Sunday, February 08, 2009

Why We Have Editors

(Apologies in advance for taking the long way round here - it's Sunday and I'm waffling. If you're pressed for time, skip to the end ...)

Back in the 90s, when I spent some time working in the comics industry, I met no end of people who were ... confused by what it was I actually did. It was a common enough problem that dogged not just myself but many of those who worked at the company on the editorial side. Here's a sample situation:

You'd be at a party, and in response to the 'So, what do you do?' question you'd say that you edited comics. Sometimes there'd be polite interest in this answer, sometimes you'd be able to see the attention draining away from the questioner's face right before your eyes. But altogether too many times there'd be someone who'd respond with the deathless line, 'Oh, you write the words in the little bubbles then?'

Too often people just don't get what editors do. Another misconception I see a lot is that it's all about picking up on spelling mistakes and knowing the difference between "its" and "it's". Obviously it's a plus if you can do that, but all the editors I've ever worked with have been required to do so much more.

For the purposes of this post, let's focus on names.

I was once pulled up by an editor for unwittingly giving a character almost exactly the same name as one of my co-authors. While I failed to pick up on it, his point was that the name would be jarring for the reader. They'd see it on the cover and again in my story, and it would break the spell. He was right, of course, and the name was duly altered.

In TV and film, as I understand it (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), the duty of care goes much further. A script editor is required to check all personal and corporate names in a script, to ensure that they don't exist in the real world. It's a necessary task to avoid thorny issues like the evil organisation in the next Bond film being called Woolworths, or people like I.M. Davros of Bletchley writing in to complain that your show has denigrated their character.

But a really good editor will also be on the ball enough to prevent the unintentional use of words or names that may have very different connotations in other countries. Who can forget, for example, the episode of Mork and Mindy that featured a character by the name of Arnold Wanker?

Which brings me to the thing that got me thinking about all this in the first place (stay with me).

My son's just got hold of a copy of Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary. It's a cracking book, stuffed with all kinds of facts and figures to enhance his genetic predisposition towards the geeky. Every teeny tiny detail is covered, including many from beyond the six movies themselves. The section I particularly enjoyed, however, was about the Jedi High Council as seen in The Phantom Menace. Did you know that in amongst the Yodas and the Mace Windus, there was this guy, too:

So that's how I ended up struggling to explain to the lad why the page was so funny - all the time avoiding the actual word so he doesn't head to school tomorrow and and spend all day shouting it in the playground.

And that's at least part of the reason why we have editors. They don't get nearly enough recognition for the jobs they do.


Blogger Peter Pan said...

Its even funnier in a Scottish accent you know.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Pete Kempshall said...

It is, isn't it ...

1:56 PM  

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