I’m in the middle of editing Welsan’s story, and have finally brought a key scene full circle. What amazes me is that the number of permutations (mutations?) the scene had to go through in order for me to have everything set just right. In all of the myraid drafts for Welsan, this one scene has been set in:
* a cartographer’s office
* a warehouse
* an open field
* a derelict hut
* a spice merchant’s shop.
Now it’s in an alchemist’s laboratory. And now, FINALLY, I think it’s come home. It flows better with the overall arc of the story, at any rate.
The crazy thing is that this is not the only scene where I’ve had to rewrite multiple times in order to nail down the correct context, let alone the dialogue, movement etc. Add to that the added pressure of trying to make sure that every scene has that necessary clout, the kind that keeps the reader reading and not skimming – and what I’m left with is a whalloping challenge.
It’s overwhelming at times. If you’re taking your writing seriously, and have made it to the editing stage, you know what I’m talking about.
Heck. You don’t even have to be at the editing stage yet. Writing is overwhelming at ANY stage.
The trick, of course, is to keep writing. That’s where all the BIC HOK TLM (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard, Type Like Mad) memes really kick in.
But the second biggest trick? Knowing when to compromise.
I’ve read a lot on blogs, Twitter, etc over the last couple years from various agents and editors, who tell about would-be authors who had great concept, beautiful skill, and a wonderful narrative voice, but whose execution was lacking for some reason. Recommendations were made. Would-Be Author agreed to take care of some “surface issues,” but refused outright to execute the really big suggestions.
In my experience (personally, and from talking to other writers) this is for one of three reasons. The editor/agent has asked Would-Be Author to:
* eliminate a superfluous character
* eliminate a superfluous scene
* to rearrange events within the storyline, usually with a direct impact on the action and/or trajectory of the story.
Obviously, I could do a blog post on each one of those challenges. Quite a few bloggers already have, and a quick Google search will lead you there. But I mention them here to make a point: When it comes to edits, you must make some compromises.
The problem, I think, is this: As a writer, you know where your Ultimate Beginning Point is for your manuscript. You know what it looked like in the very, very, ugly-and-rough beginning. Chances are, you’ve already cut characters, cut scenes, and rearranged key components, until the resulting narrative looks drastically different from its original form. In a sense, you’ve already endured loads of emotional self-abuse even before your manuscript ever gets to the editing stage.
Then the editor gets a hold of it, and the edits come back with the notation: Get rid of this, or Relocate this to chapter ___. After all the adjustments you’ve made, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
I sat down with my editor a month or so ago, and we spent three hours hashing through every conceivable variation of the three criticisms I just named. Characters I was so proud of – because they were, of course, stronger amalgamations of earlier characters I’d already cut – were proposed for the chopping block. She indicated a key scene that needed relocating to much earlier in the book. This surprised me even more than the suggestion I axe a favorite secondary character. I already felt the action was clipping along rather well – perhaps too fast? – but my editor did not see it that way at all.
Which brings me back to the central point of this whole series: There is a reason why we hire editors. Authors lose the ability to look at their own work objectively.
Again – that is another topic which can be (and has been) expounded on, by any number of writers, published and unpublished.
For me, the compromises keep coming. I had another breakthrough this weekend, where I realized a key scene, instead of happening in chapter 21, actually needs to happen in chapter 9. So I moved it, and now I have all the narrative ramifications to deal with.
The funny part is that that decision wasn’t in the notes from my editor. But it was her invaluable feedback that took me there. And you know what? Even in its half-grafted ugliness, the scene works better in its new home.
More compromises are on the way, I’m sure. If it’s worth sharing, you can trust that I’ll post my observations here. My priority is to maintain the accountability with my readers – past, present, and future. Since Welsan already has a small but devoted fan base, I’ll do my best to stay transparent about this journey, rocky though it is.
What about you? What compromises have you had to make – or refused to make – in your writing? Let me know in the comments!