"Correctness...is not the be-all & end-all of editing." The Art Of Editing, 3

Helen Moffett, Efemia Chela and Bongani Kona and SSDA's intern, Catherine Shepherd are all involved in the SSDA/Worldreader Editing Mentorship. In the third edition of the series, they talk about what they've learnt editing a collection with stories from 9 different countries and that draws inspiration from even more.


Editing in the African context is fairly unique. The writers of our fair continent travel in their writing, creating complex stories that rarely draw on just one place, one generation, one lived experience or language. As an editor you have a responsibility to keep an eye out for the changes in tone and slang. There are 54 countries that make up Africa - so there's nothing homogenous about the writing you will be encountering. 

During the fellowship we noted it was important to place the story's own voice as well as its characters in the proper context. Hopefully the writer will have done the proper research, but if something sounds strange. Look it up and then draw it to the author's attention. 

Related to this is the issue of over-editing:

"It's a tricky balance to strike but the best editors are tightrope walkers." - Bongani Kona

"Books that have been stripped of their local flavour and language, make for a boring read. It can be difficult to parse particular words into "standard" English. So in quite a few cases they should just be left as they are - okada, trotro, lobola, counterback.

I think you should trust the reader to be invested enough in the story to gather meaning from the surrounding words. Or Google it." - Efemia Chela

Helen Moffett adds:

My pet peeve is editors who “correct” local idiom & vibrant dialogue. The Queen’s English is not required for most characters.

The editor in Africa must be sensitive to variety of Englishes reflecting/representing multilingual societies.

It's a similar thing with correctness; it is not the be-all & end-all of editing. Consistency is sometimes more important. What does have to be correct is the Internal logic of story. Even short stories can have plot holes or contradictions.

Cathy's experience of the mentorship is slightly different and she explains what that entails:

I'm dealing with the e-book for the young writers that entered Migrations. It's well on its way as I am feverishly editing some powerful stories written by young African writers still in high school, under the guidance of the talented writer and literary critic Karina Szczurek.

Editing is definitely a big responsibility but like the actual art of writing,  the more you do it the easier it flows. There are some hard and fast rules in the editing game but I got some good advice about things that don't follow those rules.

"Follow your gut," Karina Szczurek told me before I began to chop, suggest and rearrange someone else's baby.

Worldreader is sponsoring the first SSDA Editing Mentorship Programme. Next week in the final edition, we talk about tying up loose ends.