Wednesday, 25 January 2012

On Editing ... A Door Called Sally.

Some of my fellow Rhemalda authors have blogged recently on the subject of editing and, with the second book of my Artesans of Albia series, King’s Champion, nearing this process, I thought I would add my own thoughts.

Being a British author in an American publishing company brings its own unique set of circumstances when it comes to edits. As I am also a freelance editor, proofreader and writing mentor, I have experience of this process from both sides. Does it make having my own work edited easier or harder? The answer is that I don’t really know. No one likes to see their precious text covered with red, or have someone tell you that a certain scene doesn’t work, or that you have failed to spot a glaring typo in the sentence you’ve read a hundred times. Yet maybe I can take this process easier than some, because I have personal experience of trying to be diplomatic when dealing with other writers. I know that the process isn’t personal, and that my editor is trying to help me make my novel as clean and as good as it can be. And I do know how hard it is to spot your own mistakes! A case in point was when I first decided to design and have printed some King’s Envoy bookmarks and flyers. How many times did I check and recheck the wording on the files before I sent them to the printer? And how ticked off was I when they came back, and my mother instantly spotted the “h” missing from the word “publisher” and the “g” missing from the middle of “engaging”?

Very ticked off. Seriously – very!

So, if an experienced proofreader can still miss typos, a good, impartial editor is invaluable.

Yet there is leeway for discussion when your edits come back, especially if your novel, like mine, is set in a particular historical period.

My Artesans of Albia series is set within a completely fictional fantasy world, yet for inspiration I drew heavily on the English Medieval period. There are no machines in my novels, no guns or engines; people rely on horses for transport and swords, bows and knives for defense. The nobility live in fortified manors or castles, wealthier citizens in towns, the ordinary people in small villages. Health care is basic, with drugs being purely herbal, although procedures such as blood transfusions are just coming into use.

 Ok, you are thinking – what does this have to do with editing?

It all comes down to terminology.

If you follow a certain trade, you will use terms that most lay people will not understand. For instance, how many people today could name all the parts of a sword? How many of you know what a tang is, or a quillon? Yet a swordsmith or blacksmith would know these terms intimately. The same applies to the various sections of a castle – it’s no good someone telling you there’s a fire in the bailey if you run with a bucket of water to the keep.

This issue of long-forgotten, or specialized terms came up for me once the first round of King’s Envoy edits came back. Two in particular caused some confusion. The first was the word “midden”, and the second was the term “sally port”. For those of you who don’t know, the word “midden” means a dung heap. It can apply equally to what comes out of a horse’s stable or to the unusable leftovers from a kitchen. It is, quite simply, a pile of refuse. This is where the differences between UK English and US English come into play because although it’s an old word, I believe more UK readers would recognize the term than readers in the US. As it was not vitally important to the story, and I didn’t want to make my readers keep reaching for their dictionaries, I was quite happy to substitute this word and use “dung pile” instead.

However, the term “sally port” is a specialized term relating to castles and fortified manors. Simply put, a sally port is a small door either to the side of, or actually let into, the huge doors or gates leading into a fortified building. It would be used when a small number of people, on foot, wanted to enter or leave. The word “sally” can also mean a charge or sortie (as in battle) or to go forth, as in an excursion. The term is derived from the Latin “salire”, meaning “to leap”. (Who says fantasy novels can’t also be educational? J)

In this case, I felt justified in sticking to my guns and asking for the term to be kept in the novel. As the photographs show, I also managed to find a living example of a genuine sally port in the ruins of a small castle in Pembroke, Wales, UK.

So, although the editing process can often mean change, it can also be useful for highlighting what is important, or what needs to remain.

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