There are good editors and bad editors. Before we get to what a good editor can do, let me give you a couple of example of bad editors.
I have a short story in a collection where there are but two characters, and it is told in the third person. The omniscient narrator, naturally, can describe the thoughts of both characters. No, he can’t, I was told. That’s “head hopping.” Well, no, it wasn’t, because I wasn’t shifting the narrative viewpoint from one character to another, but this editor insisted that something that had not confused anyone who read the story needed to be changed. I did this by making the second character say his thoughts out loud. It was a needless and meaningless change.
Another editor insisted that numbers had to be spelled out. So an extremely old person would have been one hundred and twenty-three instead of 123, and a grade on an exam would have been a ninety-seven instead of a 97. This, I was told, would make it easier to read. I pushed back noting that no one writes ages or grades in that fashion. I won on that point but compromised on how other numbers would appear. It was an absurd and rigid application of a rule from whatever style book they were using that disregarded the actual story.
And then, there are the editors of On Fire, Anthony S. Buoni and Alisha Costanzo. I had had a short story in their collection After the Happily Ever After, and so I was not unknown to them. The new anthology gave me an idea for “The Burning of Atlanta,” the story of a movie director looking to create the most realistic fire ever for his new motion picture. I submitted it with high hopes and was disappointed when it wasn’t greeted with parades and fireworks.
Instead, they said they liked the story, they liked the characters and the set up, and they appreciated what I brought to the tale as a veteran film critic, but they felt the end was a letdown. It was predictable. Could I come up with something else? There was some vague suggestions, one of which sparked (no pun intended) an idea. I went back and came up with an entirely new and completely different ending. It is, in fact, a much better ending than what I had original submitted.
This is what good editors do. They help their writers bring out their best as opposed to coming up with meaningless nitpicking to show that they “edited” the story. I’ll happily work with Anthony and Alisha again because if they treat all their writers the way they treated me, the winners are the readers, who are getting the best possible stories.
As for what my new ending is, you’ll have to get the book.
Daniel M. Kimmel is the author of Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and other observations about science fiction movies, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide, and Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel.
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