Judy Hagey

Freelance Editor - Writer

Editing vs. Changing

You know you need an editor to make sure your manuscript is as clean as it can be before you submit to a publisher or agent. But you’re concerned that an editor won’t respect your voice. Will he hold you to a rigid set of rules that you may not be totally familiar with? Will your manuscript be returned bathed in red ink?

Let me assure you that editors worth their salt will (or ought not) treat your manuscript or you with such disrespect.

Editing is much more subjective than you might think. And it’s incumbent upon me as an editor to make sure I’m editing—not changing your copy. A change is something I want to do. An edit is what copy needs to be clearer to a reader. Click To Tweet

Case in point. In a recent fiction edit, I came across this sentence:

Each year I strove to add some fresh ideas to their marketing plans.

Grammatically, there is nothing wrong with this sentence. It contains a subject and verb and the elements are properly located. The verb tense is even correct, though strived is also used as the past tense of the verb strive.

What gave me pause? The conjugation of some irregular verbs—because they are irregular—just never sounds right to the ear even though they are. Even Bryan Garner notes, “the past tense [of strive] seems to cause the most trouble.”* Because of that, I simply prefer another word. Why give your reader reason to pause or stumble? To me, the word sounds dated. A search of Ngram Viewer confirms my hunch. The use of both strived and strove peaked in the mid-1800s and has been in steady decline since, with both appearing less than 1/100th percent of the time.

What did I do? I inserted a margin comment via track changes pointing out my concerns. I suggested synonyms to replace strove—attempted, tried. I also noted that writing the sentence in present perfect tense—strive—would also be grammatically correct, easier for most ears to accept, and eliminate the stumble that I encountered.

I gave the author options. And that’s all my suggestions are—options, not rules. My focus is the reader.  I want her readers to navigate this sentence without a mental stumble. Whether she decides to take my suggestions is entirely up to her.

In another case, I acquiesced to a grammatically incorrect construction—one that is one of my bigger pet peeves. The author’s style in his nonfiction manuscript is informal and conversational. Writing about a time he had messed up, he wrote, “I thought it was all over between me and God.”

Rather than apply the red track changes ink, I commented: Grammatically, this should be God and me, but in the context, this is acceptable.

An editor’s job is to understand the context, maintain the author’s voice, and ensure the text is clear and understandable to the reader. Click To Tweet In my opinion, what this author wrote was the way he would say it and most of his readers wouldn’t be bothered if the grammar wasn’t perfect.

Other edits may be more black and white. An editor should always be able to explain the correction, citing the applicable rule from the Chicago Manual of Style or the publisher’s style guide. She should also be sure she is making your copy clearer and more readable—not just satisfying her whims.

 

*Bryan Garner, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, “strive-strove-striven.”

Look for Elk Lake Publishers Inc.‘s release of Clarice James’ Doubleheader this spring and BMH Books‘ revision of Knute Larson’s  The Great Human Race.

 

Got a manuscript that needs editing? Contact me for a free sample edit.

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