I naturally talk a lot about editing, the benefit of editors, the healing power their hands provide against the sickness that is unclear and troubled writing. But it’s not all sunshine and happiness. There are editor comments I’ve seen that have driven me up the wall as either a writer or product developer. Here are some things to not do as an editor.
These first two come from a couple friends who game me some notes on the Mythender Character Creation draft. I really appreciate their comments, because they’ve made me see what was in my head and what I was poorly explaining. That said, these two comments sparked the idea of this post.
From the fourth page of the first revision, under Loremaster:
You are intellect and experience made manifest. There is no such thing as chance to you; when you walk onto the field of battle, you already know how it will end. And you will demonstrate violently that fact to Norden. You are philosopher, scholar, tactician, warrior-poet. As a Mythender, you understand that your true power comes from confidence and sharpness of mind.
Comment #1: Yuck. “violently demonstrate” or “demonstrate that fact to Norden violently.”
Comment #2: *cough* knowledge? *cough*
At this point, I was in hour three or four of revising, having worked through comments from several people. (Some of whom also flagged those spots as needing work.) My mind was a bit tired, and I was pressing on with coffee in hand.
Then I got to that first comment. “Yuck” set me off. It might not have in the first hour, when my brain was fresh and my spirits high. And this is from a friend, who I know isn’t an asshole. But right then and there, I had to take a few-minute break. I went back, saw that I had already changed it in a previous pass, so I moved onto the next comment.
Again, I was set off. This reminded me of another project that I helped develop, where the editor was coy to his and our detriment. This comment, “*cough* knowledge? *cough*” doesn’t tell me shit. It doesn’t tell me why “knowledge” is a better replacement than the text I had there, “confidence and sharpness of mind.” The way it was delivered made it an antagonistic comment. I muttered “fuck you” and moved on, because my gut reaction was to see that as a weak suggestion (which, a day later, I think still is).
Luckily, the rest of the edits didn’t have this snark, but it did make me a hostile reader. That’s a very shitty place to be when reading someone’s edits. When that happens, you have to take breaks from reading the redlines more often, and the ability to read charitably goes out the window. And it could have been avoided with:
- “violently demonstrate” or “demonstrate that fact to Norden violently.”
Like I said, this reminded me of some other editor no-nos. These ones will have to be constructed from memory, though.
From a project some years ago:
BLAH BLAH BLAH TEXT I’VE FORGOTTEN BLAH BLAH
My writer was exceedingly pissed off at this, and called me up to rant. I commented later in the draft, as well as in email, the following: “An editor’s job is to give clear comments.”
“Huh?” doesn’t tell us a damned thing. It doesn’t tell me why you think something’s unclear or what you think it might mean to a reader. And it’s presented in a way that just makes you look like a half-assed fuck. Even “This is unclear” is miles better, even if you don’t follow it up with “Do you mean XXX?” or some other query or actionable comment.
The last no-no on my mind comes from a project a bit ago where the editor was giving notes about the game’s design, referencing other games he had read for rules changes. Others of us on staff were getting annoyed, because the comments were unhelpful; the editor was decent at rules language editing, but didn’t know the game well enough to comment on its design nor was hired for that. It was grating to read poor, unplaytested comments. The damage to the rapport was lost as we kept dealing with that, as the writer response to returned drafts was “how much of this will be a waste of my time?” So we eventually let that editor go.
As a game editor, it’s easy to get into a space where you become a backseat designer. But unless you’re asked to do that, check that shit at the door. There’s a blurry middle ground where you’re involved in the language design, but when you’re commenting about how a rule may or may not work, that isn’t the damned time to do so. There’s a different mental process between rules revision and language/text revision, so having to deal with both at the same time, when it’s not asked for, is a detriment to the process.
I’m not saying to be utterly sterile in your comments, but watch when you’re adding words that make your comment something far easier to be frustrated with.
Editor, edit thyself.
 Which I’m in the middle of revising.
 And perhaps have a funny way of showing it by pointing out what I’m about to, but he’s cool with it.