A seminar student once asked, “Doesn’t MLE destroy the author’s voice?”
Well… sometimes yes.
It all depends on what you consider “voice.”
Traditionally, voice or style refers to the author’s personality as demonstrated by their word choice, tone, point of view, subject matter, perspective, and, to a lesser degree, preferred sentence structure. I refer to that collection of elements as “author tells.”
Unfortunately, most of us were taught to create generic reports, sans personality, sans author tells. We learned to write “just the facts, ma’am” book reports, term papers, research papers, theses, and dissertations. At work, we have to use business-ese, medical-ese, academic-ese, legal-ese, psychosocial-ese, and so on, figuring our readers already know and understand our particular -ese’s jargon.
But those compositions seldom reflect author personality or even individuality, do they? Because they’re not supposed to. They’re supposed to be reports, and so are full of static, often pleonastic verbiage that justifies, qualifies, info dumps, or explains without demonstration, example, or illustration. And since we get immersed in that type of communication, it even bleeds into our fiction writing.
Bottom line, MLE cannot destroy such a voice, since it’s not, in fact, character-weighted prose. It’s simply reporting. What MLE can do is flip recitation into story; tighten, highlight, and enhance essential, operative material; and address—
- Editorial v. narration
- Jargon explanation/example/illustration
- Verb forms
- Passive v. active voice (nouns acted upon v. nouns acting)
- Static phrasings, aka unnecessary prepositions
- Punctuation techniques for impact and pacing
- Musical rhythm, aka non-mechanical syntax
… all while maintaining word choices, tone, and, more importantly, intent, and perspective.
Sound like a lot to juggle? Let’s use a passage (reprinted with author permission, of course) to demonstrate how MLE can make an author’s message more assessable. The red comments are MLE concerns. The green font indicates an author tell.
Possible MLE Revisions
1. A person with compulsive personality drinks, drugs, works, jogs, gambles, eats, and/or does some other activity to excess. Their habits lead not only to their own physical and/or psychological detriment, but also to that of their family and business associates. They may be the movers and shakers of the world—the boss, the movie star, the athletic jock—but they “pay the price” for their driven, competitive, impatient nature with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and, eventually, triple bypass heart surgery.
2. Compulsive personality types excessively drink, drug, work, jog, gamble, eat and/or indulge in other activities, leading to their own and others’ detriment. They’re the movers and shakers of the world, the driven, competitive, impatient bosses, movie and athletic stars who “pay the price” for their success with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and triple by-pass heart surgery.
Those aren’t the only possible MLEs, of course. Every editor will bring their own sensibilities to the task, and every author will definitely want a say about how their manuscript is converted from its first, author-satisfying, draft into its second, reader-appealing one.
That’s why I always MLE with my author. Always.
And except for rare occasions, the author always enjoys going over their manuscript with me, line-by-line, in real time. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “Wow, it really reads better now!”
Wondering how musical line editing could help your manuscript? Bring it to Musical Line Editing Workshop this Thursday and we’ll MLE it together. Five weeks, five writers. First come, first MLE’d.
No manuscript, but want to practice your skills on someone else’s work? I’ll let in two looky-loos, but only if space permits, and only if you promise to actively participate.
Let’s to make some words & music together!