Every writer needs a good editor with the ability to clean up and polish a manuscript, to make it better, and to do it in a way that doesn’t antagonize or threaten the author of the work.

What makes a good editor? A thorough understanding of grammar and punctuation is essential, of course, including specific knowledge of the particular manual of style they are following in editing the manuscript. The ability to apply that understanding is critical. I understand the rules of grammar and punctuation, but I don’t always apply them correctly. Thank God for grammar check computer programs and sharp-eyed editors!

Okay, here’s my point: The most important qualities for an editor of fiction are creativity and flexibility. We talk about creative writing. Why don’t we talk about creative editing? Where are the creative editing classes in colleges and universities? Where are the MFA degree programs in creative editing? Where are the creative editing workshops that should be attached to and complement the creative writing workshops that produce so many of our celebrated authors of so-called literary fiction?

I want an editor that understands the Chicago Manual of Style, but is not enslaved to it. I want an editor that can accept the use of occasional semi-colons as an alternative to two choppy sentences. I want an editor that doesn’t freak out if I start a sentence with “And” or “But.” This requires an editor to actually read the story and gain a feel for flow and context as they edit.

My particular writing genre is mystery/suspense. I’m also a southern writer, and you will see some regional vernacular in my fiction. I need an editor that can accept and embrace that as they go through the manuscript. Sometimes a sentence fragment is okay. Sometimes ungrammatical dialogue is appropriate. If you try to “fix it,” the scene and possibly the entire narrative may be negatively impacted.

If you’re an editor, be creative, be flexible, be in tune with what the author is trying to do. Sometimes a scene works better with “mistakes.”