The Editor Is Always Right

Or so says Adam Christopher over at Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds:

You have no idea how serious I am about this point. The editor is always right. Always. Right. It’s their job: you write the book, they edit it, and together – together – you make it the best book you possibly can.

As a writer, you live with a story for months, years even. By the time you’ve done a zillion drafts and a zillion-squared edits, you’ve read and re-read the damn thing so much that it becomes less a book, more a collection of words that seem to form some kind of sequence, if only you could see what it was.

You are way, way too close to it.

The original version of The Burning Dark had a very different ending. It was pretty vague, and I knew it, but I wasn’t really sure what else to do. I’d tried to reassure myself that it was the journey that mattered, not the ending, but it bugged me.

Then my editor sent back his notes. They were great, because not only were they a full line-edit of the manuscript, as I suspected, but he has a habit of asking questions and posing theories in the comments. A lot of these don’t require any specific actions, they just show how he is processing the story as he reads it.

But sometimes they lead in some very interesting directions.

Some story background: A thousand years in the future, humanity is united into a single military entity, the Fleet, to battle a swarming machine intelligence, the Spiders. The Spiders are a gestalt mind, the individual components of which are linked together by a psychic communications network, which humans call the SpiderWeb. To combat this, the Fleet developed a division of psi-marines, psychic front-line troops who can tap into the SpiderWeb with their minds, disrupting the network while the regular marines go in for the kill.

In The Burning Dark, there’s just one psi-marine left on the space station with the crew. We learn about her job, about how the psi-marines work, how she could attack the Spider network with her mind and… that was it.

My editor put a comment against this, which said:

“Cool. Too bad we don’t see this happen.”

With that simple comment, he’d not only identified what was missing from the story, but had pointed towards what should really happen at the end.

On the basis of that single comment, I completely rewrote the final third of the book. The end result was orders of magnitude stronger than the original version.

So remember, kids: the editor is always right.

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