It’s not all GUMmy stuff.

What editors do to a project isn’t all GUMmy stuff. It’s not only grammar and usage and mechanics. Especially for those of us who work with fiction writers, a lot of the work is about appropriateness.

Don’t get all pissy. I’m not talking about censorship. I’m talking about whether a given item or word fits (is appropriate for) the setting of the story. For example, when I read the phrase “flavor of the day” in a steampunk story set in Africa, my “timeline radar” went off. Was that phrase used then? Nope, at least not as we know it today, which was how it appeared in the story. In that sense it took off in the 40s, and it’s American in origin. Two strikes against its appropriateness to the steampunk setting. First, the time frame is way off, and second, there are no Americans in the story anyway. A young British girl wouldn’t use that phrase in casual conversation, the way we do. I flagged it as a problem and explained it in a comment.

And it might not even be words that are the issue. It might be clothing. As in fabric types, garment construction, the order in which a lady put on said garments (that boned corset goes on over the chemise, not under it! No one wants something like that against their bare skin), and so on.

It might be timing. As in a timeline of the story. Editors pay close attention to days/dates, times, and so on, to ensure that things really could happen as the author’s written them. And of course traveling from, say, London to Paris took much longer in the 18th century than it does today. Or consider a story in which the children leave for camp on a Wednesday. We mark that down somewhere, somehow, and when it’s brought up that they’re coming home on whatever day however many days or weeks later, we check to see if the timing is on the money. Authors can prevent a lot of headaches by making a timeline for themselves. A corollary to this: If you have MCs who work, we expect to see mentions of that in the text. If they never go to the office (or wherever), we’re bound to notice. Not that we need to follow their every move, but if actions take place for a few days, we’ll expect to see something related to their movements, even if it’s a side comment from someone that “Joe hasn’t been at work for a while” or “Samantha’s working really late every night and even on the weekends.” Of course, if you’ve told us that Joe is flying to Fiji for two weeks, then we’ll be noting that instead. If we see something indicating he’s at work or the local bar or the laundromat before those two weeks are up? Maybe he came home early. Maybe he has a doppelganger. Maybe the timeline got screwed up. We’ll comment/query in any case: “What happened to two weeks in Fiji?”

Popular culture references are killers. With the ability to find just about anything on the internet, there’s no excuse for guessing about things like “the most popular songs in 1912 in America.” (I used to have to go to the library or use the telephone to get this kind of information. In the snow. Uphill both ways.)

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve got the picture by now. Commas are important, but there’s a lot more to editing than the GUMmy stuff.

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