Monday, September 01, 2008

Word Choice

My agent pointed readers to Elizabeth Bear's blog post this weekend, and I had a comment. She already had a ton of comments, though, and I was a little late, so I decided to turn it into a post.

As a reader, I want rich prose that informs the story. I don't want rich prose that is very enamored with itself and says "Hey! Look at this awesome turn of phrase! Aren't I beautiful?!" I read for story, not words. But I agree wholeheartedly that word choice is still important, that when she uses "drooped" no other word would do.

Which is why copyediting bugs me so much. I have been lucky in that my current publishers are very lenient in their editing. I had one story that I did a little battle on, over things I hadn't thought I would ever fight over but which I found far more important than I expected. Like I had one character say, "Ohmigod." The editor changed it to "Oh, my God," which does not convey the breathless excitement I intended. We compromised with "OhmyGod," which I still didn't like because "mi" with a short I and "my" with a Y do not sound the same. And it made me feel petty, but now Ms. Bear has made me feel vindicated.

But I've heard horror stories from friends about copyeditors who change voice, and change the meaning of sentences, and rewrite half the book, if not more. I believe in the collaborative relationship with editorial staff, but the burden is on the author to deliver the goods. When the average reader reads a flat sentence or section of a book and stops reading because they are no longer engaged, they blame the author. They don't think, "Oh, I bet the copyeditor changed some important stuff in there."

This is one of those "luck of the draw" things in this business, and one of my few real fears.

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