The Editor and the Playwright

Attending an SCDA acting and directing workshop this weekend (and it was a rather fabulous one too, one that got me acting for the first time in years) gave me the idea for this week’s post. A post on the importance of editing for theatrical types.

Greek Masks

Now I won’t lie, it’s difficult to think of a post every week that has something to do with editing (after all this is supposed to be a work blog with a few reviews thrown in for good measure), and one that won’t put you all to sleep. But there are times when good editing really does matter.

When a group of actors get together everyone needs a script… unless you are into feature length improv, in which case you probably need a mental health professional rather than an editor. Now scripts can be expensive, especially when you consider who will actually need one – that’ll be everyone involved in the production. The actors of course need a script, but so do the production crew, the techies, the props people, the floor manager, wardrobe mistresses etc. You get my drift… if it’s a tenner for a script multiply that by even the basic heads of department who direct their crew, plus the actors, director and producer and there is a LOT of money tied up in script purchases. So it makes sense to be sure that your script is fit for purpose, if it’s not the director will probably just bin it and go in search of one that’s properly constructed.

So what has that got to do with editing I hear you wimper?

The Confused Actor

Ok… imagine (and this is actually taken from a script I worked on recently when I was producing) that stage directions are not formatted properly… your actor will end up reading those lines. Firstly it’s disconcerting for the actors, they read the lines, realise that there’s something wrong… stop… read the page again, realise the words are a direction, then start again. They’ve lost the flow. Start again.

Well it’s not the end of the world but a badly edited script means more stops and starts, which means loss of concentration and direction… which cuts back on productive rehearsal time and could end up with severely stressed actors, a director at his wits end and a rapidly looming rehearsal deadline. The more mistakes, the more stops and starts, the less likely the director is to buy from the company again. And that’s if the script actually makes it past the director’s read through in the first place.

Now of course there are some big script publishers out there, but they are not infallible, in fact the last full script I read had a few bad mistakes. But if you are a budding playwright, or a small publisher, you need to make sure that as few mistakes as possible make it past the proofing stage. You need to make it as clear as possible to your readers exactly what is happening; what is dialogue and what is stage direction. There are conventions to follow and a good editor will know how to style your script to make it clear to everyone.

Imagine. A simple situation contained in a simple extract given to an actor:

Danni walks into the room. Silence. Miranda says she’s ready to go. She moves right. Closes the door. Curtains close.

So what does the author mean? It could be any one of these, and probably more.

 A couple of simple scenarios:

[Danni walks into the room]


DANNI:          Miranda says she’s ready to go.                 [She moves right, closes the door]

Curtains close


[Danni walks into the room]


MIRANDA:   She’s ready to go.                                        [She moves right. Closes the door]

Curtains close

But dependent on the rest of the scene it could be that Miranda is actually narrating what Danni is doing:

MIRANDA:   Danni walks into the room.


MIRANDA:   She’s ready to go. [She moves right] Closes the door.

Curtains close

theatre curtains
Theatre Curtains courtesy of Rosmary [ ]

See? A simple extract that can be broken down, and according to how it’s presented can come across in different ways, all valid. If the playscript is not edited correctly it can change a whole scene, cause confusion and lead to more time spent than is needed. Remember folks, in theatre time equals money.

If you write scripts, or publish scripts, it really is worth your time hiring an editor to format your play and help you get the most from it. It could mean the difference between your script becoming an award winning play performed in the West End or becoming a well thought of amateur production… or becoming a script that is left unsold, sat on the shelf and unloved by those who’ve read it but can’t get past the flaws.

The Gordon Ramsay Effect

(or how wordsmiths can help restaurants look good too)

The other day I settled down to watch Hell’s Kitchen USA. (or rather Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares as noted by Persnickety in the comments section… well done, five brownie points to you 😉 )

It was your usual nightmare – filthy restaurant, badly managed kitchen, despairing family… all edited for our entertainment of course. But as Gordon sat down to sample the menu my ears picked up and a grin spread across my face – he was pointing out to the hapless owner that his menu was full of typos… and that it doesn’t exactly instil confidence in your customers. Good one Gordon!

He’s right of course. The menu is the face of the restaurant and if your customers sit down to a badly worded menu they are more likely to be laughing at your choice of words than marvelling at your choice of ingredients. Who wants to eat “pee soup” or “crap cakes”?

crab, astrological signIt’s a little known fact that editors and proofreaders can have what I call the Gordon Ramsay effect. While a trained chef can sweep into a restaurant and see immediately what needs attending to in the kitchen, an editor/proofreader can see what needs changing when it comes to the written word. Those running a business can be oblivious to badly written material, but we are like word ninja…we can sweep in and spot a misplaced apostrophe before you hear the click of our red pen on the menu.

Ramsay doesn’t just clear up though, he puts things into order, enhances what’s there and improves it – and that’s what we do. It doesn’t mean stripping the heart and soul out of the place.

