December 9th, 2005

breeden

More on Editors

Another reason that editors are essential...

Long ago and far away, when I was first writing my Obligatory Fantasy Novel, I was working in a primitive version of Word, and I needed a way to divide the story into rough thirds. This had to do with some printing I was doing, I think, and since a 400 page word document is unwieldy to page through, I hit upon what I thought was a very clever method. At each break, I inserted a word that appeared nowhere else in the text, a short, easily searched word that wouldn't appear as part of another word. Then I only needed to hit "Find" for this key word, and voila, there I was, without five minutes of paging around or mucking with the slider bar.

Then the world moved on, and I forgot all about it.

Three years, and uncounted gallons of blood under the bridge later, my faithful editor dug out the manuscript, at Midwest Furfest, as we were chatting drunkenly about publications yet to come.

"It's not bad," he said (I'm paraphrasing from drunken memory here.) "The dialogue is quite good. But this--this--what is this? Why is this? Is it like "fnord"? Is there some hidden message here?" and brandished a certain page.

Underlined, circled, surrounded by question marks, was the key word.

Which had, of course, been "squid." And later on, I think it was "squidsquid."

He had been wracking his brain trying to figure it out. I'm an artist, and known to be a bit erratic, so he could certainly be forgiven for thinking I was trying to slide coded tentacled messages into my text, or that perhaps "squidsquidsquid" was my version of "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy," and a sign of my descent into madness. These are both much more plausible explanations than my workaround.

For me, I think the most horrifying realization is that I wrote an entire novel without mentioning squid once.