In which I did it!

I  made my deadline, peeps–A CURIOUS BEGINNING, the first Veronica Speedwell mystery is revised and in my publisher’s hands with a bow on top. I turned it in with three hours to spare which is much closer than I like to cut it, but there you go. Since I turned it in, I’ve been digging out my inbox–which is still fairly catastrophic but I can see the end–and reading for pleasure. PLEASURE, people. It’s been wonderful. I just finished Tracy Borman’s ELIZABETH’S WOMEN, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. If you like your history Tudor-flavored, this one is for you. Along with Susan Bordo’s THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN, this is the best book I’ve read on the subject in ages. It was stupefying to see how much new information Borman was able to dig up–little details that really heighten the complexity of an already intricate time. (I was always going to like this book for the simple reason that Borman doesn’t canonize Jane Seymour, a person I have always found to be calculating and shrewd and not terribly nice.)

And now it’s time to tackle some of Reader Nancy’s questions! If you’ve missed my previous references to Reader Nancy, she’s a student and reader and writer who sends lengthy and delightful emails thick with excellent questions. She sent me a few in December when I was too occupied with Veronica even to respond, and now that I’ve caught my breath let’s go! In today’s question, Nancy is asking for a breakdown on the editor/writer relationship and how to incorporate editorial suggestions when revising.

My question to you, dearest D: What “bits” should come out, because it’s not obvious to me? Do editors do this to you/all authors? Do you ever find yourself having to ask for further explanation? Or are editors of novels as explicit as you can get when it comes to revision?

First and most importantly, the editor/author relationship is unique. And when I say that, I mean EACH of them is unique. Even the same editor won’t always edit all of her authors the same way. It depends upon what the author is willing to hear. I had one editor who had a successful author in her stable whose directive was, “Don’t edit me. Reject it or accept it, but I’m not changing anything.” Now, that’s fine if your goal is to write one way and never deviate from it. Me, I like to grow and I like to make the book better. So, I listen.

The editor will generally give you broad strokes of what needs to be beefed up or what isn’t working and leave it up to you to figure out how precisely to fix it. Editors will also generally give you MUCH more specific direction if you press for it. Some editors will treat you with kid gloves and edge into the criticism, others will get out the scalpel and head straight for the jugular–and each of those extremes and everything in between have their place. Not all techniques work for all authors. If I had a jugular-slasher, I’d rage. It would never work. I prefer a tactful back and forth, something collaborative and respectful. The attitude I thrive with is that we’re both out to make the book the best it can be and we’re working together. So, if you feel comfortable with your editor and confident that she knows her stuff, never hesitate to pick her brain for ideas. Every editor I’ve met LOVES that.

But what if you want to have a bash at going at it alone? Perfectly fair. When evaluating a scene, the first thing I ask is, IS THIS NECESSARY? Is the information conveyed elsewhere? If it is, lose it. Just slash and burn. This is known as ‘killing your darlings’ and it hurts. You don’t want to lose your pretty prose! But if it makes the book tighter, lose it. (But do NOT throw it away! Paste the deleted info into another file and tuck it away. When I was revising Veronica’s book, I deleted thousands of words. Perhaps half actually made their way back in because I realized the scene worked, just not where I had put it originally. Never, ever throw anything away. Cannibalism is an excellent habit.)

So, once you’ve eliminated what you can, look at the scene again. Does the scene align with the story arc? Does it fit with who your characters are? What is the point of it? If you don’t know, it’s probably pointless. And think again about getting rid of it.

If you’ve determined you MUST have it, look for repetition within the scene. Is there dialogue that covers the same ground? Combine it. Streamline it. By now the scene should be reading better. If it is STILL giving you trouble, try my favorite writing trick ever. I learned this from Phillip Margolin when he came to speak at a SinC meeting eons ago. REWRITE THE SCENE FROM ANOTHER CHARACTER’S PERSPECTIVE. If you’re writing third person POV, no problem. Just rewrite it with a shift to a different character and see if that doesn’t improve it.

But what if you’re writing first person? Still possible. There were two scenes in the Veronica book that were making me froth at the mouth. I just kept coming back to them thinking, “Meh.” They were fine. They were beige. They conveyed the information, but they weren’t memorable. So I reversed the ACTION. Instead of a secondary character driving the action, I had Veronica do it. I made HER the catalyst for what was about to happen, not her sidekick. And suddenly, it worked. It strengthened her–an excellent thing since she’s our main character. It made the secondary character better too because suddenly the dynamic between them shifted.

Here’s an example: you have to write a scene where a mother and son talk about the money he’s taken from her purse. If she drives the action, that scene is an accusation. If he drives it, it’s a confession. Totally different dynamic even though the same information is being conveyed. I sincerely hope that just rocked your world  because I can’t begin to tell you how useful I’ve found that ONE tip, and whenever I see Phillip Margolin’s name I call down blessings upon his head.