It’s been a long, hot summer here in London. With Coronavirus cases still too high for me to feel safe going out much or travelling, I decided to spend my summer focusing on building my editorial skills.
Over the last couple of months, I attended several educational webcasts run by ACES: The Society for Editing, covering various aspects of the editorial process. Not all of these related to the kind of editing I currently do (developmental editing of fiction and memoir). Some of them were aspirational (for example, Editing Recipes and Cookbooks, given by editor Karen Wise—I love to cook!). Whereas others related to aspects of what I do now, but from a copy-editor’s perspective.
Immersive Copy Editing for Fantasy and Science Fiction
One of these was Immersive Copy Editing for Fantasy and Science Fiction, given by Kristy S. Gilbert from Looseleaf Editorial & Production. The focus of this short course was on how editors can help empower authors to make conscious decisions around their use of capitalisation, worldbuilding terminology, grammar, punctuation and usage so as to make their story world more captivating for readers. Kristy explained that there are times when authors are inconsistent—or not especially effective—in the way they use capitalisation and italicisation, for example, and this can result in a story being less than compelling for readers. It’s because of this knock-on effect on the story that this is also a developmental concern.
Additionally, and just as importantly, she talked about the concept of ‘othering’ and how this sometimes manifests in fantasy and science fiction. For example, the name of the group which is (often unconsciously) being othered may always appear capitalised as a way of signalling to readers how different they’re meant to be. This can have the effect of making them appear not to belong with the other groups of peoples/species etc, whose group names may not be capitalised. If, on the other hand, all of the different species’ names were treated in the same way (preferably lowercase as this makes for a smoother reading experience) then this would make them all appear normal in the story world. Readers could then focus on the story itself and not on the fact that one particular species is considered to be especially different. In other words, what’s unique about each of these groups can then be shown through the writing and the story itself, rather than through the terminology used. This creates a much richer and more immersive experience for readers!
Kristy explained that it’s easy for writers to fall into the trap of accidentally ‘othering’ some of their characters simply because they’re trying to follow various grammatical/style conventions or because they’re afraid that readers will misinterpret the story without the author’s signalling. However, this strategy can be counterproductive as it often has the effect of distancing readers from the story and characters. Capitalising words specific to the story world immediately indicates that this plant/animal/concept/whatever is out of the ordinary, when it’s often the case that it isn’t unusual at all in that particular story world.
If you’re interested in learning more about this course, the webinar is still available on the ACES website and you can find it here: https://aces.mclms.net/en/package/1563/course/2565/view.
Are You My Ally: A Webinar for Writers and Creators
Speaking of the notion of ‘othering’ and how it can show up in the writing and editing process, I’d also like to talk about the seminar Are You My Ally: A Webinar for Writers and Creators, which was presented by Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford of online writing school Writing the Other and which is still available to view on their website. Writing the Other teaches writers how to write characters who are very different from themselves, and to do so with respect and sensitivity. I’d been wanting to take one of their courses for a long time but hadn’t gotten around to it. So, when I saw that they were offering a seminar on how to support marginalised creatives, I decided to go for it. I’m glad I did. The course provided me with a new, wider, lens through which to view story, reading, writing and the written word. As a freelance developmental editor, this will help me immensely when evaluating plot and character in other people’s writing. And, as a sometime writer myself, the course gave me insight into my own creative process and how I can improve it to make it more inclusive. Of course, my favourite part of the course was getting to hear about other people’s stories and discovering new writers to read and new books to explore. If you’re a creative who’s interested in making your creative process more inclusive, you might like to check it out.
This webcast followed on nicely from the two enlightening ACES webcasts I’d attended earlier this summer: Unconscious Bias and the Conscientious Editor, given by lexicographer and editor Kory Stamper and Inclusive Language: A Practical Approach to Avoiding Bias, given by Sarah Grey of Grey Editing LLC (are you beginning to see a theme here?).
All of these webinars helped to give me a greater overall understanding of other aspects of the writing and publishing process. This is important not only so that I’m in a strong position to help the authors I currently work with but, also, because I’m about to embark on a new journey myself.
I recently enrolled on The Publishing Training Centre’s Essential Proofreading Course (you may recall that this was something I was hoping to do back in spring, which I wrote about in a blog post early this year). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the course, it equips the novice with everything they need to become a qualified proofreader. The course is accredited and assessed and, so far, quite challenging. I’ll need to learn all of the British Standards Institution’s proof-correction marks and to use them regularly throughout the course. My goal is to eventually add proofreading to the list of services I offer independent authors, as well as possibly branching out into other areas, such as working with publishers (on cookbooks, maybe?). While the course is conducted entirely in British English, my aim is to apply what I learn to American projects too, and, eventually, to learn the American proofreading marks so that I can switch between the two, as I do with developmental projects. Wish me luck!
Until next time, stay safe and enjoy the rest of your summer.