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The Fiction Editor 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312022099
ISBN-10: 0312022093
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The chairman and editorial director of St. Martin's discusses the art of editing fiction.

Copyright 1994 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

This breezy little book illuminates the normally private relationship between author and editor. In prose that is opinionated, brash, and forceful, McCormack lays bare the principles he has applied for 30 years as a fiction editor. While admitting the need for sensibility, he denounces seat-of-the-pants editing, substituting instead a systematic method of analyzing stories and repairing their faults before publication. In a conversational and light-hearted tone, he offers insights that will interest not just writers and editors of fiction but also anyone who wants to understand what makes a novel succeed or fail. Perfect for teachers, critics, and general readers as well.
- Michael Edmonds, State Historical Soc. of Wisconsin, Madison
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 202 pages
  • Publisher: St Martins Pr; 1st edition (September 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312022093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312022099
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,384,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For every published book, there are many editing steps from rough draft to finished product. If math alone were the determining factor, that should mean there would be many more books on editing than on writing. In fact, there are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of books on writing and only a handful on editing. To be sure, there are stylebooks that concentrate on grammatical and punctuational form. And most respectable writers give shelf space to Strunk & White and Zinnser and a few others. But while their efforts address precision of thought and clarity of form, McCormack takes the plunge and talks about artistic sensibility and the effective use of craft in a way that enlarges and energizes like no other book I've run across.
His main premise is that artistic sensibilty is something innate. We like or dislike something because it strikes a chord within or fails to. This resonant characteristic of art doesn't need to be taught. It is simply there. The purpose of craft is NOT to teach the writer how to hit that mark but to help him diagnose the ailment when he doesn't. A writer begins with a vision that drives him. The study of craft, at the outset, may hinder more than it helps. When the attempt falls short, there is plenty of time to apply technique and identify the lack or the excess that caused the work to be less than hoped for.
McCormack says there are two basic failures--bad things which have crept in and good things which have not. He demystifies the whole spooky process and makes it seem much more manageable and achievable.
He also encourages writers to find, cultivate, and appreciate good critiquers whether they be someone in the industry or astute and articulate readers.
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There is a lot of really useful information in McCormack's book. In particular, I found two notions to be quite helpful: the notion of "circuitry," which details how one character's motivations and agendas connect with those of others; and the notion of "master effect," the overall impact the author wants to achieve. There were a number of other useful things, too, along the way.

However, in general, the book the book lacks the unity and cohesiveness needed to make it a really effective teaching tool. The first three sections each deal with a different aspect of fiction editing, along with three characteristics of the competent fiction editor: sensibility, craft, and art. In Part One, we are told that sensibility - an intuitive understanding of what will work or not work for readers - is key, yet in Part Three, we are told that sensibility can't be taught. And then, he spends several pages dissecting this unteachable concept of sensibility (why? - if it can't be taught). Likewise, art cannot be taught, he claims, yet in Part Three he analyzes "artful writing" into four distinct stages.

On one page McCormack speaks directly to writers, on the next, to editors. He piles metaphor against metaphor, sometimes in the same paragraph, and sometimes spinning out the metaphor at length rather than focusing on how it illuminates editing or writing. He indulges in irrelevant asides on such diverse topics as theatre and philosophy; quotes William Sloane and E. M. Forster without identifying the sources of the quote; and chooses arcane terms with no intuitive appeal - prelibation, gustatory sensibility vs. salivary sensibility (!) - to capture his insights.
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Format: Paperback
To be honest, the tone of the book didn't grab me. I had trouble reading this book in one sitting. This is not a bad book. It is just that there many books by editors who lambast their colleagues in front of writers in an effort to sign the writers. At first thought, McCormack seemed to be attacking other editors just to look better.
After completing the book, I see that is not the stance the author is taking. He acknowledges that editing is still an art, but avers that a more standard practice and terminology is needed to better the quality of writing today.
To this end, he suggests a vocabulary to help editors describe what works or does not work in a novel. One such word is the prelibation, which is the effect the writer is trying to get from the reader. After reading his suggestions, I am inclined to agree. McCormack also points out the contradiction in many fiction textbooks today. No wonder we have a disparity in editing ability.
I would recommend this book to writers and editors. This book will help you think about the novel in ways that can only help it become stronger.
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I was so glad to see that this book has been revised and reprinted. I came upon it early in my career as a novelist and altho it wasn't an easy book to read (I was still pretty naive), it turned out to be one of the most important ones on craft for me. His idea of the "master-effect" became a sort of mantra for me, first as a writer, and now as a teacher. If you don't know what you want to the book to DO or MEAN for the reader, what will it do? What he gives you--circuitously--is a way to catch onto something for the wonderful ride it is to write a novel.
The book is not for someone looking for a quick fix, a formula, etc. It's a thinker's book. It's fun, though. And really smart
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