Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On subjectivity

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.

Keep Reading...

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.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Hope you enjoy "Pretty." :)

I sometimes have some differences of opinion. But--I don't usually raise them. I don't want to be difficult and there are too many writers out there ready to fill my shoes. But you're right: sometimes I see where they're coming from (my people tend to sigh a lot) and sometimes I disagree.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Hi, Elizabeth. I guess I'm too stubborn to merely hit, "accept all changes" without making sure I agree, or could be convinced to agree.

We'll see what happens in the second round. An editor definitely has more clout than a crit partner, so it's a matter of deciding what you'll go to the mat for.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

This post resonates with me…and by the way, I was able to access your blog with none of the computer issues I was having a couple of months ago. Anyway, the reason I hear this post so strongly is that I’m doing a re-issue next year, and while my editor said the book looked, “pretty clean” that doesn’t sound like totally-clean-and-will-not-be-touched. Like you, my book met with pretty good success, so, yeah, if it’s not broken, why, exactly do we want to fix it. This is way harder for a re-issue with a track record than something new. Be interested in seeing a follow up post about how it turned out.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Terry Odell said...

Galen - glad whatever ethernet demons that hijacked my blog have released it for you. There seem to be issues of one sort or another no matter what. Another case of, it wasn't broke, so why did you have to fix it' when the browsers keep tweaking.

And yes, I'll be sure to let you know what kind of resolution we arrive at. I think this first pass is probably going to stick too much back for my editor's taste, but a lot of her cuts were of things that I think show character--at least they're the things I LOVE to read when I'm reading other books.

Sheila Deeth said...

A fascinating insight to a writer's life. Thanks. It was really interesting to read about judging competitions too. I suspect one reason I did math instead of writing at college was something to do with wanting there to be some right answers.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila, I always did better in the Sciences as well. I liked the 'right' and 'wrong'.

Wonder why I hate the 'rules' in writing so much then? Maybe because they don't make any sense once you get beyond starting sentences with capital letters and ending them with periods or other appropriate punctuation.

Linda Swift said...

Terry, I related to your frustration with having a reissue edited (sometimes to death, it seemed to me) especially when it had been publihsed by a NY pub to begin with. And the way you dealt with that mirrored my actions exactly. I am currently writing an article on my issues with POV, not because anyone has asked for it, but because I have to say it. So I'll be looking for a home for it soon. Interested?
Again, thanks for an insightful blog on editing.

Terry Odell said...

Linda-I ask myself if the book had been a NY release, if it would have needed this editing on the second go-round. As I work through it, I see much that should have been caught and tightened before it was published. Of course, there are still a lot of things I think should stay!

I'd love to see your article.