Friday, 10 February 2012

Working with An Editor

When I sent my most recent novel, Kissing Mr Wrong, off to my editor it came back with the request that I 'looked again' at the opening scene. It's a big party scene, with lots of people and two plot-important conversations (A and B) interspersed with an inconsequential - but I hoped, funny - interchange (X). So the scene went, intro, X A X B. The editor wanted for the X scenes to be joined, or cut, or moved, or in some way changed as she felt the flow wasn't right.

I started a long email explaining why I'd chosen that configuration. There needed to be a run up to conversation A, and you couldn't have A and B right next to each other, so X A X B was the absolutely perfect order. As I wrote my justification, I thought as a concession I'd try X A B, but that obviously didn't work. I tried A B X - no, it definitely needed the X in-between. A X B was on the surface the straightforward choice, but that would mean rewriting the intro, rewriting the X interchange, writing a completely new run up to the A conversation.

As I wrote a length email to my editor explaining why my first choice X A X B had been the right one, I realised: I didn't want to change the order simply because it meant more work. After a short bout of internal wrestling I deleted the email and wrote another, shorter one. You're quite right, I wrote to my editor. I'll do it.

That's what an editor should do - poke/prompt/nudge/direct you into writing better. I did all the work (which actually was very enjoyable once I'd decided to go for it) and the book now starts intro then A X B. And it's much, much, better for it.


Philip C James said...

Hope your editor appreciates this piece (and doesn't suggest too many changes :).

It's also much appreciated advice, given how busy you are this week, Sarah.

Giles Diggle said...

I wrote five versions of my children's novel, "Badgerman & Bogwitch", Pub. 1993, because my Faber editors told me I needed to get it right. A quarter of a million words later, I had 48,000 words of good story.

I argued, but I always listened. A lesson for the learning. Now redrafting is easier and more akin to riding a bicycle, but still painful when you fall off.

( I was lucky all those years ago; I get the impression that editors don't have quite the same amount of time anymore.)

But even with a terrific editor, becoming a commercial success is an entirely different matter altogether!

Diane Fordham said...

That was an interesting post. I liked the way you realised why you didn't want to make the changes and then got stuck into it. So it did work out for the better? The editor's advice was good?

Sarah Duncan said...

Phil - I hope she does too, if she sees it.

Giles, it takes time doesn't it to learn. Commercial success is random and I think one would be bonkers to write with that expectation in mind.

Diane - Yes! I think it's much improved. Proof that the overview editors is essential IMO.