Honor the writer’s voice

Editors are told to “honor the writer’s voice.” But what does that mean, exactly?

It does not mean that we leave their errors in place; that would be shirking our responsibility as editors. I would hope that’s obvious, but I’ve learned that what I think is obvious is often anything but to others.

To honor the writer’s voice, we have to get a feel for their style. Do they use contractions, or do they write everything out fully? Do they like long sentences or short ones, in general? What about their word choices? Do they lean toward simpler words or fancier ones?

Maybe they use contractions in dialogue but never in narrative. It is not my job, as editor, to change all the contractions in their dialogue to fully written-out wording. Nor is it my job to contract everything that can be contracted in their narrative. My job is to see and hear how they write, and then ensure consistency within that framework.

What if one character’s dialogue uses contractions, but only that one? Chances are very high that it’s a choice on the writer’s part, as one method of characterization. The same goes for the character who speaks in flowery phrases. “I don’t hear X saying this” is a frequent comment I leave in the margins, when something sounds off to me.

We are the polishers of prose. The writer chisels form from a block of an idea; we come along afterward and sand off the roughness, adding a highlight here or there, chipping off a stray protuberance, making that work shine.

Honor the writer’s voice. Hear them, and make your suggestions in harmony with their words.

I bought PerfectIt 3.

This is no spelling checker. It’s no grammar checker, either. It’s a proofreading program, and it’s amazing.

Here’s a link to the first how-to video for the program. Yes, I will be watching all of them. I may not need to know everything, as I don’t do much technical editing with charts and tables and figures, but I’ll watch them anyway.

For all the times you’ve seen me rant about the uselessness of “editing software,” you should be able to tell this is NOT like any of those other programs I’ve poked at. This one is worth the money. No kidding. It’s a proofreading program. It will ask you about inconsistencies. “This word is spelled this way 4 times and this other way 10 times. Should I change any of them?” You MUST verify every instance; not all of them will be wrong, and indeed perhaps none of them are. The program simply alerts you to the fact that, for instance, you used both “run in” and “run-in,” and asks you if all the occurrences are correct or if some need to be changed. It will catch usages of abbreviations and ask about defining them. You get to decide. Nothing happens without your approval until you get to the automatic stuff like “change two spaces to one following terminal punctuation.” (And you don’t even have to tell it to do that, if you don’t want it to. Just don’t click the radio button, and click on “Exit.”)

AND, it’s customizable. For example: I can enter a unique term from something I’m editing, and tell PerfectIt I want that term to always be italicized, or italicized on the first use only, or never italicized. If one slips through my eyes and fingers, the program will catch it and flag it for me. No more worries about “did I style those all the same?” PerfectIt will know, and will alert me to any variations.

Here’s a link to the Intelligent Editing site, so you can download a trial for yourself. It’s free for 30 days; you can purchase/register it at any time (for $99US) during the trial, or get it afterward.