Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Pictures, man! Pictures!" -- Faye L. Booth

I admit it: I haven't posted in a week. Not only have I been proofreading, but I've been traveling at the same time.

Here I am, somewhat wiped out and thoroughly unshaven (though I don't think I'm exactly that color in real life), hugging my proofs (and the attached safety-green Post-It notes).

Eliza Graham commented that her eyes hurt when she was finished proofing. (As a side note, Amazon UK sent me an e-mail this morning letting me know that people who enjoyed Brian McGilloway's Borderlands ought to get with the program and preorder Eliza's Playing With the Moon. Nice to know that Amazon is out there pushing your title. [Of course, I preordered it already, but it's the marketing thought that counts.])

My eyes don't hurt. My brain hurts. Yet it's been fun looking at all those official-looking words, on pages cut down to book size. Indeed, I couldn't resist getting out the scissors and cutting along the trim marks to see if it really looked like the page of a book. It does. In fact, here's a photo of my page 203 slipped into Jonathan Drapes' hilarious Never Admit to Beige (right after Jonathan's page 202). (Not that my book's hilarious. At least not intentionally. Beige was just close to hand.)

Looks like a book, doesn't it?

I'd like to say that the proofing process was an unadulterated joy, but, in the Mike Barnard tradition of transparency, I'll tell the truth instead. It was a little tricky; trickier than usual, I suspect, as the partial translation from Americanese to English posed some odd problems. (More on this in a later post.)

I also discovered that the copyeditor, who in our previous exchange raised so many excellent points, has a passion for exclamation marks. Indeed, his passion for them almost rivals my own intense dislike of them; as Fitzgerald remarked, exclamation marks are like laughing at your own jokes.

I will, reluctantly, use an exclamation mark when someone is shouting, or even, well, exclaiming with sufficient force. But I found that exclamation marks had been added to almost every one-word thought or interjection in the text (especially one-word profanities, of which, I must confess, there are many).

The problem is that my characters often use these sorts of interjections in a tired, resigned, or wondering fashion, whether the dialogue is internal or external. To my mind, there is a world of difference in tone between:

Christ. It was going to be a long day.


Christ! It was going to be a long day.

(Indeed, when one comes to cases like "Great. More e-mail." versus "Great! More e-mail!" the exclamation mark can change the whole meaning of the passage, or render it highly ambiguous.)

Many of the characters in the book are rather tough people, and are therefore inclined to give orders in a rather flat tone rather than yelling; that is,

"Out." He gestured at the door. "Now."

reads rather differently if exclamation marks are added, and tells us something quite different about the speaker. So the profusion of excess "!" marks--about fifty added, and forty-two of them I couldn't stand--caused me to utter a number of exclamations of my own.

Editor Will Atkins, however, is apparently unflappable. He responded to my snippy, hysterical e-mail (and it takes a real wordsmith to be both snippy and hysterical at the same time) by assuring me these were all problems that could be solved, and represented the copyeditor's suggestions rather than a final draft, and that he certainly didn't want a text of which I didn't approve.

Mollified, I got back to proofing. (It occurs to me that an editor's job, working with novelists all day, must be a bit like working with preschool children all day, except that writers are allowed to stay up much later and therefore get much fussier.)

I think that after these changes are made, we will have a clean text. (Christ! I hope so!)


Anonymous said...

David - I also loathe exclamation marks. If you see one in something I've written, you can be sure an editor argued with me for hours about it.

I know they do have a place. I just can't help thinking that if I need punctuation to make the reader realise it's a heightened expression/moment, then I haven't done my job properly.

Feel free to call me uptight now.


Matt Curran said...

Hi David

You've used the same colour post-its as I did on my proofs way back in... well around this time last year, actually. Green stands out more, I guess.

The proofs really are an intense time, aren't they? I admit I went back with corrections in the low hundreds (much more than I expected). I read somewhere that corrections to the proofs cost a shitload of money, and with that as a steer I was quite intimidated by the large number of corrections needed. But like Will says, its the copyeditor's opinions and even they miss things. (Don't remember the infatuation with exclamation marks though). In the end, if something needs changing, then it needs changing, and finally that was the only guide I used.

But despite the brain-ache, there’s excitement too – another step towards publication, and just seeing that inside cover with an ISBN, a publication date, not to mention your name plastered over it, is pretty bloody fantastic!!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Aliya--

Anybody who doesn't like "!" definitely sits on my side of the table (though I confess I use them in e-mail!!)

In any case, I consider it a style issue rather than a grammar or clarity issue, and I think the style belongs to the author, not the process.

Call me uptight, too.

David Isaak said...

Howdy, Matt

Yes, seeing proofs was exciting--though mine came without all the itsy-bitsy legal jargon of the copyright page (maybe they were afraid I'd edit it). So my relishing of the ISBN has been purely via Amazon.

I'm glad to hear you had as many or more changes as I had (I sent through 109, to be precise). And changes are always a big pain, but I'm told that now everything is handled in softcopy rather than setting type that the huge expense associated with changes has shrunk dramatically.

As to the infatuation with exclamation marks, perhaps you had a different copyeditor. It also might be accounted for by the fact that my characters are so foul-mouthed. Yours have better manners.

It's good that the days are gone when publishers used renderings such as "F**k" or my novel would be filled with asterisks.

Faye L. said...

Interestingly, an article in this year's Mslexia diary describes exclamation marks as being like canned laughter in sitcoms - used to give them impression that something's funnier than it actually is.

Obviously that's not the only use of an exclamation mark, but in view of this post I thought you'd find it interesting.


David Isaak said...

A good description. And Mslexia is a pretty clever title, too.