For some time now, people have been asking me to write about what copy editors do and why they’re important. This is a companion piece to last year’s little trot through the origins and history of publishers’ editing: “What Editors Do”.
Why now? I have just actually been reviewing the copy editor’s changes on the text of my new book. So the mind is focused on what I did and what it felt like.
I should point out that, like my blog on editors, this is highly personal. Though I have also drawn on conversations with copy editors and a great talk, some years ago at an RNA Chapter, by jay Dixon, a trained copy editor. Continue reading →
The very first piece of advice that I remember anyone giving me about writing was, “Avoid cliché.” I was ten. I had to look up “cliché”. So now I have a question.
A cliché is a word or phrase so worn out by overuse that it has deteriorated until it is meaningless. It may once have been striking. Today it is white noise.
The gentle reader ignores it. The ungentle critic berates the writer for laziness and lack of originality.
Dickens got away with “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done,” because he thought of it first. After that it became popular, then heard widely, then untouchable by any writer with pretensions to respectability.
Language is a writer’s basic toolkit. Writers — novelists, playwrights, poets, lyricists, and all the rest — use words to trigger emotional responses or to paint pictures in the minds of their readers and listeners.
How can we fail to see layers of meaning in creations like these?
the wine-dark sea (Homer, Ancient Greece)
sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care (Shakespeare: Macbeth, 1606)
nursing her wrath to keep it warm (Robert Burns: Tam O’Shanter, 1790)
moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black (Dylan Thomas: Under Milk Wood, 1954)
Day 7 And a day of rest for the industrious Joanna . . .
An author, in Shakespeare’s words, gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. But that still leaves a pretty misty prospect. The habitation has no postcode.
Names often have more substance, admittedly. You only have to think of Sir Toby Belch or the Cheeryble Brothers to realise that. But they’re still in the middle of an open circuit. It needs something else to close it.