the red pen

My first week as an assistant editor, Denny O'Neil called me into his office and handed me a script which had just come in. He told me to read it and get back to him with my thoughts.

It was the first script I'd ever read. I was thrilled to be reading a script by a writer I admired, thrilled to know I was maybe only the third person in the world to read this brand new Batman story. And it was, typically, a very good one. I went back to Denny and told him so. 

Denny nodded, then leaned back in his chair. "The plothole around how they discovered the maguffin didn't bother you?" 

I debated trying to pretend I'd caught the plothole but decided instead to admit that I'd totally missed it. And yet once he brought it up, yeah, there it was. 

I asked if he was going to send it back for a rewrite. 

He shrugged. "It's a pretty easy fix." 

He grabbed a pen—a red one, of course—crossed out a few words in one line of dialogue, added a new line of dialogue, and handed the script to me to send to the penciller. 

Then he held up the pen and said, "Before you pick up the red pen, make absolutely sure you're changing it to make it better, and not just to make it different, or the way you would have done it." 

Then he turned away and started reading something else. I was dismissed, having gotten my first—and still one of the very best—lessons in editing. 

[That photo up above—found online somewhere—was taken in the office Denny was occupying when I first interviewed with him, and yet I remember having the red pen conversation in a corner office he later had a few doors down; memory is a strange, strange beast.]

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