To edit someone else’s manuscript is pretty scary. It can be a daunting task that ends with a person (okay me) wanting to throw their laptop against the wall. Then that person remembers that their laptop is very expensive and restrains herself. As an editor, a manuscript is given to you and you are told to make it better. How? That is after you realize the manuscript is someone else’s blood, sweat, and tears, and probably their biggest dream, how do you help them? Well, I recently asked someone at Ooligan this very question, and they said, “pay attention to the author’s voice.” While that sounds wise and appropriately vague, it got me thinking.
Everyone has a voice with their own unique style. As the reader, you can probably tell that my voice is very conversational. One definition of voice that sounded right to me said:
“Let’s start by identifying a few things voice isn’t. It’s not style. It’s not technique. It’s not branding. It’s not a decision to write in first or third person. So what is it? To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple and that complicated. Your voice is about honesty. It’s the untextured, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.”
While I disagree that technique and style do not contribute to a voice, because they do, most of what is said here is true. As an editor, the best way to help an author’s manuscript is to define what voice is to you and express that to your writer. As an editor, you do not want to take someone else’s work and make it your work. You are not the writer. You are the editor, and it is your job to figure out the writer’s voice and coach them on how to strengthen their own voice.
The reason why I loved to read so much growing up is that I got to escape into another world. One hour I could be in the English countryside with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and the next hour I could be at Hogwarts fighting evil with my two best friends. Growing up and reading, I did not realize that each book has its own world because the author has their own voice. I like Jane Austen not necessarily because of the technical aspects of her novels, but because of the way she wrote. Her style, the language she used, and the characters she breathed to life on the page are what keep me reading and rereading her books. As an editor, it is crucial to pay attention to the author’s voice. When you read a book, it should be clear what that voice is, and if it’s not clear, then you have a whole different problem.
I occasionally get frustrated while editing because the decisions I make might not match the author’s voice. The last thing I want to do is take away someone’s voice and world. So when it comes down to it, ask yourself: how do I make the manuscript better? The simple answer is to listen. And then go from there.