Editing…honestly I’m a rotten editor. I don’t know how people do it. It’s a *little* easier going over someone else’s work – hearing the sound of an inconsistent voice or falling into obvious plot holes – but determining the objective quality of a story? That seems possible at the exteme ends of the spectrum – either astonishingly good or appallingly bad – but most stories fall somewhere in the middle. And some poorly crafted aspect may well ruin a great story, while a streak of brilliance can often salvage a bad one – and much of that is due to the experience and experiences of the reader interacting with those elements of the story. It’s very hard to determine what will strike a chord and resonate with another individual. Things you see as trite and junky could be like someone else’s treasured memories of eating Cracker Jacks and cotten candy on their first trip to the circus. It really is a matter of perspective.
I think by exposing ourselves to stories that are accepted as well-written, studying the elements that comprise good craftsmanship, developing a large repertoire of what works and why – we are much more likely to know ‘good writing’ when we see it. Even more helpful, we may be able to pinpoint things that are less ‘well-written’ and think of specific ways to improve them. We are also more likely to recognize what is hackneyed and what is novel. That seems to be one of the biggest complaints of slush-readers in general – they see too much of the same thing over and over again. The writers may not know they were being derivative, but the gate-keepers have seen that tired old act five times already today and don’t want to waste their time on one more. This is where experience and wide-reaching knowledge of the field becomes a valuable commodity.
Will professional editing infallibly create or select a best-seller? No. Will it be able to predict the next big genre-bubble? Nope. Can it turn a pretty good book into a slightly better one? Yes, very likely. Can it bandage and splint a wretched tale into something readable? Maybe, but there is wisdom and mercy in knowing when to stop. Can it chop a good story into a pile of hash? Probably, which is why the author needs to believe in the story they wrote – even if their objective view is obscured by the shining vision of ‘how it should have been’. Save it for the next story – this is how this one is. Make it sing, but don’t try to change a pop hit into an opera.