Take a trawl of the internet and the majority of menu typos involve a menu that has been translated by a non-native speaker. For example in Chinese take-away menus you often see crap instead of crab. Now come on guys, that’s easily done and I suppose it appeals to those with a schoolboy sense of humour (ok, that’s most of us then), but a quick proofread would have caught that one. It’s hard enough to start and run a business, but to contend with a language you’re not fluent in is no laughing matter… how many English speakers can write in Cantonese?

But it’s not always the non-native speakers that have a hard time with their menus. And it’s not just the cheaper end of the market; more upmarket menus contain typos too. It can get so bad that I’ve even been known to sit on my hands in a café to stop myself getting my ever-present red pen out of my handbag to correct the mistake. People, sometimes it’s tough being an editor and proofreader.

people eating
He decided to impress his date with his glass eating trick, so ordered the “lamp cutlets”

I often wonder why, when a company puts so much effort into other parts of their business, they totally overlook the publications. A menu is often the first port of call for customers if you run a take-away business…why risk people being put off by your scary “hand and cheese” sandwiches? If your menu is less than perfect what will people think your food is like? Yes, your mind is elsewhere, you type up a menu and send it off to get printed while you are worrying about whether your tables are the right size or if the mega-expensive kitchen equipment is right for you…but once it’s printed it’s expensive to get put right. Typos are easy to miss, not everyone is comfortable around words and just because you can whip up a fantastic croquembouche it doesn’t mean you know how to spell it. A proofread is not expensive, will make sure that you set the right tone and ensure your customers are visiting you for all the right reasons.

The Sophisticated Croquembouche
The Sophisticated Croquembouche from
Please visit their website for some fabulous cake decorating supplies

While wasting time researching, I even came across  a geek mom blog article on Wired that came to the conclusion that no menu is without a typo! Go and have a read if you have another few minutes of your coffee break.

Next time you are at a café or restaurant have a game of spot the typo… hopefully you won’t find one, but it’s fun searching while you wait for the coffee.

Life’s too short for boring books.

Let me get one thing straight. There’s really no such thing as a bad book. Ok there is… but there’s usually (not always) something interesting hiding underneath the surface if time were spent on it and good advice given at the start.

There are badly written books (which could have been put right by a fabulous developmental editor and a bit of education on the author’s part), badly put together books (which could have been saved by a fabulous copy-editor, designer and proofreader) and badly thought out books (which probably just needed more care and attention in the first place). But there’s really no such thing as a bad book.

A book is a labour of love for everyone involved – unless they’re just in it for the money (what money?).

But a book should not be a labour to read.

Ducreux yawn
Yawning is infectious… don’t let it infect your reading time!

Now, I obviously won’t review a book I’ve worked on (that would just be plain wrong), I review books that I’ve been offered for review or books that I’ve bought that I think others should know about. I try not to give bad reviews as such, because sometimes a book just doesn’t work for one reason or another; I’ll give a constructive review if I think the book doesn’t work.

However, what one person thinks is unbearable will be another person’s award winning, all-singing, all-dancing, title-in-neon-lights book.

But if a book just doesn’t ring any bells for you, should you still read it through to the bitter end? HELL NO!

I’ve had this dilemma this week.

sleeping boy, tired, boredA book that many other people think is amazing, and yes, it’s won awards, has left me cold. It’s been fabulously researched (I do like my historical fiction) and there is a flavour of the life and times of the characters… but the writing and the characters leave me cold. I have absolutely no relationship with them, there is no connection and the writing style makes it difficult to create that bond. And this is an area of history I am familiar with, so there’s no surprising factual interest either. Half way through this massive tome I had the stinging realisation that life is just too short. Why, just because “people” think a book is amazing should we persevere and carry on reading it?

There are very few books I have left by the wayside, painfully abandoning them after trying with every fibre of my being to like them… I’m not asking for love, just a like. One was an Anne Rice book… I love her vampires, but one of the books was just too tedious (no I’m not saying which one), another was by Terry Pratchett. I LOVE his books with every fibre of my being, but I just couldn’t finish one of his early books. However, I did go back and read it later… a much older and wiser reader. But I don’t have that excuse now I’m not a youngster. I have read so-called high-brow books (I love Balzac and much of my teenage years were spent reading Yukio Mishima) and I have read some utterly trashy ones… there’s a place for them all.

But when that tedious, try as hard as you can to like it, book comes along do yourself a favour. Realise that you may love it later, you may never go back to it, but put it down and move on to the next one. There is always a pile of books to read, it’s not compulsory to finish every book you buy.

secondhand books paperbacks hardbacks old books new books
Now this looks like my kind of bookshop (click on the pic to visit their site)

Do yourself a favour. Give in, give up and move on.

Life’s just too short to waste on tedious books.

*and yes, I did put that book down and am now reading a fabulous book Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.

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