EDITING TIPS FROM DOUGLAS GIBSON (#29): BOTH SIDES NOW

typewriter_SMLAs readers of this blog will recall, on occasion I tip-toe into the territory of giving advice on editing. Always with trepidation, because writing, in all its variety, tends to be resistant to rules, and editing is dictated by the writing that precedes it. So hard and fast rules about editing are hard to propound with total confidence.

Last month I was reminded of this when I had the “both sides now” experience of (A) editing, and (B) being edited. As an editor I had the pleasure of working, yet again, with my esteemed friend Terry Fallis, who has a new novel due out in the Fall. As I did my editorial stuff (jokingly telling Terry in the cover note that he would find the edited version “totally unrecognisable”) I was struck, as always, by how often the editor finds that with an experienced author the trick is simply to outline a potential problem area and to say, possibly in these very words, “You might want to think about this…”

Meanwhile, as an author, I’m benefitting, yet again, from the editorial attention of Jen Knoch of ECW, who is putting my manuscript under her microscope, suggesting that the reader doesn’t need to know this, but will be puzzled by that, and wondering if we really need this piece of history, and saying the equivalent of “You might want to think about this…”

It’s an intellectual challenge to respond to these questions and suggestions, and I know that my book is better as a result of Jen’s suggestions. I hope that Terry feels the same way.

But note my use of the word “suggestions” here. I recently heard about an editor – at a respected major publishing house – who was given a first novel to edit. The young novelist had heard about editors sometimes being very tough, so was relieved when the edited manuscript came back in electronic form as clean as a whistle. With not a single change suggested. It was only when he started to read this splendidly clean manuscript that he realised that the manuscript now contained scenes, and characters, that were new to him. The editor had not made mere suggestions, but had enthusiastically joined the project as, in effect, a co-author.

You’ll be glad to know that this editor – who had somehow missed Editing 101 – was promptly removed from the scene. But she may be floating around out there, somewhere.

A NEW YEAR, A NEW BLOG, A NEW BOOK!

You may have wondered why I let my blog slip in recent months. The answer is the best one possible, for me, at least. I’ve been busy writing a new book.

This was a major surprise to me. Whenever friends, or interviewers, asked me if I had another book up my sleeve I would answer honestly, saying ,”Look, Stories About Storytellers is about my forty years in publishing,I don’t think I’ll live long enough to come up with material for another book So no, I don’t think I’ll ever write another book.”

But then, to promote that book I turned the book into a one-man stage show, and decided to see where it would go. It went everywhere. And roaming the country from this Festival to that University, to this neat bookstore or that Library , with Jane as my “lovely and talented assistant”,  we came across dozens of stories. Too good not to share. Enough for a book.

So, in September 2015 our friends at ECW Press will bring out ACROSS CANADA BY STORY: A Coast-to-Coast Literary Adventure.

It will remind you of my first book, because I’ve persuaded Anthony Jenkins to enrich it with his caricatures, once again. This time there are no fewer than 30 of his superb drawings, of our major authors. With this book I’ve widened my range beyond just those authors that I edited, to include major figures like Margaret Atwood, Marshall McLuhan, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Carol Shields, Michael Ondaatje, and dozens of others.

As a Literary Tour the book will take you from Newfoundland to Haida Gwaii, and from Moose Jaw to Grand Manan, as we visit all ten provinces. It will set your feet itching to travel ,as I recall exciting events we enjoyed roaming around cities, small towns, mountains and islands . And as the books and authors spill out in the stories you’ll find that you’ll be tempted to read — or to re-read — dozens of our best books.

You heard it here first.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#31)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip # 31 Choosing A Title

Often an editor will find herself/himself involved in choosing the perfect title for a book. Sometimes this will be controversial. Sometimes the controversial choice will be the right one.

A case in point is Alison Wearing’s new book Confessions Of A Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up With A Gay Dad. Many people will recoil from this title. But the chances are that they will not want to read the book, excellent though it is. So the title serves as fair warning for potential readers.

 

Tip #29: Partial to Partial

Because the adjective “partial” implies “fond of” or even “biased towards,” the adverb “partially” should not be used as a synonym for “partly.”

In fact, “partly” should be the editor’s choice every time, unless bias is specifically involved, and implied. So, no more buildings “partially destroyed” by a great wind, please.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#29)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #29: Partial to Partial

Because the adjective “partial” implies “fond of” or even “biased towards,” the adverb “partially” should not be used as a synonym for “partly.”

