Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 8, 2013

Debunking the #1 Myth About Editors

One of the refrains I hear from some writers is, “I hate using editors. All editors do is try to change the story I want to tell.”

This drives me crazy.

Let me say this clearly: An editor–a good editor–does not fundamentally change your story. An editor simply gives you techniques to make your story more structurally sound and more emotionally powerful.

How–and if–you use those techniques is up to you. The author. Because it’s your story.

I think this myth that editors want to change your story into something different comes from a simple misunderstanding. Suppose an editor hands me back my manuscript, and he says that scenes A, B, and C seem irrelevant (or confusing or out of place, whatever). He may then suggest fixing this by using techniques 1, 2, or 3. Or just deleting the scenes totally. But I look at his suggested fixes, and I realize that all of these fixes will take the story in a direction I did not intend.

And THAT is the point where many writers say, “This editor wants me to change my story into something I don’t want to tell!”

Thus the myth is born.

But, see, we are not slaves to the fixes the editor suggests. The editor based his suggestions on what he thought I was trying to convey. If he didn’t “get” what I wanted him to, that is not his fault–that is my fault. As the author, I did not convey to the reader what I wanted. So I am free to ignore the editor’s suggested fixes.

However, I am NOT free to ignore the flags he raised about scenes A, B, and C.

The flags mean that something is not working in those scenes. If none of the fixes the editor suggests satisfies me, then I need to examine what I wanted those scenes to accomplish, why they aren’t doing that, and how I can fix them so I can still tell the story I want to tell. That’s my job. The editor’s job is simply to say, “Hey, something’s not right here.”

I think we are so conditioned by years in school of being told, “You must do this exactly the way I tell you” that we forget that we don’t have to fix our stories in exactly the way suggested. This isn’t school anymore. This is the real world–or rather, the story is our world, one we created. No one knows it better than we do.

So ignore the editor’s fixes if they don’t fit the story. Just don’t ignore the flags. Your story will be the stronger for it.

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Responses

  1. Most editors have no intention of changing or rewriting your story. The flags are suggestions that a scene isn’t working. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in establishing my character or his goals. Some qualities I have found in my editors were humor and patience, and if you’ve got an editor that has those two qualities along with a sharp eye for the flags, then you’ve got the best.

    Thanks for a great post.
    Barbara of the Balloons

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  2. […] 7. Debunking the #1 Myth about Editors […]

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