May 15, 2009

Copy Editing

   I know that title is really boring. It's just what I have been doing all week. It's been my number 1 focus. For anyone who might be reading this and doesn't know, I have been writing a screenplay for the last 8 months now. Now that I am getting really close to feeling like it is complete I have to fix all the terrible errors in it that bother the average reader. In short I have to copy edit it.
   To copy edit, at least in news print, is to remove any grammatical errors, spelling errors or just confusing language that many writers are prone to using. I know that almost everyone who loves to read thinks that when they read someones words they get insight into that person, that author. The truth is that you get insight into a lot of people. Very few published works ever make it to publication without many levels of editing by various people.
   In my case there are really only a few levels. First off there is me. I write the original material, for better or for worse. Then I pass what I have onto my readers (who shall remain unnamed until publication time, upon which they will get lavish thanks from me). The readers do just that, read. In some cases they read it over and over again. Then they give feedback. I ask my readers to look for parts that don't work and parts that work really well. In the end I am telling a story about characters and I want to know how those characters are being received by a reader, despite the fact that this is a screenplay that, if published, will have the characters interpreted for the average viewer by talented actors.
   Once I have some feedback I toss things around in my head and rewrite the areas that need additions or subtractions. In one case it turned out to be about a third of what I had written that was tossed aside. After the rewrite that section felt better to me and to my readers.
   So, after repeating the process over and over I come to a nearly complete story. However complete the story is the words themselves are still occasionally jumbled and clumsy. So begins the copy editing process.
   Normally a copy editor would be employed by a publisher to help the author smooth out the rough edges. In my case I am too poor and untrusting so I do most of it myself. The problem with a writer copy editing their own material is that they tend to miss most of the errors. So, in order to do it properly they have to do it many more times that someone else would have to. You see a writer tends to know what they are reading and their brain will often fill in the gaps when there is a word misspelled.
   For example: I wrote one line that went kind of like, "He rubs his eyes." Only I really wrote, "He subs his eyes." A spell checker program can't get this. I didn't misspell anything. The grammar is close enough to correct that the grammar checker can't find the mistake either. But any human reading it could, except the writer. I already know in my subconscious what this word is supposed to be, so when I read it I don't notice the mistake. I must have read this passage 3 times before I saw the word "subs".
   The thing I am trying to illustrate here is that we often have problems self correcting. I think that is why in our early years we have parents and older brothers and sisters. They can see our errors more clearly than we can so we can then correct them, if we are willing, and become better at interacting with others.
   Of course this whole time I was talking about relating to people.
   I realized last night that even now I am really slow at picking up on stupid things I do. Sometimes I say things as an adult that are really dumb. The sad thing is that there is no correcting the words after they leave your mouth. There are 2 correcting principles I have noticed over the years though.
   The first thing I learned as a teenager. When I was young I often said really stupid and embarrassing things. So many times I thought people would never talk to me again because of things I said. Not insulting things but things that just showed my ignorance and childishness. I think at some point we all do some of this.
   The weird thing is that people don't seem to react the way I thought they would as a teenager, that they would never want to associate with me again. Most people ignore or forget those things. The only people that really remember the stupid or embarrassing things you do are your friends. They bring them up once in a while for a laugh, not really to hurt your feelings. Everyone else seems to just forget. It makes those moments livable.
   The second principle is forgiveness coupled with apology. Every once in a while we say really stupid things that hurt others unintentionally. Apology and forgiveness is something I am sure we are all familiar with. This too, makes life livable.
   Unfortunately we cannot always edit our words or actions. Luckily there are other things working in our favor that make it not as bad as it might be.