About thirty minutes ago, I was editing a work of flash fiction for posting on our blog. Although extremely short, ~250 words, the project was exceedingly tedious. It was tedious because when the author submitted it, there was no spacing between punctuation marks, meaning I had to go to each line, click the cursor, and hit space.
No big deal. Easy enough. That’s my job. And I did it, and it is scheduled to be posted. All in a day’s work.
Why am I writing about it now, you ask?
Because I’m wondering if I inadvertently stole an artistic device from the author. As I read the short story, which coincidentally was about heartache and suicide, I was overcome by a feeling of anxiousness and nervousness, of anger and frustration. I saw the lack of spacing. It made me angry. It made me hopeful for the next sentence, only to be disappointed once again. For all intents and purposes, I felt the way the character felt. Trapped. Caught in a hopeless situation. Eager to find an escape.
As editors we are very black and white. There are rules, and they exist for a reason. I before e except after c (unless you talk to my weird neighbor about the weight of the sleigh). There are even unspoken rules, like the way you know “knick knack” and “tick tock” work better than “knack knick” and “tock tick.” Editors make sure that authors follow the rules so that their story is more readily received by the audience. But authors are artists, and artists are rebels.
At the end of the day, in my own humble opinion, the way the author tells the story is the only way the story can be told. It is, after all, their story. Even a person writing about an historical event is going to write that story via the lens of their own personal understanding. This practice is called historiography, and is the reason why every single account you read of the Battle of Gettysburg will be similar in many ways, but entirely different. Again, editors are not “fixing” a story so much as they are “helping” to make that story more relatable to an audience. It’s why most writers hate editors. They must make sacrifices of their words to appease the gods of readability and acceptability.
But today’s exercise has made me question just how much editors are asking of the author. Did I trample on a unique literary device used to heighten anxiety because I was “following the rules?” Or was the author merely in a rush to pen some flash fiction, perhaps even using their phone to accomplish the deed?
As I ponder this and send it out to you (which, if I’m being honest, do you really care? Boom…literary device, breaking the 4th wall), I’m going to get in touch with our client to see what, in fact, his intentions were. Either he is far more creative than I have ever tried to be (I’m a rule follower), or his haste has caused me to think more deeply about various ways to use punctuation. Either way, I feel like I picked up an interesting trick today.