In fact, “partly” should be the editor’s choice every time, unless bias is specifically involved, and implied. So, no more buildings “partially destroyed” by a great wind, please.

Alistair MacLeod Writes Again

I’ve spent much of my stage-show tour in the company of the clan MacLeod. In Guelph, for example, young Daniel was in the audience at The Book Shelf show. In Peterborough, Lewis, as a faculty member, organised my Trent University event. In Halifax, Alexander (author and professor) brought me to my event at St. Mary’s, where he introduced me very kindly, and also helped to arrange my tour of other Maritimes universities.

As for Alistair, he dropped in on my show at Windsor, and then joined with me in our Punch and Judy show at Eden Mills.

In the middle of summer, however, we were engaged in real work together. Hal Wake, of the Vancouver Writers’ Festival, had decided that a perfect way of marking the Festival’s 30th anniversary would be to sponsor, and publish, a new short story from his good friend Alistair. With my secret encouragement he approached Alistair, mentioning a mid-summer deadline, to which Alistair (to my amazement) assented.

Then Hal enlisted my help as editor (or swooping enforcer, if necessary). The enforcer role was not necessary. Alistair delivered the story to me in mid-summer. Since we both were slated to speak on the same afternoon (July 12) at the Humber Writers’ course, we arranged that I would send my editing suggestions by mail to Cape Breton, and then we would get together  in Toronto. And so we did, meeting in Alistair’s hotel room after lunch, with friendly discussion of the few tweaks I had to suggest (not to mention details of the fighting around Ortona in 1944 that I was able to bring to his attention). As usual, our work was improved by the copy-editing skills of Heather Sangster, who had collaborated with us on No Great Mischief in 1999.

The design and production of the 40-page chapbook was all handled by Camilla Tibbs and Hal’s team in Vancouver. At this year’s Festival in October, Alistair was present for an on-stage interview with Hal that featured a reading from the chapbook that was being launched, entitled Remembrance.

My copy has just arrived, and I’m delighted with it, and very proud of my role. I’m pleased that the final page reads “The Vancouver Writers Fest would like to thank Doug Gibson, Peter Cocking (internal design) and Jessica Sullivan (cover design) for donating their time and expertise to this project.” Donating? I’d have paid for the privilege of working once again with Alistair, to help him bring a new story into the waiting world

There’s a special joy in reading the note: “ Alistair MacLeod would like to thank Doug Gibson for his help and editorial insight.”

My role was not restricted to editing the little book. I wrote the author’s biography, and the list of other books by him (including the special Christmas book To Every Thing There Is a Season that is not widely known) and I provided the cover copy, describing the book to readers encountering it for the first time. Here’s what I wrote, possibly influenced by the rhythms of Alistair MacLeod’s work in Remembrance:

It is November 11. In the cool morning air David MacDonald stands outside his Cape Breton home, planning to attend his last Remembrance Day Parade. As he waits to be joined by two younger David MacDonalds, he remembers the Second World War. He remembers the horrors of the battle at Ortona in Italy, and what happened in Holland when the Canadians came in as liberators. He remembers how the war devastated his own family, but gave him other reasons to live.

As the classic story unfolds, told in Alistair MacLeod’s deceptively simple style, other generations enter the scene. And we, aware of how many of the linked events go back to the mistakes of war, realise on Remembrance Day that “this time comes out of that time.”

Only 600 copies of this precious little book were printed. If you would like to get your copy, at $25.00, you should quickly go to  http://www.writersfest.bc.ca/2012festival/remembrance

I have no financial involvement. But I am emotionally involved in a fine book by a fine friend, Alistair MacLeod.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#28)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #28

A good editor should remove clichés. Yet all too often the clichés hide in plain sight, the adjective-noun combinations so accepted by the reader’s eye and mind that they become almost a single-word notion.

What “fiasco” is not “total”? When is an “inferno” not described as “raging”? When is a “defeat” not “ignominious”? When is “ado” not preceded by “further”?

A good test for the editor is to supply the adjective (“Ignominious . . . hmm”) and see what noun springs to mind. If the answer is automatic, we have a cliché to be avoided.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#27)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #27

A tip for all writers is to avoid the use of the word “there.” If it’s used as a noun to denote location (“When we got there, we stopped.”), it’s fine.
But as soon as it enters the narrative as an adverb with the chilling words “There is” or “There are,” it serves to encourage sloppy, boring writing, usually full of static nouns, and reminding the reader of a government report.

Instead of “There are many examples . . .” try “Examples abound . . .” or “Many examples show . . .”

Editors should hunt down these “there”s, and writers should avoid them.