A fiction writer understands how much effort is required to produce good copy: he or she starts with an idea; builds up the idea; drafts a story. Then, he or she revises the story, revises, revises. A writing process may require thousands of words and hundreds of pages–even for a short story.
But after all this writing work is complete, when the writer is satisfied with a story’s form and construction, should he or she revise again? Does the writer revise this story for clarity, style and grammar? While I believe that writing style and grammar are just as important–if not more important–than a story’s form, some writers may skip over evaluating their own story’s clarity. A writer may assume that someone, or something (like a software application), will do an editorial cleanup for the author. I believe this hurts the writer because the writer may not effectively communicate the story form with an audience.
The Ancient Greeks Have Given Us Tools
The Ancient Greeks understood both oral and written communication. They also understood how each form of communication was different. For the written form, the Ancients assigned names for different writing techniques that improve a story’s style and clarity. An improved written message. And even though a story form and story themes have changed somewhat to suit modern tastes, the techniques–or tools–to effectively communicate a written story really haven’t been refashioned since the days of Aristotle.
So what are these tools?
- Clarity: writing so that your reader has an accurate understanding of your ideas: distinctio, exemplum, and so on.
- Style: the form of writing, the way something is said, as opposed to what is said.
- Grammar: the rules for word forms and structures and how these forms and structures behave in a subject-predicate relationship. Admittedly, English grammar is different than the Ancient Greek.
There isn’t a need to drastically change these tools–clarity, style, and grammar– because they continue to work so well. And these tools should work well because a written communication, or a written message, is more demanding of a remote audience than is a speaking communication to a nearby audience. A speaker can allow for errors in clarity, style and grammar because a nearby audience can ask the speaker for clarification. Even YouTube allows a narrator to apply visual and audio cues for clarification. But when an orator–now, a writer–transcribes their message to paper as written symbols, the writer does not have the benefit of explaining a written work after the symbols are committed to the page.
Editor for Hire
But a writer may be tempted to shortcut the development of and the understanding of the necessary tools–clarity, style, and grammar–of the writing trade. After all, isn’t grammar just busy work? With so many editorial services offering copy and line editing for a fee, a writer may think, Why not leave the trivial work to someone else? I should be writing story, not grammar checking. These are assumptions that may hurt the author’s writing.
These assumptions hurt an author because written clarity, style, and grammar are anything but trivial. A good writer knows that the tools are important and necessary. A good writer understands that, when applying the tools effectively to a manuscript, the author is communicating effectively with a reading audience.
But some writers, skipping over their own application of the tools, rely on editorial services. The writer passes off the manuscript to an editor or some software. And these editorial services–a human editor or a software application–may not translate the writer’s message correctly. If the editor translates incorrectly, the written message is not read as the author intended. The audience misunderstands the author.
Fiction Writing is More Than Plot
Can an author correct an editor’s incorrect translation of the manuscript? Possibly. But if the author doesn’t understand how to apply the tools, the writer probably doesn’t recognize that there are problems with a story edit. Worse, if an editor doesn’t truly understand how to apply the tools, if an editor only quotes rules from a style manual to earn a paycheck, the writer has wasted money.
But any writer can avoid a communication failure. The answer is simple, but, yet, the answer is not simple: the author must learn how to use the tools. Learning the tools will consume his or her time. But when the tools are learned, the author will be far more effective at crafting a story because the story will be understood as how the author intended the story to be told.