Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Editing: Who's on the Page? 2

What I'm reading: Bound by the Heart, by Marsha Canham

What I read while away: My Sister's Keeper, by Jody Picault, Passions for the Dead, & Dying for Justice, by L.J. Sellers

Thanks to Cricket for her Jessica Fletcher Syndrome post yesterday. I know I live in a small town and have never tripped over a dead body the way they seem to turn up in Cabot Cove.

WHEN DANGER CALLS is Book of the Day at eReader News Today. I hope you'll send some traffic that way.

To continue with previous posts on when editorial input becomes editorial intrusion, I submitted my changes to the editor, and said I didn't like her changing "asshole" to "jerk."

As in any writing where we're striving to create conflict and tension, the character needs to have a question or a problem. He needs a goal. As the author, it's our job to stand in the way of that goal.

In essence, there are three outcomes to any of these conflicts we throw at our characters:

1. Yes
2. No
3. Yes, but …

With the first, the conflict is basically over right there, and if it was the major conflict for the story, you're finished. However, the author can (and generally should) make sure that the "yes" brings with it unexpected consequences so more conflict or tension is generated

With the second, you're effectively making your character turn down another path.

The third, which is usually the best approach, gives the character what he wants but requires sacrifices and a re-examination of how much he wanted that goal to begin with.

Using my editorial comments as examples, and to refresh your memory (you HAVE read the post in question, of course, right?), this was the passage in question:

"Call me when you've got a dead body." I hung up the phone. I'd finally managed a few hours of shuteye, and wasn't going to function until I had a few more. On the bright side, the asshole who'd murdered two people was now behind bars. Cursing the idiot in Dispatch who'd punched my phone number instead of someone on the Missing Persons Squad, I went back to sleep.

The editor replaced "asshole" with "jerk." I said I preferred my choice. Based on the possible outcomes mentioned above, she could have come back with Yes, in which case we'd be done. Or No, in which case I'd have to decide how deep I'd want to entrench myself for the battle. Or, more along the lines of "yes, but" … her response was "I really don't like that word, but let's see what else we can come up with."

That response, in this case, is fine with me. She's not taking a hard line, and frankly, I wasn't married to the word "asshole." As long as I can divorce myself from what I consider the very lame substitute of "jerk" I'm willing to go along with finding a suitable compromise.

As I said when I posted my first segment on this topic, the question wasn't whether the word was right or wrong, but rather what the job of an editor is, and how much her own personal preferences belong on the page of my story.

So … suggestions for a reasonable substitute? Remember, this is in the internal monologue of an experiences homicide detective.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

How about just plain "ass?" Someone could take that a couple of different ways. Less detailed than the former. :)

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - she didn't like the phrase later on when he'd said he'd nearly frozen his ass off (wanted me to change it to 'rear') so I think it's the ass part that pushes her hot button.

Carol Kilgore said...

Scumbag. Dirtwad. Pond scum. Piece of dung.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Carol - I wonder if the blog police are going to flag this blog post today!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Terry, I can't get from what you've written if it's a man or a woman. If it's a woman jerk would work -- well, for some women -- but if it's a male and a cop, I'd be pretty much married to asshole... boy did that come out wrong.

Carol had some great suggestions.

Terry Odell said...

Donnell - very good point. This case it's a man. However, later, when my female rookie cop is talking to the detective, who's her superior, she uses the term jerk, and there, it works fine for me. Context is everything.

Margaret Fieland said...

My first thought was shmuck-- depending,of course, on the ethnicity of your character. The first time I used this in front of my father, I got a gasping
"Do you KNOW what that means?"
(I didn't).

a few more:

Anonymous said...

Hey Terry, if "ass" pushes your editor's button, what about "dipshit". Initially thought of "dumbass" but since the latter half of that may not work...and it is a guy's POV. Men tend to be more blunt than women, especially cops.
My two cents, but I really enjoyed the article!

Terry Odell said...

My dad suggested "putz" but the character is of Nordic descent, so I didn't want to get into any noticeably ethnic terminology.

Lynn Chantale said...

I was thinking bastard too, but prick could work. Good luck.

Karen C said...

I can't seem to come up with a better/usable term. Carol's suggestions were good.

So. In this case, it is the editor's personal preference (or dislike of your term) putting you in the position of making the word change?

Terry Odell said...

Jami - thanks. I'll have a nice long list to send to the editor!

wlynnechantale - so many choices!

Karen, yes, the editor doesn't like the word I used, but she isn't forcing her choice on me, which is OK with me, because she's open for discussion.

Steven K Brown said...

I'd change it to "piece of trash".

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Steven

Maryannwrites said...

I can't offer a suggestion because I still can't get past the idea that an editor should not ask for a change just because he or she does not like that word. Asking for such a change needs to be a matter of craft or crossing some line that the publisher has established regarding language, but not just a personal preference. That is especially true because in context the words work. It isn't like you put them in the mouths of someone who wouldn't say that.

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

Terry, pretty much both words don't do it for me. If it is a murderer, asshole or jerk are both too mild of terms for them. Look at the context of the kills and see if a term to discribe the killer springs to mind. Is he cold, calculating, evil, sadistic crazy or what. I've known several assholes who were, dear to me and a couple jerks as well. LOL

Terry Odell said...

Maryann -- I agree, but as I said, one has to decide where to draw lines in the sand, and for me, it's more of an issue of getting rid of "jerk" than keeping asshole. While I don't think she should make the change, I'd rather compromise with another term. She is willing to make a change, although when I send her my other suggestions, I will definitely be saying I don't think it's really her place to change a word when it works for the character.

She's already held the book up over a year, so I'd rather have it published with a word we agree on than try to hang things up further.

Terry Odell said...

Scarlet - thanks. There's rarely one word that will work for everyone. I've pretty much left this one up to the editor. For the record, these are the choices I sent her: