Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Surviving Revisions

Writers need to be flexible and resilient. In fact, everyone needs those qualities if they're going to be successful in life, but it's even more important for writers. You see, although each and every one of us is convinced that we're writing deathless prose which will live on down the centuries inspiring (or creating fear in the hearts of) the masses, what we're really doing is, well, just writing. And no matter how good you are or how many books you've published, you're not perfect. No matter what you think. There is always something more to learn, something you wish you could have changed before that book went into print.

I decided to talk about revisions in my blog tonight to prepare myself for the revision letter my agent is sending me. I know her suggestions will be terrific and make my manuscript 100% stronger--and more importantly--more likely to tempt an editor to offer a contract, but I also know when I read that list of revisions, it's going to hurt. Because it's never easy to have someone point out your faults to you and your manuscript is even more dear and perfect to you than anything else in the whole wide world. You slaved away on that thing, night and day, blood dripping from every pore, trying to give life to a brilliant idea that you--and only you--thought of.

So here is what I'm trying to remember. The revision letter may not touch on a single one of these things, but by spelling them out, I'm hoping to dull the pain when I do get the letter.
  • Scenes *can* be cut. If I can't show a purpose for a scene except, "Oh, it just shows so much about my character's personality" then I probably need to cut it. Surely there are other scenes in my 385 page masterpiece that provides insight into the character while it's also accomplishing something else, like moving the plot along, so this shouldn't be so excrutiating. And most importantly, I can't keep a scene just because it has my favorite line or lines--ever. I'm not saying I have scenes that fall in this category--at least I don't think I do--but it's possible. So if my agent tells me to cut some scene (I haven't gotten the revision letter yet) I'm prepared for the sacrifice.
  • Subplots can be removed. I'm praying she doesn't tell me to remove the mystery element because I want to write mysteries and I hate to think that I'm not any good at doing that. This is a tough one. However, several editors said they didn't like the mystery element so it may have to go. I'll see what she says. Maybe I can remove the actual dead bodies plotline and just leave the kidnapping. Sigh. This one really does distress me, but I have to be flexible and pragmatic about this. It's a business, after all.
  • Increase the s-e-xual tension and perhaps add a love scene. I am virtually certain this will form part of the revisions because we've discussed this before. Let me say up front that I'm game and will work on doing this. Now that I've said that, I'm going to whine. WARNING--WARNING--WARNING! The next bit is my mini-rant. It's my opportunity to cry, stamp my foot, and declare how really unfair it is that I'm going to have to make changes I don't want to make, as opposed to changes which are fine by me. Really, wording, scenes, plotting, all that crafty-stuff, well, it can only be made better. I may be upset that I did it so poorly the first time but it can be FIXED. It's not changing the actual flavor of my work, per-se.

    One of the reasons I like mysteries (other than the fact that I like mysteries) is because they tend not to go into laborous details about s-e-x. The romance is but the gravy to the meat. Unfortunately, my work seems more suited to the romance market where the romance is the meat and the mystery (if any) is the gravy. In that market, you need the dreaded s-e-xual tension and obligatory love scene or scenes. ARGH!

    I'm afraid s-e-xual tension and love scenes are not high on my list of interesting things to read about, but I have been thinking about it. I even have a couple of blogs on the subject, trying to find ways of incorporating it into my writing without feeling like I'm making my writing worse instead of better. This is one area I'm definitely going to have to do some serious study and work. S-e-x sells and I've just got to get over my dislike of forcing my characters into s-e-xual situations. Their independence is now, officially over. They will toe the line and they will hop into bed with each other at the first possible moment whether their personalities and moral character would naturally do this or not. There shall be no more thoughts about morals and the possible consequences of their actions.

    I will inject them into situations which will lead to the bedroom (or other convenient spot). I'm really sorry about this, but it's one area where I'm going to have to ignore my artistic sentiments and judgment and just do it. And just to be clear--I've got several manuscripts where the characters have been more than happy to fall all over each other--and they have. It's the heroines in my historical set manuscripts that have been so very, very stubborn. You see, most of the heroines in my historical set manuscripts are actually intelligent. And they are perfectly aware that "doing it" in a time that had no convenient pill or really effective birth control leads to babies and they don't want babies out of wedlock, or to be ostracized as being "fast", so they don't want to do it before they get married. And they may have other goals than getting married, too. But, unfortunately, their opinions can no longer matter to me on that score. They shall risk it. I'm exceedingly sorry about the entire situation. