Time for another edition of Writer’s Ramble! Today we welcome author and editor, Robert Krog wherein he discussed the mining of a story. 😉
All of us who write to get published know that we have to get our ideas down on paper and then go back over them for the purposes of refining, proofreading, etc. This is often referred to as wearing two hats: the writer’s jauntily cocked, carefree, creative hat, and the editor’s straight-on, sober, by-the-book hat. Many of us wear them in that order, first sitting down to let words and ideas flow easily, then proofing, checking for character development, plot holes, etc. Some writers plot heavily first, then let the creative juices flow after. There are a variety of ways to approach the process, but most of us are conscious of the dichotomy by which we do the fun part and also the work part. Some writers do it all in a terrible, angst-ridden sweat. Some do their best to do only the fun part and then have someone else do all the editing. And then, there are editors, the ones who only do the hard part. Those who only edit take seriously the business of proofing and checking for plot holes, etc. but do not write stories of their own.
Even so, all of us who take the business seriously, however much we enjoy it, know that we must wear both hats. We must mine the ore and refine it. There is gold in our heads, and we have to put it on paper in a quality fashion. I, however, usually don’t think of the work as one of wearing two hats. I think of writing as a process, a somewhat fuzzy process, done partly through conscious, directed effort and mostly through instinct with steps that don’t always come in the same order from one work to the next. I only consciously wear the editor hat when I am engaged in the task of editing an anthology or beta reading a work for another writer or instructed to do yet another proof of my own work for a, God bless him, pushy publisher. The process for me is largely integrated and merged, more than that, the two parts seem to me an organic whole. Getting the grammar and spelling, the character development, the plot, etc, right are all simply part of telling a story. How else would it be done?
As I write, catching some typos as I do so, rereading passages to see if they work, but generally telling a story. If it is a longer work, I find myself needing to refer back for reasons of continuity more often than I do with a shorter work, but that is only natural. When the story is done, I set it aside for a bit, then go back and read through it again with a fresh eye to see how well I did. In this part of the process, I catch more of those pesky typos, and generally see if the story works. I make corrections in grammar, style, plot, character development, and other parts at this time. Sometimes, this step is repeated, sometimes it is not. I reiterate that all these things are simply part of writing. They don’t seem separate to me.
The separate part for me is when I am editing someone else’s work, usually as an assigned editor for an anthology. I’ve done two of these, so far: A Tall Star, A Ship, and Plunder for Dark Oak Press and Media and Potter’s Field Five for Alban Lake Publishing. On both of these occasions I had the privilege of choosing, proofing, and editing stories for themed anthologies. The duty was quite different from telling a story of my own. I had to select from the submissions those quality works which best suited the theme and tone of the anthology I was putting together and rejecting those works which either were not quality or did not suit the theme and tone which we had solicited.
Quality is a big factor in this selection process. Did the writer tell a compelling story with a sound plot and round characters? Did the writer do a decent proofread to eliminate typos and grammatical errors? If so, and if the work fits the solicited theme and tone, then great, it gets moved into a folder to be further considered. If not, it gets a polite rejection letter perhaps with some helpful notes about why it was not selected. Once the final selections have been made, corrections have to be made.
In my experience, and in the experience of other editors I know, there is no such thing as a submission that needs no editing. All submissions will have some typos or grammatical errors. The fewer the better, of course, but all have some. Most will also have some minor issues that need to be corrected, a flawed plot point, an inconsistent voice at some point, an unclear description. When this occurs, it is the job of the editor to highlight the passage, make a note as to why it requires correction, perhaps make a suggestion, and send it back to the writer for correction. This is usually not a problem.
I’ve been on both ends of this process quite often now for the last six or seven years, and it is usually a relatively smooth process. It is not the job of an editor to rewrite a story. It is not the job of an editor to correct a fundamentally flawed story. Stories so flawed require rejection with helpful comments, nothing more. At the editor’s discretion, he may ask for a rewrite from the writer, in hopes that the brilliant germ of an idea in an otherwise flawed story might be brought out. That’s a risk the editor may take, and that’s a nice second chance for a writer.
What constitutes a story needing a rewrite is a somewhat subjective thing. The writer may find himself asking the question, “If you like my story enough to publish it, why do I have to rewrite it?” He may get insulted. He may say, “No thank you.” That’s okay, too. And who is the editor anyway, that he asks for such a thing? Maybe he doesn’t get it. I earlier used the word “refine” to describe what is done after the initial draft of a story. In refining, the gold, for instance, is separated from the undesirable parts of the ore, the slag. Who is the editor to decide which parts of a story are the gold and which are the slag? Only the writer knows that, one would think.
Writing is communication, of course, and the point of the story, the amusement, the moral, or the wit should be evident. The gold should clearly be the gold. It will look like gold, will it not? It will be yellow, shiny, and weighty. That is, it will be that way, if it has been refined. I stated earlier that part of my process in writing a story is to set it aside after the first draft and go back to it later with a fresh eye. An editor is also supposed to be a fresh eye. Writers, of course, know what they mean to write. Sometimes, a writer doesn’t see that he hasn’t communicated as clearly as he supposes. Sometimes he assumes facts not evidence, as it were. Sometimes he sees words that aren’t even on the page. It happens. Readers will do that too.
It’s the job of an editor to assist in regard to communication, to read and tell the writer before the story goes to the general public whether or not his communication has been successful, whether or not he has fully refined the ore and taken the gold out of it.
Just as all writers are not equal, all editors are not equal. An editor can have a bad day. An editor can be bad at his job. An editor can read a story and not get it through no fault in the story. An editor can lack imagination, have bad taste, or simply have too little experience to have proper points of comparison. An editor can be a bad judge of the intended audience and its tastes. An editor can also be a lousy proofreader. It happens. An editor may not know the look, the luster, or the weight of gold any more than a writer.
But, when a writer puts words on the page that are gold, and sends them to an editor who is looking for gold, the usual result is that between the two of them, the gold is refined to a greater purity for the collaboration. I’d like to be that writer and that editor. That’s what I dig for. Is it that for which I think most of us are digging.
Robert J. Krog is a native of Memphis, TN, where he still resides with his family. He has been climber for a his father’s professional arborist company, a grocery store clerk, a waiter, an order out delivery guy, a legal runner, a substitute teacher, and a high school History teacher. He has a master’s degree in Ancient History. He is currently a supervisor for a chemical lawn care company in Bartlett, TN. He is a devout Catholic, and this influences all of his writing. His published works include the collection, The Stone Maiden and Other Tales, the novella, A Bag Full of Eyes, and numerous short stories in anthologies form various publishers. He edited the anthology A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder for Dark Oak Press, and is currently working as a freelance editor on Potter’s Field Five for Alban Lake Press. A Bag Full of Eyes won the Darrell Award for Best Midsouth Novella in 2013. His short story, “Eat Your Peas,” won the Darrell Award for Best Midsouth Short Story in 2015.
Mr. Krog continues to write and has numerous, previously-unpublished works slated for publication in the next year. He is currently working on a pair of novellas, a screenplay, and a couple of novels. He is a regular author guest at science fiction and fantasy conventions in and around the Midsouth.
To find him on Facebook: Robert J. Krog
You can also find him on his website.