The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf


John W. Campbell, the science-fiction author, once said a great thing about editing. He said, "When there's something wrong with a story, I can tell you how to fix it. When it just doesn't come across, there's nothing I can say." It turns out that this truth applies not only to whole stories but to parts of stories right down to individual words. Sometimes part of a sentence is just wrong -- not because the grammar is wrong, or there's a word echo, or anything else for which we have handy phrases like "word echo," but because it just doesn't come across. It has to be different, the universe needs it to be different, and you can't explain why.

Editors have a word that we use in this situation. When it's absolutely clear that "mellifluous" should be "honeyed," or that "she was dazzled by the prismatic lights" should be "it was a good ham sandwich" or that "her brittle snap of a laugh knifed through his viscera" should be anything else at all, and we can't think of a good way of explaining the change to the author -- or there is no way of explaining it -- we wave our hands and say "awk." Like this: AU: Awk. -- rewording OK?

Not for nothing does this word resemble a death rattle. We use it nonchalantly because authors spook easily, like horses, and for all I know they are ignorant of our desperation and skim right over any change proposed under the aegis of "awk." But if this is true it is only because most of them can't know what it really means. It is supposed to stand for "awkward," but what "awk." really means is this: AU: Why are you you and not a different writer? Can you not hear the heavens themselves bellowing that this phrase is a mistake? It is a brass gong in my brain. Author, why aren't you Melville, why aren't you Millay, why aren't you Woolf, Shakespeare, Homer? Any one of them would have heard the brass gong. None of them would have needed me to explain it, any more than they would have needed me to explain that rain is wet. Author, why are we here? Why don't the gods turn us into trees, for poets to make garlands from? Then the gong would be silent, and we would not offend the silence with scribbling.

"...Please rephrase."
Tags: copy-editing, writing
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