by Morgan on November 27, 2011
I’ve been editing, lately. Some reviews, some fiction (some lengthy, some short). And I’ve realized something.
First, ask yourself: why does a piece need editing? A piece that needs editing needs editing because, in some sense, it is sick. It may be “complete” in the sense that the author has tried everything they can to make it whole, but there’s still something about it that’s “not right.”
Editors, therefore, are the doctors. They’re there to “fix” the problem. And it occurs to me that perhaps the reason why so many editors aren’t all that great — and that books get published that still have things “wrong with them” — is that they’re acting like the wrong kind of doctor. They’re acting like MDs.
I wish to present another approach: Alternative Editing.
In Alternative medicine — and I realize that’s a mighty big umbrella, but I think all that falls under it shares a common focus on a holistic approach to healing — there is an understanding that modern Western medicine often doesn’t work because it focuses on masking or alleviating symptoms, instead of healing the causes behind the symptoms.
Here, in a ludicrously simplistic rundown, are two major differences between modern Western medicine and Alternative approaches (I make crude distinctions here for the sake of clarity and proving my point):
1. Modern medicine treats the disease, Alternative medicine treats the patient: the Alternative medical practitioner understands, first and foremost, that a disease, whatever it may be, is always acting within a distinct, unique individual, and therefore no precedent exists, except very broadly.
2. Modern medicine treats the symptoms, Alternative medicine treats the underlying illness: After the individual is considered, and an illness identified, Alternative practitioners focus on the underlying cause of the symptoms, on healing the illness, rather than on symptom abatement or pain relief.
Here’s how I’d translate this into Alternative Editing:
1. Each piece of writing is distinct and needs to be considered as such, instead of as part of a larger framework: It’s not “A Novel,” it’s this novel. No other novel is this novel, and no “problem” that’s been solved using a particular approach in another piece of writing can be solved using quite the same approach in this piece of writing.
2. Address the fundamental problem with the text, not the symptoms of the problem: Don’t attempt to “fix” the dialogue before you understand why the dialogue isn’t working. It doesn’t make sense to say “everything’s good except the dialogue.” That can’t be true. There is a reason the dialogue isn’t working, and it’s deeper than the words on the page. Heal the whole story, instead of trying to make the symptom of poor dialogue go away, or make it become more palatable or readable. When you find the cause and treat it, the symptom goes away.
I’m not saying that I have this kind of intuition or skill, but I am saying that I’m going to approach editing (and always have, actually) as if I do. I’m going to take the Alternative approach. I think more editors should join me.