Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Editing, 3, the vision of the novel

You and I have decided to edit our own work. Bad decision. A writer is the worst editor of their own work. Ironically, this same writer may be very effective at editing the work of others.

We're still going to do it, aren't we? Then let me discuss the vision of the novel for a moment.

1) The Vision of the novel

Vision (Websters): A thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination.

I meantioned that we authors only capture about 70% of the vision we have of our novels. There is something fleeting about that first glimpse I get of my work. For a novel, this vision doesn't come in words. I get images, colors, sounds--very primal information. So, it makes sense that I lose some of it when trying to cram it into words, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

But this vision drives the novel. And it doesn't always work. 

For example: I mentioned before that The Quantum of the Past is a rewrite of an older story. The problems with this earlier version could be summed up as follows: The execution was in direct conflict with the vision. I envisioned a dark story with dark themes. It didn't help that just before I wrote the draft in question, I read the entire Harry Potter series.

The result was that J.K. Rowling saturated my voice. There were other issues too, like that I was unable to make up my mind about how the magic worked. But, deciding on a rewrite was not an easy decision. I had drafted a second story that followed the first and was deep into drafting a third story. All that work is now obsolete.

Another example: Brad Listi told us during a workshop that he envisioned his novel Attention. Deficit. Disorder. to live up to the idea of someone with ADHD, or a lack of attention span. The chapters are really short. There seems to be a lack of focus; although the plot does follow the scheme in the title: Attention; deficit; and disorder. There are even non-fiction tidbits thrown in there. 

When he submitted the manuscript, the editorial comments challenged this vision. What you won't see in the published novel is what the editor told him did not work. Originally, Listi told us, he had shifted the verb tense in every chapter; some chapters were in present tense, some in past tense, etc. The editor told him this might confuse readers. He suggested he keep the novel in one verb tense.

Note: Here, Listi's editor made a comment about what readers might experience. Whether it's a valid statement or not is irrelevant. The editor noticed something that his/her experience said was problematic and made a comment about it. 

Do you see the dilemma? Readers might have been okay with this original vision--they may have even loved it. I like to think that if you give readers a chance, they can surprise you with their tastes. And Brad Listi could have argued this very point. And I also like to think that most self-published authors would have kept the original vision of the novel intact, lacking enough objectivity to see the problematic nature of the variable verb tense. 

What complicates this further is that there is no right answer. Right and Wrong don't apply; no one is correct, not really. 

Yet, these comments are essential to the development of any writer. It is crucial that someone challenge the vision of the novel to shake away that sense of glory that invades a writer after they finish a lengthy revision. Why?

You did not write the perfect novel.

You will never write the perfect novel. 

No one will ever write a perfect novel. 

The perfect novel does not exist. 

2) A quick word on "Marketability"

If you submit your novel to a big publisher or to an agen--in hopes that they will get you in the door of one of the big publishing houses, then you will likely worry about this word: Marketability. 

Publishers need to sell books. Novels are products to them. What you are writing will supply a demand

This influences the editorial comments for a manuscript. I read years ago an article published in one of the Writers of the Future anthologies about this very issue. In it, the author related how the manuscript for the Fantasy novel she had written was at first accepted by a publisher, but then, because of the market trends, was told to alter it to fit these trends. She did and her novel was accepted. How did it do? Well, the fact that I can't remember the author's name or the title of the book should say something about that...

And it isn't just lesser known authors that worry about it. PC Cast was given the idea for the House of Night series by her agent, because this agent noted that vampires became hot after Twilight

Why do you think there are so many Urban Fantasies out there? They sell right now. This is also true for Romance novels. Mass market genre novels supply a demand. 

This means looking at trends, and how the novel in front of you deviates from these trends. If you read Amanda Hocking's blog, you'll see that one of the first things she did was look at a store's bookshelf to see what was popular. 

If you are business minded and wish to self-publish, then your editorial notes need to address marketability. 

3) A slow word on "Marketability"

There is a difference between wanting to write best-selling books and wanting to write decent novels. That's a little crass, don't you think? The word 'decent' is judgmental. What I mean is that a writer will have goals and fantasies. The goal is to become an effective writer. The THAT takes many forms. 

I know of a writer who, while in the waters of a well-known river, asked the heavens to let him become a "great" writer. Others ask for the idea that will produce a best-selling book. Others want to become as prolific as Stephen King or James Patterson. Others want their work to be in par with Faulkner or Hemingway or (fill in the name of a writer that academia esteems). 

Marketability is part of the fantasy of becoming a best-selling author. The belief is that there are certain strategies you can employ to make your book appealing to the masses. But who saw Fifty Shades of Gray becoming a best seller? Just prior to that, the Twilight novels pushed genre writers to produce teen, vampire romance clones, so it was random for a book about sadomasochism to hit the top of the charts.

Look at other books in recent memory that became as popular as Fifty Shades of Gray: Twilight; The Davinci Code; Harry Potter. 

What do they have in common? Wizards and vampires and academics and BDSM. What drove each of these books to become what they became was different in each case. For Fifty Shades of Gray, it was the sordid-curiosity factor that helped it. But this type of curiosity was not what drove scores of fans to buy that last book in the Harry Potter series; J.K. Rowling cultivated readers, adults and young adults, and wisely put restrictions on the movies about her books. 

The point is that there is no formula for success. 

Therefore, marketability is not on my mind. I don't have the pressure of a publishing house trying to make money. I am not desperately trying to show the publishing industry that I can sell tons of books and therefore, they should publish my future books. 

Some writers do have these concerns. Like I said, there is no Right or Wrong here. There are only writers who work towards their diverse ends.

There is something else I'm working towards though. While editing, I isolate my brain from certain things: How readers might react to this or that; how the market will react to this or that. What's left is the work in front of you and whatever talent you have. 

Then, the editing process becomes a quest to bring out the potential in the manuscript. I think of that poor writer who had to change the genre of her Fantasy novel to satisfy the publishers. What potential did it have? Manipulating a novel to make it more marketable does not help it reach its potential, but may destroy it if altered beyond recognition.

4) What's next?

So, what are the nuts and bolts? For most editors it's easy; they do what they do "best." For a writer trying to edit their involves much contemplation.

I'll save this contemplation for the last post on editing.