Friday, May 01, 2009

Psycho Editor is Unable to See Beyond Technicalities, Becomes Depressed

I've noticed that I often get so caught up in structure that I forget character - that, to me, structure trumps character. But this seems crazy. Could this be true?

When I've asked job candidates the question, "What makes or breaks a (fiction) book for you?" nine times out of ten the candidate's answer has been "character." And nine times out of ten I have snickered and thought, How cliche. Do you really know what you mean by that?

But the truth is: character is a fine answer. Often times whether I've liked or cared about a character was the reason I kept reading a book and didn't throw it across the room. So why do I have such trouble digging into this area when I'm editing a book? Why is it always: plot structure, holes, story questions, plates, stimulus-response, dialogue tags, etc.?

Probably because these are the things I studied in grad school. But also because these are simply the things that stick out to me.

Last month, however, I felt I did at least one of my authors a disservice by not talking character and focusing on other, what I thought were, larger issues. And maybe they were larger issues, but regardless of whether this author goes back and fixes all of her dialogue and answers or doesn't answer certain story questions, there is still the issue of, Do I really know and love these characters? What could she do to make me care about them more?

It's not as I don't have pages and pages of knowledge on this stored away as well. I just seldom bring it up. Ugh.

This month: I focus on character. I see what happens. I dig deeper. I don't forget about the rules, but I am honest about how I feel about the characters in the books I'm editing and whether they really impact the reader.

This month: I get back to work on my novel.

This month: I have a baby.

This month: Angela and I make this magazine happen.

And then I don't sleep for a while, because hey, it's May. I can't believe it's already May. I had a big realization when I left work Thursday that today it would be May. And months go fast. And at the end of this month comes new life. Whoa.


Scotland said...

I knew you must have a novel in the works! One question I have always wanted to ask an editor is: why edit books, if you are good at writing, love writing—why not write them instead? That, of course, is from a writer's perspective, but I am curious nonetheless. I couldn't imagine editing books instead of writing them. It would kill me.


Norman said...

At the end of this month, you won't sleep for awhile. But you'll be OK. It is 5:30am as I write this, and I am OK. I have lots of work ti do, but it'll work out. So don't worry, Meghan. You guys will be great.