There are some words that crop up across a strangely wide range of specialties, and my all-time favorite has got to be “latitude.” Depending on context, it can mean so many different things:
- Specific location on the globe, measured north or south of the equator
- Climate or region
- Scope for freedom of action or thought
Dig even deeper and the word crops up in photography, specifying “the range of exposures for which an emulsion or printing paper will give acceptable contrast.”
It recently occurred to me that latitude is an excellent goal for writing and editing as well. I’ve got a mean eye for typos, but I find it harder to see what “should” be on the page without getting caught up in the details of sentence structure and word choice. The best writing tells the big picture story well, while carefully choosing specific details that enhance rather than distract from that story. The best editing finds the story’s true north, and then aligns all the details to point in that direction. This forest-and-trees approach is a kind of latitude, a range of exposures that leads to the best balance between the two.
Editors and agents all want to understand both the forest and trees of a manuscript in the shortest amount of time possible, which is why many ask for a synopsis (forest) as well as a writing sample (trees). It’s not surprising so many writers have difficulty writing a killer synopsis; the closer we are to the work, the harder it is to step away and see it from 10,000 feet.
Writing and editing with latitude. Something to shoot for, anyway.