Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Role of an Editor


I wonder if authors appreciate their editors enough. Writing is a very personal thing, and, especially in fiction, the characters and events created on the page can be vividly real to the author. I imagine that the initial reaction of most writers, when asked to change their work, is: You want me to dismantle my baby??

However, I have found that a gentle (or not-so-gentle) nudging by a good editor can revive a listless piece of writing. I recently sent the first few pages of a new short story intended for the Visions pulp fiction anthology to my editor at Strider Nolan for feedback. Frankly, I knew I was struggling, and I needed a push in the right direction. Mike sent me back a whole page full of ideas. My first thought was: No, that’s not where I wanted to take my story. My second thought was: Yeah, I was planning to take it to a much more ordinary and boring place! Subsequently, I scrapped my first draft and began to re-envision the story from a completely different angle.

I learned to trust Mike’s judgment when we worked together on my story, Necromancer, eighteen months ago. He told me that the ending needed work and suggested two alternate ways to conclude the story. I knew he was right about the original ending, but at first I resisted both his suggestions. With some encouragement from my husband, I decided to go ahead and re-write Necromancer using suggestion B, after totally rejecting suggestion A. I was very pleased by the results and emailed Mike the new draft only to have him send it right back. “That’s good,” he said. “Now, revise it again so that readers think you’re going for ending A and surprise them at the last minute with ending B.” My jaw dropped. It was brilliant. I would never have thought of that on my own.

So now I listen, and I’m ready to dismantle my creations and put them back together as needed, willingly making multiple Frankenstein drafts. When my Sourcebooks editor gently suggested changes to the We Hear the Dead manuscript this summer, I think I surprised her by my willingness to delete and re-write. And when my producer (it’s so cool to say that!) told me to trash the first 30 pages of the WHTD screenplay and re-write the beginning, I didn’t freak out. I got excited.

Revisions … bring them on.

2 comments:

  1. It strikes me that in the business of publishing, an author must have a certain amount of humility.I'll bet that not everyone is able to take the advice of an editor and make drastic changes. I think it must take willpower to take your "art" and put someone else's ideas and visions into it. I'm glad you shared this piece. Writers can learn quite a bit from it.

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  2. Thanks, Laurie. I think I have learned a little humility in the process. I've learned not to reject any suggestion for revision without contemplating it very seriously. So far, nobody has asked me to turn my main characters into vampires and make them sparkle in the sunlight ...

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