrigues me:

“Dora states that the comments provide insight into the mind of a copyeditor, but I feel that Dora’s explanation of how she came to use ‘kroner’ provides some wonderful insight into the mind of a writer, which is far more complicated than that of a copyeditor, trust me on this – we follow the rules; writers break the rules and create their own!”

Is this true? And I guess at some level I’m asking not just whether writers think differently from copyeditors, but whether they think differently from other people. And I suppose I’m thinking not just of writers, but of artists of all sorts. They break the rules and create their own. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

What that reminds me of is a quotation from Albert Camus that I saw somewhere: “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” Is that really from Camus, or one of those things people say Camus said? I hope it is from him. Because I think it’s deeply and absolutely true. “Some people,” in that quotation, could refer to writers, because they do break the rules and create their own, and if you have a brain that’s constantly creating its own worlds, sometimes it’s difficult to see, and you have to force yourself to see, that the physical world outside your own brain still exists. It’s almost as though – wait, you see, a story is coming to me. About a writer who keeps on losing the world, the actual physical world outside his head, and so he needs to keep writing things down, because that’s the only way he can capture it. He keeps writing down the rules.

Fire burns.
Don’t cross against the light.
You must pay for things. You may not simply take them.
Say hello, remember to shake hands, when you leave say goodbye.
If in doubt, nod.
No smoking.

You see? He has to write down the rules because otherwise he won’t remember them, otherwise he will believe that the world inside his head, which is a different world altogether, is the real world.

Oh copyeditors! How do you do it? Do you really think differently than I do? (And does it have anything to do with something I just realized, that the tone and format of Marty’s post is completely different from mine? I started with style sheets and ended up with an existential yawp.)

Thank goodness for copyeditors, and editors of all sorts in general, because what would this world be like with only writers in it?

No one does existential yawps better than Camus, so let him have the last word, on this day after the shortest night:

“O light! This is the cry of all the characters of ancient drama brought face to face with their fate. This last resort was ours, too, and I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.”

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3 Responses to Writers and Copyeditors

  1. I can’t get Marty’s site to load right now — must be all the traffic you’re sending over there! I love the idea of a writer who has to write all the real-world rules down.

  2. emily says:

    That’s an interesting story idea! It kind of reminds me of the movie Inception. It has the same theme where characters need something to remind them they are in the real world.

  3. Also Memento, in some ways. I do like that idea, and will have to think about what I want to do with it . . . Maybe something really metafictional?

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