The fine art of copyediting fiction

Some years ago, I taught copyediting for the University of California San Diego (long before I ever moved to sunny California myself) and often I would get students who asked, “So, does this apply to copyediting fiction, too?”

And the answer was, “Yes, but no.” Yes, you need to apply consistent standards throughout the manuscript. If a character’s name is Rafael, it should be spelled R-a-f-a-e-l at all instances, not R-a-p-h-a-e-l sometimes and R-a-f-a-e-l other times.

But no, if the author always eliminates some commas because it makes the page read faster, you do not add them all back in, the way you would with nonfiction.

Copyediting fiction is much less about the stringent application of a set of rules and much more about trying to ensure a smooth reading experience (except when the author is intentionally making it hard!)

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