Fictivity: What Editors Are Supposed To Be Doing


As a writer continues to work upon his or her fiction under the guidance of a trained editor, it is important for the success of that work that it stays ‘on track’ and doesn’t wander too far from its core vacuum. The ‘core vacuum’ of any work is what drives its central message or theme, so that upon completing a work a reader ‘gets’ what the whole thing has been about, even if they find it difficult to put into words. This is the Holy Grail of fiction: the transmission of something cohesive and meaningful to readers through a piece of invention.

Thus the ‘core vacuum’ of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream could be said to be (like many comedies) ‘Unity’ or ‘Reunion’, and, on many levels, we see characters and concepts that began as initially divided gradually coming together in harmony in the course of the play. By the end, lovers are united or re-united, and the world itself, under the powers of Titania and Oberon, is restored to harmony.

On the other hand, the Bard’s Macbeth takes as its central ‘message’ the concept of overriding ambition, and we see the effects throughout the play, most notably culminating in disaster and death for its protagonist. The tragedy conveys something about the human condition and its message is potently relayed.

Any successful piece of fiction of any form or genre has this operational heart. In fact, success in creating fiction is largely a question of defining exactly what this 'core vacuum' is and then having the other elements in the story go into orbit around it.

Listening Editing, Controlled Editing, Guided Editing and Trimmed Editing are terms being used here to describe the process of a writer working with an editor who has as his or her focus the clarification, magnification and enhancing of that central heart in any story. They are just terms — but I’ve broken them down in this way in order to detail the operations which occur, or which should occur, if success is to be achieved.

Of course, during this process, the writer often feels tempted to deviate from the work’s theme, either consciously or unconsciously. Writers can do as they please, naturally; they are free to create whatever they wish. However, if a central concept has been correctly isolated by a trained editor, a writer usually experiences a resurgence of passion about his or her story and a strong desire to ‘stay on the rails’ as far as communicating about its core message. That's because all fiction writers have as their goal the same broad aim: they want to communicate something to readers. And that is best done when they understand the heart of their own work.

If a writer drifts away from that core, though, there is a particular skill which can be employed by an editor to help move things forward.

Fictivity-trained editors essentially need five basic skills, quite apart from their technical knowledge and abilities with the language:

1. The ability to be present and listen to a work, occasionally despite invitations to do something else. This is the basic at work behind a Listening Edit.

2. The communication skills needed to communicate a work’s ‘heart’ back to a writer concisely and accurately. This is what is done in a Controlled Edit.

3. The ability to acknowledge a writer in such a way that the writer feels empowered and encouraged, which is part of Guided and Trimmed Editing.

4. The determination to persist with a writer until something is completed, also part of the above

and

5. The ability to deal with a writer’s objections or communications in such a way as to keep the whole project on course and true to its central theme. This could be called ‘responsive communication’ and consists of an editor understanding a writer’s communication, and, when he or she doesn’t, asking more questions until understanding is achieved, then really acknowledging

only when it has really been understood.

As soon as an editor gets the idea of finite result or, that is to say, a specific and definite product expected, all this becomes easy. A properly trained editor works with the work in front of him or her, gets into communication with the writer, guides the writer toward steps needful to progress the work, and then persists long enough to yield a completed, successful piece of fiction.

This may seem to some like an over-elaboration of an editor simply working with a writer to get a product. But I’m elaborating it precisely because this is not usually what happens in a writer/editor relationship. Most writers experience something quite different, which breaks down (in every sense of that expression) as follows:

1. An editor reads a writer’s work over a prolonged period of time, often distracted by other things. At the end of the process, an editor reports back only errors and flaws and fails to either notice or respond to the writer’s overall aims with the work -- if they bother to report back at all.

2. The editor, having not noticed the core concepts behind the writer’s work, fails to acknowledge or give feedback about them to the writer.

3. The feedback from the editor to the writer leaves the latter feeling invalidated and discouraged.

4. The editor gives up on the writer — unless the writer has already given up on that editor.

By far the bulk of what passes for ‘editing’ barely constitutes a relationship between a writer and editor at all. Writers submit work to faceless and distant figures called ‘editors’; if they are lucky, they receive a cursory response, hardly enough for them to tell if the work has even been read at all. If they get more feedback, it is often of a negative variety. More often than not, they get no feedback.

That leaves hundreds of thousands of writers sending out communications into a void, seeking desperately the kind of constructive, professional relationships which will help them become successful authors, but almost always failing.

There is another approach, the approach given herein.

The approach outlined by Fictivity can take any writer, even a novice whose work is tremulous and under-developed, and build on it until that writer not only gains confidence but is able to produce potent and meaningful work which impacts upon readers.

That's what this is all about.

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