I am a good editor. I know my stuff. If there is a grammar mistake, a typo, a plothole, a well-written but totally unnecessary infodump, a confused POV, I will see it. I will not spare you. It’s all about the story; a writer’s ego has no place in that. I encourage debate, and if an author argues with me, I will often give way. It is my belief that constructive criticism makes us think, and thinking is always a good thing, even if it makes the writer a little pissy. The author might see my point, or see her own point from a different angle. In the end, the story wins, and that’s the true goal.
One of the things I always tell my writers is that we write for those who are going to notice, not the readers who won’t. My own bête noire, the confusion of that and which, is actually a usage in flux, and has been for…ever. Though the rule never changes, the usage does. Currently, though the British English rule is the same as the American English rule, Brits use which almost exclusively in restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. (That and Which blog post.) It has been so in American English, and is actually making its way back into usage. I, however, will never okay that in any edit I do. It grates to the point of being able to spoil an otherwise good story for me, if used too often; and thus my contention–write for those who will notice.
Imagine my surprise when my editor at Lyrical (the fabulous Penny Jo Barber) pointed out to me that I was breaking my own rule.
Moving to the desk, she clicked at the keyboard until the article she needed popped up on the screen.
The rule, as I know it, says that the comma acts as a transition, an invisible “and then.” It’s how I learned it, how I’ve always written it, totally oblivious to the fact that for some, it’s as grating as that and which confusion is to me. Why? Because it is grammatically incorrect. The ING in moving is a continuous motion, and can’t be done while clicking at a keyboard. The way I’ve always done it is one of those new–in that it’s not new at all–usages that goes against an established rule.
Whether I agree or not, I’ll never do again, because for those who notice, like my editor, it can spoil the story. Instead, I’ll write something like:
She moved to the desk, clicked at the keyboard. The article she needed popped up onto the screen.
Whichever way it’s written, the reader gets the idea. The second way is not going to make those who would have noticed cringe. I could have argued, as I encourage my authors to do. I could have cited usage in flux. But why? I agree, completely. This is why even editors need editors. We might turn in cleaner copy, but we will always need that authoritative eye reminding us that we don’t know everything.
PS: There is a “cheat” to know whether your ING works or not. If you can insert “while” to the beginning of the sentence and it still makes sense, it works. If not, it doesn’t.
frex: Sipping the hot tea, she breathed in the fragrant steam. Correct!
Sliding down the hillside, she got up, brushed herself off, and hurried on. Wrong!
Thank you, Penny!