Thursday, 8 October 2009


Check this Raymond Carver example of a before and after. Note that the after was after his editor, Gordon Lish, got ahold of it.

Before: “My friend Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking.”

This is fine; it gets the job done and has a nicely understated quality.

After: “My friend Mel McGinnis was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.”

We learn more about the narrator. We learn that he has a sense of humour and also an edge. I'm not sure what changing the name from Herb to Mel acheives but maybe that's a cultural judgement from the US in the 70's. There is a mix of resentment and respect in that “sometimes” — and to find out whether resentment or respect wins, we’ll have to read on.

But as Toby Litt puts it

Even more importantly, Lish’s rewrite of the opening line shifts the register of the entire story, pushing it closer to that of American hard-boiled detective fiction. The syntax changes from that of the page to that of the page mimicking the voice. The formality of punctuation is violated. The revised story artfully comes across as gutsier, and truer.


Jessica Maybury said...

Your post has put me in a bit of a panic; I need to read things far closer! If that even makes sense which I'm sure it doesn't. My two thoughts on editing is that (a) it's really important and (b) nobody does enough of it anymore!

Thanks for the post, keeps the cogs turning in my devious little mind.

Totalfeckineejit said...

That's not editing, it's not even translating, that's re-writing! Maybe Carver wasn' so great after all? I wish someone would 'edit' my shite and make it good.

Niamh Griffin said...

What bugs me about having my work edited is that usually when someone says ' Don't you think X would be better as Y' I totally see why it's better but couldn't step back and see it myself! Frustrating

Emerging Writer said...

Hi all, A good editor (like a good man) is hard to find. A good writing group can help, one that you trust and one that you can ignore when need be. But a second, third pair of eyes is invaluable when you get too close to your own work to see it's flaws.