Monday, July 6, 2015

A Different Kind of Conflict

conflictYou've heard authors talk about turning off their internal editor? There's a reason for that. Authors and editors think differently, and if one can't shut off the other when necessary, there is conflict.
I doubt I'm telling anyone what they don't already know, but this really is a right-brain, left-brain kind of thing.
I always get it confused, so in case you do too, here's the theory: "right brain" folks tend to be more artistic; "left brained" folks more logical. So when the right brained author has the left side of his brain pokin' its nose into his business, he gets stymied. Stilted. Stopped.
And when the left brained editor is reading the wonderful works of the writer who has pushed the limits of artistic license, he becomes mortified and indignant and threatens to yank that license away. Illegal use of imagery!
Not long ago, there was a discussion on an editor's loop about using the thumb to wipe away tears. "He wiped away her tears with his thumb." For some reason, the originator of that discussion simply couldn't picture it, said nobody'd ever wiped her tears with a thumb. I tried to picture it the way she was talking about it--a hitchhiker's digit coming at my dampened cheeks certainly did eradicate all thoughts of sweetness and romance.
But that's the way editors think. Logically. Literally. Which is how the floating body part became a bad thing.
If you picture it literally, "her hand trailed the banister all the way to the second landing" gives you an image of a disembodied hand floating up the rail. The editor in me is giggling at the image the entire time I'm striking out the line. The author in me knows darn good and well that the reader isn't going to think a hand would actually take off up the stairs without the benefit of the rest of the body. Readers are smarter than that.
But the editor says, "Illegal use of imagery!"
The author sulks and types, one jabbed, resented key at a time, "She walked up the stairs."
Can't even say "she walked dreamily up the stairs" because "dreamily" is a dadburned adverb, and you already know you're gonna get dinged for having anything on planet Earth with an -ly suffix, and hang all editors!!!
But let's go back to "He wiped away her tears with his thumb." I'd be willing to bet that a bit farther up the page, the author had written something along the lines of "he cupped her face in his hands." If that's so, it makes perfect sense. Guess which finger is closest to the tears when her face is cupped in his hands. Can ya guess? Can ya? Huh?
Score one for the author.
Or the author uses punctuation to present attitude. "Wouldn't that be nice." reads a whole lot differently than "Wouldn't that be nice?" to me. The first has snark written all over it; the second sounds like my sweet Aunt Joyce in all her Southern charm.
The editor's first response is to slap a question mark on the snark.
It may be grammatically correct, but it lacks punch. Paint the bulldog's toenails pink, and he just doesn't seem the same. It's conflict, I tell ya. The editor's adherence to the rules will always conflict with the author's inherent desire to break 'em.
The flip-side of this causes conflict, too. If you're a left-brained author taking a stab at fiction, you gotta let go and let it flow, 'cause if you don't, you're gonna sound like a textbook.
This isn't just the "editor" in you getting in the way of your writing, which is problem enough. Having the editor butt in means you can't get ahead unless you fix absolutely everything that's wrong with every single paragraph, line, and word that has hit the page thus far.
No, it's also the invasion of the logical side of you--the side that looks at your line, "she settled behind the steering wheel" and whispers, "before she gets in the car, she has to open the door. No wait--before she can open the door, she has to unlock it. But then, she'd have to get her keys out of her bag. She'd probably have them in a particular pocket in her purse, so she'll have to reach into that pocket to pull them out..."
It's one thing when the editor and the author are two different people. It's another when that conflict rages within one head. Truly left-brained people need to learn how to give in to their right brains while they're writing, and keep a tight lid on the left side until the first draft is done. Truly right-brained people need to learn how to give in to their left brains while they're editing what they've written, and not a moment before.
When you figure out the mystery of how to do this, let me know, okay?
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  1. You know how righteous I was as a new editor - so literal (I'm still laughing about red bougainvillea, especially when I'm looking for pictures of it for my own upcoming novel cover). I never dreamed I could edit anybody else and was overly zealous. But as the years passed and I've had to figure out battles of my own, and showing other readers how their work is interpreted (by more than just me--I always give a reason that's not personal opinion), it helps me appreciate the cleverness of others--or I just throw up my hands (not literally) and say, your book!

    1. I hope you finally found the bougainvillea. I almost sent you a picture to prove it--along with a pic of our pond, which is the color of ecru sometimes. :D

  2. So true. You really have to know your readers and your work, because if you can write a grammatically correct book that no one cares to read because it has no personality. The rules are important but so is artistic expression.

    1. I was reading something the other day where the author stayed in character beautifully, but insisted on using "whom" when appropriate. I just couldn't picture the character saying it. Correct, yes, but *wrong* for the character.

  3. I loved this! As if it isn't bad enough that we have all the rules to obey (at least most of the time) and an editor to wrangle to see our way of looking at things (although, in my experience, I've had some wonderful editors), we have OURSELVES to battle with (or is it "we have ourselves with whom to do battle?).

  4. Oh, dear. If we have to start editing our comments for proper grammar, I'm in serious trouble!