This week, Oxford University Press announced it was listing Christopher Marlowe as coauthor of the three Shakespeare Henry VI plays. While the authorship of Shakespeare’s works has been subject to scrutiny for years, this is the first time Marlowe has been named a coauthor by a major publishing house. (Lesley is totally a Marlowe fan girl and is super excited about this.)
How did the research team come to this decision? They analyzed vocabulary and phrasing in the Henry VI plays and compared them to other works attributed to Shakespeare and Marlowe: “Much of the authorship analysis is quite technical because it involves analyzing every word of entire plays, looking for patterns and clues.” Thus, figuring out authorship is its own kind of puzzle.
Each author has his or her own voice when writing. The cadence, the word choice, and the overall style can be like fingerprints. While certainly influenced by what the author has read and what the author likes, the author’s voice still has a sound of its own.
As editors, we have to be very careful to improve the flow and grammar while also maintaining the author’s voice. Keeping in as many of the original words as possible is one good technique for this. Another is to really listen while you read so you internalize the author’s rhythm. Some writers prefer choppier text, while others have rambling sentences. Editors must know when to allow choppiness or rambling prose for the betterment of the manuscript and when to adjust it for the reader’s ease.
As ever, editors should always have a specific rule or a reason for an exception in their heads before making an edit. Each edit should have a clear purpose.
Do you have tips on keeping an author’s voice while editing? If so, share them with us!