Editor to the Letter

By Devin Harper

As the chief editor of Dragon Eagle, I’ve got a pretty easy job. Editing is, at its essence, a spirited dialogue between the author and editor. But since most of our authors are dead, I’m left with no choice but to publish their work the way they intended: word-for-word with zero revision or proofreading.

So instead, I’ve decided to devote my time to this monthly column, where I analyze pieces submitted to Dragon Eagle and offer advice on how to improve them. This first example comes from an entry into our short story contest last July. Let’s take a look at the opening paragraph:

John closed his eyes, knowing full well he would walk out of this room, and through the door that led to the outside of said room, the one he was currently in, a changed man. He opened his mouth and sucked in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture – no breathing through the nose for him. Once his blood was adequately oxygenated, he took a step forward, first by lifting his right foot off the ground, and second by placing it back on the ground several inches ahead of its prior position. This process was repeated with the utmost of mechanical precision. In the gaps between his blinks, John was left to absorb and process the visual data. The carpet was a motley of red, green, brown, yellow, pink and orange and several other colors, but the walls, in sharp contrast, were of a single tan color, and, as he expected, John could not see his reflection in them. His body lurched forward of its own momentum and came to a halt. John, using his lower appendages as a fulcrum, stood there.

Pretty good. There’s a few things, though, I might change to tighten things up. For example, the sentence “He opened his mouth and sucked in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture” is a little wordy. I might write it like this: “His mouth opened and drew in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture.”

And I think the author has a slight tendency to use big words where a small one would suffice.  We could turn “Once his blood was adequately oxygenated” into “Once his body was adequately oxygenated.” With those changes, our edited paragraph might look something like this:

John closed his eyes, knowing full well he would walk out of this room, and through the door that led to the outside of the room, the one he was currently in, a different man. His mouth opened and drew in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture – no breathing through the nose for him. Once his body was adequately oxygenated, he took a step forward, first by lifting his right foot off the ground, and second by placing it back on the ground several inches ahead of its earlier position. This process was repeated with the utmost of mechanical precision. In the gaps in his blinks, John was left to absorb and process the visual data. The carpet was a motley of red, green, brown, yellow, pink and orange and several more colors, but the walls, in sharp contrast, were of a single tan color, and, as he expected, John could not see his reflection in them. His body lurched forward of its own momentum and came to a halt. John, using his lower appendages as a fulcrum, stood there.

Let’s look at another example. This one comes from a blood-stained napkin an anonymous author slid under our office door one evening:

Strength. Beauty. Brutality. Honor. Decorum. Love. The men were out there, bodies heaving, mouths panting, ears listening, finally putting into practice what they’d only seen etched so passionately on chalkboards. For some, the battle inward was more harrowing than the one they were chasing outwardly. It was not just the darkness of defeat, for that they’d been prepared for since birth. No, it was the obliteration of the self that truly haunted them. Perhaps it was the intimacy, to be in such close proximity to the enemy, to look into the eyes of a man who could be your brother and taste his sweat. And in this moment they knew you’d have the cut off the head of sympathy the moment it reared its head.

Again, not bad writing per se, but a little wordy. You get the sense the author’s relying a bit too much on unnecessary jargon. With some minor edits, we’re left with this:

The Detroit Pistons defeat the Chicago Bulls, 107-91.

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