What’s my line?

by Michele Callaghan, manuscript editor

Like an actor assuming a role, we editors need to inhabit the voice and the knowledge base of our authors. In recent months, I have been a precise medieval historian, a statistics-spewing football fan, a physicist with a flair for describing science for a lay audience, and a political science professor from the Big Apple.

The stereotypical actor asks, “What’s my motivation?” We need to ask similar questions to translate what is in the author’s mind for the intended reader. And like the actor, we can ad lib somewhat and use our knowledge to tease out the meaning and add to the original script. But there are two things we cannot do: break character and speak as ourselves or go off script to create our own story.

Longtime readers of the blog know that at one time I was an aspiring author and that in my youth my unreachable goal was to be the next James Joyce. I know I am not the only person out there with a file cabinet full of good and bad writing. So, why the shift from auteur to actor? Perhaps it is the teacher in my blood; both my parents and half of my grandparents were educators.

The joy of seeing someone through the gamut of emotions about their magnum opus going from raw material to a real book and the feeling of solving the puzzle of smoothing out can’t be beat. And while I enjoy taking a bow in the acknowledgments from time to time, what I really like is hearing the cries of “Author, author!” from the balcony.