I’ve read a couple of books that I thought were over-edited. One had the feel of something the publisher might have asked for 10,000 words cut out of to suit the usual less than 100,000 words. It had big gaps in the plot & character growth as if chunks of the story had been taken out. Another one had the blandness of something worked over with every rule in the book in mind. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with the writing if you looked at it technically, but it had no pizzazz. I remember feeling that perhaps it lost its individuality in the push for perfection.
In our efforts to make our writing the best it can be, we run the risk of losing the rawness or freshness of our original vision. After years of working on something, it’s easy to lose that spark under a pile of prunings. I know, because I think that’s what’s happened with Lethal Inheritance.
To fill you in. I got an agent for my YA fantasy novel Lethal Inheritance back in 2010. She asked for some changes and the removal of 18,000 words. Then she sent it out to various publishers. I’ve done 2 more drafts of it since then, each time after feedback from publishers and not looking at it for around 6 months, and each time with my agent saying that it would be good if I could keep pruning back the words. At 93,000 words, she’s happy.
I’ve written 7 books (not including the short stories) since I finished Lethal Inheritance. Three are the sequels – now in 2nd draft form. One is a prequel that was shelved when I realised that it had to come out after the series had all been published, another I decided to leave for later, and the last one I’ve just published. My writing style has matured with all that practice and I’m confident that You Can’t Shatter Me is well written and engaging, but when I re-read Lethal Inheritance a couple of days ago, I couldn’t say the same about that.
I read it as if I was reviewing it and here is what my reviewer self said.
Although the first chapter hooked me, after that, the writing in general failed to engaged me. It lacked flow. Links were missing between one scene and another. Things that should have been explained were glossed over and sometimes character’s reactions to events were missing. I wanted to know how they felt about things. The main character seemed to accept some things too easily. One scene had been half deleted and summarised, turning a great scene into a couple of summarising paragraphs with none of the excitement of the original full scene. Descriptions of mental states had been so pruned back that instead of drawing the reader into that state as they were intended to, they seemed trite and shallow. The characters, dialogue, plot and so on are all excellent, it’s the actual writing that lacks the pizzaz the story deserves. In one word – bland.
Eeek. Pretty scathing, huh? I’m glad it’s me telling myself that and not someone else after it’s published. The fault is definitely over-editing. In my efforts to cut the word count, I’ve cut the depth and the result is not what I want.
I saw exactly what the last publisher that rejected it meant when she said it was too light a treatment of the subject matter. She didn’t mean that it shouldn’t have the humour, she meant that I needed to take the reader deeper into the experience. It was there, originally, but poorly expressed, and I cut a lot of it out because it was easier to just cut it than to work out how to say it in fewer words. Also it’s not strictly speaking necessary to the bare bones of the story, but it is necessary to give the story guts.
So what to do? My agent is going to tell those who still haven’t looked at it that there’s a new draft coming. At first I wanted to delete the whole thing and get a life back, but… it seems I can’t give it up even if I try. It really does seem like just too much work sometimes, but what keeps me going is the – ‘well, I’ve put all this effort into it already, I might as well put in the extra bit that will make it really good.’
Do I know how to make it better though or will I just strangle it more by reworking it again? I have some clear notes on certain sections, and the scene mentioned above will be reinstated in its former glory, but in general, I may just rewrite whole sections. Will it get longer? Probably, but I’ve also marked bits that can be deleted, so it won’t necessarily be a huge blow out.
What is really required is for me to fall back into those characters and that world in a very deep way and write with all the passion I felt when I wrote the first draft and if that means rewriting the whole thing, then that’s what I’ll do, because the story deserves it and because how it is at the moment doesn’t do what I want. This story should take the reader into the mental and spiritual experiences of the main characters and if it doesn’t, then I have failed.
The story of Ariel and Nick’s journey up Diamond Peak is why I started writing. The demons they face are external representations of their inner fears and the way they learn to handle them is an analogy for the way we can all learn to deal with our fears. Ariel doesn’t give up when the journey get’s tough, and I’m not giving up either. The Diamond Peak of my journey as a writer is getting this book not just good enough to be published (clearly my agent thought that 2 drafts ago) but good enough to satisfy me that it will have the desired effect on the reader. I want this book to engage and move the most jaded and cynical of all reviewers, and I’m having one last effort to make it rise to that height. For this to happen, I must bare my soul and fill each word with all the passion that drove me to write it in the first place. The thought is a little daunting.
So I shall be scarce online for a couple of weeks while I immerse myself in the hidden realm of Diamond Peak again. I shall be posting mostly just reviews for a while, because I have a lot of them already written and they’re way over due for posting.
Any helpful suggestions?
I think you are right and that some (not all) editors want writers to prune, prune, prune until there are only the bare bones left. There is a fine line between losing unneccessary verbiage and losing the plot!
Tahlia Newland says
Or losing the heart, or the soul.