So You Wanna Be An Editor
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- What Makes A Good Editor
- Before I begin I would like to state that the ideal for all of these case would just be the Translator being better, such that an editor isn't necessary. Ideally, for instance, a translator doesn't make typos and writes everything flawlessly, but that's not going to ever happen. An editor's role is ultimately to take writing damaged by a translator - accidentally or otherwise - and fix it up, turning the writing into the best that it can be. So what does an editor need to be good at to fix writing up?
- 1 - An eye for typos and familiarity with nuanced grammar.
- Although this technically is something you would expect QA to cover, the less typos and grammar errors there are at any point in the process the better. If something slips past the editor, it might slip past QC. As for grammar, it helps when an editor is familiar with more specific concepts that the translator might glaze over, like proper usage of quotation marks.
- 2 - Familiarity with the work and its terms.
- Consistency in a work is hard, and a good editor will need to follow behind a translator's back and make sure they aren't being inconsistent. (Of course, their familiarity with the work will come from the translator's work, so it will take time and cooperation for this to build up). If a city is named Tsia City in one volume, and the translator writers Tsia Town the next, then the editor needs to be able to spot that and say "hey, we went with Tsia City last volume, what's up with this?" A more important example, maybe, is maintaining the "voice" of each character. Iffin a dwarf char'ter be speakin' leeek dis, then the editor needs to makes sure all of the dwarf's lines are written in a similar fashion. Maybe the translator just shat out a "Hey, how are you doing my good friend" from the dwarf and didn't really put in the effort to write the voice in, accidentally or otherwise. The editor needs to fix that, either by rewriting it themselves or pointing it out to the translator.
- 3 - Having a good "sense" for writing.
- Man, this is pretty vague, but I'll try to explain. Writing is really subtle, and ideally, every word in a sentence matters and plays a crucial role in the sentence. For a very direct example, I will quote the opening line of Neuromancer: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." This is a very famous sentence and good reason, the idea of a sky being the color of static on TV immediately conjures up a vivid, bold image. Now imagine an editor sees this and thinks, "Hmm, that's really abstract, I don't think static is really a color. I'll change this to 'The sky above the port was a darkish color tinged with white.' Yeah, that's better." This is what I would describe as having a bad "sense" for writing. Taking a very good sentence and turning it into something worse, having missed the point entirely. A good editor, I think, needs to have a good enough sense for writing to see what's important in a line and either:
- 3.3 - Have the writing skill/sense to not change it for the worse
- One of my past editors did Not Have A Good Sense For Writing. I worked really hard to give a character a brutish, flat tone of voice to match the original, and in an effort to I think improve the text, the editor changed a lot of their lines to be more dramatic and flourishing which just did not fit the character at all. For example, a line like "Good. Follow me." might be changed to "Exceedingly smart choice, my dear fellows. Come with me if you will." You can imagine how dramatically different and worse the character came off after that treatment. An editor needs to be a skilled enough writer to know not to do that kind of thing. I know this passage is kind of condescending by nature, "the editor needs to be good enough to not ruin the translator's writing", but this is a real issue I've had to deal with in the past so I think it's worth noting. And the brighter side of this is the reverse:
- 3.6 - Have the writing skill/sense to (safely) improve the line
- This is basically the opposite of the last one. Let's say there's a brutish character who speaks in a flat tone, and suddenly the translator writes a line like "Exceedingly smart choice, my dear fellows. Come with me if you will." That doesn't match the tone at all. A good editor will be able to first, notice this, and then second work to make it better. The "safely" part of the section title comes into play here, because this isn't Original Writing, it's Translation. The translator is working from the original Japanese text, and you don't want to needlessly edit away from the Japanese, since the ultimate goal is the translation of an existing work and not creating a new work, so to speak. In other words, I don't think one should treat a translation project as a playgrounds to go wild with creative writing, it's important to respect the original text. That's not to say you have to stick to it 1:1, because that's impossible, but I don't think you should take a dry sentence - "The sky is blue" - and try to needlessly improve it - "The brilliant clear sky is of the most vivid blue, bluer than an orchid and bluer than the eyes of my dearly departed Aunt whose eyes were an ocean of periwinkle". An editor has the very difficult job of both improving the translation's writing while also not deviating too far from the original vision, which they often can't see in the first place due to not knowing Japanese, which requires a degree of constant co-operation with the translator.
- So, to sum up that section - The writing skill/sense to see flaws in writing that can be improved, respect for the original text, and ability to improve while working with the translator to make sure the result isn't inaccurate. In many places the translator just manually goes through every edit an editor makes, to ensure no inaccuracies or anything were introduced, so really an editor doesn't have to DM a translator over every little thing, but the more communication the better I think.
- 3.9 - Ability to not do anything if nothing is necessary.
- Sometimes, a line just doesn't need any changes. No editor needs to change *every* line and doing so will just give the editor a huge workload. If you're only changing 25% of lines, well, that means the translator is doing a good job for the other 75%, don't worry about it.
- (Bonus round) 4 - Ability to deal with poor/broken English.
- I initially wasn't going to write this section, since I don't think someone with broken English should really be translating in the first place, but I reconsidered because in the end it is a problem editors will likely face at some point in their life. Sometimes, translators are ESLs, most commonly Japanese people who learned English, and often, their English writing isn't good. The "25% of lines changed" from before will immediately shoot up to 100% when dealing with a translator that doesn't know English well, and that's a problem. The ideal is that the translator just gets replaced, but that's not always an option in an industry where translators are somewhat hard to come by. Being able to look at a broken sentence and parse it into proper English without losing your mind is a skill some editors will just need to have - I recall a fansub group's Editor Test just being the most godawful ESL translation you've ever seen in your life, because that's the kind of translations they dealt with and they wanted to see whether the editor would be able to turn it into proper and readable English. You don't have to deal with this kind of thing as an editor if you don't want to, but you never know where you might end up.
- Man I sure got tired of writing this and am going to unceremoniously end here without looking back and proofreading. TL;DR
- 1) Be a good writer
- 2) Improve the text in objective ways (typos, consistency, grammar)
- 3) Improve the text in subjective ways (evocative sentences, character voice)
- 4) Show respect to the original without treating the TL like a personal playground
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