Monday, April 16, 2012

Recap: Good Old-Fashioned Editing with Charlene Rooke

Charlene Rooke at Alberta Magazines Conference (photo courtesy Don Molyneaux and Sandra Markieta)

Editor Charlene Rooke sure packed a ton of info into her session "Stet: A Return to Good, Old-Fashioned Editing" at the Alberta Magazines Conference. She covered everything from the role of the editor to the editing process to essential story elements to a line-editing checklist. Here's a recap of some of her pearls of wisdom.

Role of the Editor
  • The editor is the personality of the magazine.
  • Be able to pluck stories out of the air; see trends; connect the dots between disparate pieces.
  • Be curiosity driven.
  • Believe in the transformative potential of ideas to change the world (even if it's just convincing your readers to paint a room a certain colour or make a certain drink).
  • Nurture writers; if you're not spending time building relationships with writers, you're not optimizing your job as editor. Be a writer's editor; "what other kind is there?"
Editing Process
  • Editing is very iterative and collaborative. Take a "do no harm" philosophy.
  • For your first read:
    1. Print it out. Put down the pen.
    2. Read as a reader, not an editor. 
    3.  What is great about the story?
  • If the story isn't working, figure out whether it's a writing problem (which isn't a problem; it's the editor's job to fix that) or a reporting problem. If it's reporting, the writer has to go back and fix it.
  • Reread your own assignment letter. Has anything changed on your end?
  • If a story seems insurmountable, start thinking radically. Could I cut the whole first half? Could I Rubik's Cube rearrange it? Could the end be the lead? Could the lead be display copy? Is it too long? Could some be a sidebar? Try all this before you start rewriting.
  • Break stories into parts to avoid awkward transitions and create narrative tension.
  • Consider the visuals as they can help tell the story and set the tone.
  • Does the ending leave you satisfied?
  • Get a second opinion before killing a story.
    • Time vs. Money
      • Plan A: Rewrite
      • Plan B: Delay
      • Plan C: Reformat/repackage
      • Plan D: Kill fee
Story Essentials
  • The storyteller has to be present to curate and provide context.
  • Use cocktail narrative; tell the most interesting part first. Don't tell stories in chronological order. Make sure there is order to the story to avoid readers having to jump back and forth.
  • Vary the perspective. Even if it's an in-depth article on a specific topic, provide some macro too; and vice versa.
  • Include telling details; not just details for the sake of details.
  • Sources—are there enough? Is the story balanced? A one-source story is a red flag.
Line-Editing Checklist
  • Are there many short or long sentences? You should typically have a mix.
  • Is the story top-heavy with ideas/words?
  • Check for overused jargon, dashes, contractions, adjectives, slang.
  • Use fresh words/phrases instead of clich├ęs or "potted history".
  • Is your verb tense consistent?
  • Is there any repetition? Is every sentence necessary?
   -- Colleen Seto