The editor walks the craggy wasteland.
Maybe she’s a freelance pen-for-hire. Maybe her red ink dances for one of the corporations.
Doesn’t much matter. She is what she is.
In the distance, across a valley of charred manuscripts and killed-off characters she hears the plaintive cry of a writer lost in the woods, a writer with a soggy, boggy book falling apart in his hands.
And the editor rides.
Hoofbeats on broken earth. Her heart driven by the thunderous stampede — a heart hungry for the story, voracious for the words, desperate to find all the fiddly bits, all the commas and semi-colons and character arcs and thematic throughlines and save them from the hands of an author strangled by his own creation.
An author mad by his own whims.
And that is what she finds over the next ridge.
The author, kneeling over his manuscript. Punching it with raw-knuckled hands. Grabbing fistfuls of paper and shoving it into his mouth and moaning around the wads of crumpled story.
“I’ll make the protagonist a camel!” the author cries around dry, labored gulps. “I’ll write three prologues. Each weirder than the last. I’ll remove all the punctuation and make it one big run-on sentence and all the characters will fall prey to my plot and my plot will fall prey to my themes and my themes will fall prey to a half-dozen strongly-concocted gin-and-tonics and–” Here he eats another wad of his own manuscript. “GRASHAGRABLECHRAGGTERFUGGMBTZZ.” He falls to the earth, forehead against it, blubbering.
The editor kicks him off the manuscript. The author tumbles into the dust. Tears streaking dirty cheeks.
“You,” the author says.
The editor nods. Pops a white Chiclet. Crunch.
“But…” the author begins.
The editor just shakes her head.
Finger to lips. Shhhh.
She pats his head. Whispers something in his ear. It’ll be all right. That’s what she tells him.
Then she gathers up the crumpled story-boulders and pages caught on cactus spines and she again mounts her steed and rides to the next ridge. There she sits, alone. For hours. Maybe days. Pulling pages apart. Seeing what she has. Shining a light into dark corners. Finding sense. Fixing errors. Bringing sanity back to madness, chaos back to order, context back to content. Her red pen dances bloodily upon the page.
And when the time is right, she rides again.
Finds the author now sitting alone, perfectly still as if he had taken Herculean amounts of LSD and was afraid that he’d become a little teapot and any movement could cause his tea to spill.
She goes to him.
She shows him what she’s done.
He hates her — at first.
He froths and kicks and spits, a beast poorly corralled, distraught at what he sees — the ruination of my art, the muddying of my vision, poopy handprints on what was once a clean white wall.
But soon he sees.
He sees how things make sense.
How the periods and commas all line up proper-like. All reporting for duty.
His crutch words are gone. His plot has been untangled. The characters are no longer just cardboard cut-outs slotted into gaps but rather living, breathing entities, emotionally resonant and utterly believable.
His pile of word-slurry has been concretized. Into a marble bust. An aegis of the gods.
And when he looks up, the editor is gone. His satchel, too.
She’s riding off. A wasteland MacGuyver. An apocalyptic A-Team.
What she brings to the story is hidden behind every page. Lost in the space between sentences. Her repairs are invisible — the mechanisms of her craft hidden behind authorial drywall. Ever unknown to readers.
“But I don’t even know your name,” the author whispers — a whisper lost on the wind.
She’s gone. Onto the next writer sitting in his own waste. To clean up him. To fix his story.
To do what must be done.
* * *
All this is a roundabout way of saying Yay, Editors!
Not all editors are good, or great, and some are quite bad.
And no editor can take a bad story and make it good — dross does not polish into gold.
Oh ho! But an editor can however take a good story and make it great, harnessing the potential that lives in a pile of unforged story. Dross will not become gold, but iron can become steel.
What I’m trying to say is, I have recently been getting this question:
“Do you know any good editors?”
Folks email me and want to know if I’ll look at their work (I won’t), or if I know any good editors (I do, but not in a helpful way). And so I come to you, my bubbly lovely jubblies. Let us speak of editors.
If you’re an author who has a favorite freelance editor or who merely cares to sing the praises of an editor you’ve worked with at a publisher or elsewhere, please do! Sing, sing those praises!
If you’re an editor who is available…
Well. Please, let us know that. You may find clients here.
And let us all sing the ballad of the editor and tell their mighty stories. For it is the editor that lifts the story up so that it may catch the sun. And yet it is the author who swallows the syrup of glory.
All hail the editor.