What I'm reading: Pretty is as Pretty Dies, by Elizabeth Spann Craig
First, thanks to Gail Lukasik for her terrific writing hints. If you haven't read her post, scroll down and do so.
Since my last post, yes, I've opened up the manuscript with the edits. And I'm dealing with them. Sometimes with a bit of tooth-gnashing, but it's all part of the writing process.
Can one say what's right or wrong, good or bad in a piece of fiction? If there were absolutes, where would the fun be?
Once you move beyond the mechanics of basic grammar and spelling, you're left with opinions. I'm reading manuscripts for a contest, and the entrants will be comparing my comments to those of the other judges who also scored their work. It's rare to get an entry back where all 3 judges agreed on everything. I know I never did, even in the contests I won. In some instances, contests are structured with 3 judges, but they drop the low score. It's not unusual for the winner to have to excellent scores, and one that is significantly different. I coordinated my RWA chapter's conference for a number of years, and it was more unusual for all 3 scores to be in line than not.
Working on edits for a reissue drives the point home. In spades. I'm looking at my editor's comments. My approach: First I go through and handle the 'easy' ones. The places where she's changed a word, or added or deleted a sentence or phrase. She's given some basic guidelines, so I know why she's changing things. She's pointed out some character traits for my hero and heroine that she thinks could be stronger. My hero says "Please" too often; my heroine keeps saying she's "fine." Most of the time, I can see her logic, and if it doesn't bother me, I go along with her suggestions.
But there are also places where she's whacked out much longer passages. I'll be honest. My first reaction is, "What the ---" Then I get up and wander around the house for a bit. Find some chocolate. Maybe have some tension tamer herbal tea. But usually it's chocolate.
If she's left a comment explaining WHY she cut it, I look at that. If it makes sense, I re-read the passage to see if it holds together without what she's cut. If it does, then the cut probably makes sense. Sometimes it needs a little shoring up. And sometimes, I don't agree at all.
I know my gut reaction is usually frustration. It's my immediate reaction to any kind of criticism. I don't think that will ever change. It's even more so with this book because 1) I haven't worked with this editor before, so we're having that 'period of adjustment'; 2) What I'm working from is an edited, previously published manuscript, so how bad can it be?
But I know two editors reading the same work will have two different opinions. How many best-selling authors were rejected by agents and publishers before they made the sale? (And how do those agents and publishers feel after rejecting the future big names?) I came to one passage that my new editor wanted me to cut. I dug out the original edits from the first go-round. Sure enough, that passage had earned me a comment of "very good."
When I see all the comments for pages on end and doubt my skill as a writer, I go back to the 5 star reviews I got when the original book first came out. Others thought it was pretty good. With my ego restored, I can once again look at the manuscript and decide what needs to be done.
So, it boils down to focusing on the characters and the story. My editor prefers lean; I like a little more meat. But I also know I can ramble when I write. When I read, I love learning new things, so a mention of a fact (related to the story, of course), doesn't slow the read for me. Dick Francis teaches me something new, from photography to the ins and out of British bookmaking. I like watching what JP Beaumont does during his off hours. I like visiting the Farmer's Market with Harry Bosch.
I like to savor the characters, see what makes them tick, get inside their heads. That's why I can't write category romances, and why I don't read too many of them. They're too lean for my taste. So I have to decide whether the cuts are creating something that looks anorexic, or merely toned and trimmed.
Somewhere in between, we'll find a middle ground. As she's pointed out, it's my name on the cover. I'm sure it'll be interesting once I finish and send my revisions back to her.
And I'll hope that the 3 authors whose manuscripts I'm judging will also understand that I'm a single reader with a single opinion.