Monday, January 22, 2018

Great Works of Copy Editing Literature

Behind every great work of literature is a great copy editor. But what if editors weren't behind it, but out in front?

Last Friday on Twitter, Benjamin Dreyer and Jonathon Owen got some of us started rethinking what some of the great works of literature might be like if the novels were written about copy editors. I came to the conclusion that literature can only be improved if more novels were written about those of us in the word business.

Here are the 17 best first lines of novels written about copy editors:

(Uncredited lines are my own.)

The Author's Pride and the Editor's Prejudice

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an author in possession of a manuscript, must be in want of a copy editor." —Jonathon Owen

The Autocorrected Trial

"Someone must have miscorrected Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arm-rested."

The Editrix

"Chicago Manual of Style, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul."

Don Quixote, the Editor of La Mancha

"Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a freelance business and ancient style guide on a shelf and keeps a red pencil and a Staedtler for erasing.”

One Hundred Years of Rectitude

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Copy Editor Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father introduced him to the AP Styleguide." —Mike Pope

The Freelancer and the Sea

"He was an old man who edited alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking on a new client."

Trackchanges 451

"It was a pleasure to stet."

Queries from Underground

"I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man." [This first line doesn't actually need to be altered.]

Anna Karenina, Copy Editor

"All well-edited manuscripts are alike; each badly edited manuscript is badly edited in its own way."

Go Edit on the Mountain

"Everyone had always said than John would be an editor when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself."

The Manuscript Graveyard Book

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a red pen." —DeAnna Berghart

Gone With the Idiom

"The text was not beautiful, but readers seldom realized it when caught by its charm, as the copy editor was." —DeAnna Burghart

The Edimorphosis

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous copy editor." —Jonathon Owen

The Typo-Catcher in the Rye

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I edited, and what my lousy editor-in-chief was like, and how my magazine adopted AP style and all before they hired me, and all that Mary Norris kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

The Year 1984 C.E.

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. [Query: Clocks don't normally strike 13. change to 'twelve' or 'one'?]"

The Great Grammarsby

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some grammar rules that I've been turning over in my mind ever since." 

A Tale of Two City Desks

"It was the best of Times New Roman, it was the worst of Times New Roman; it was the age of editorial wisdom, it was the age of authorial foolishness. [Edited for length]" —@baxterburgundy

Any great first lines I missed? Add them to the comments below!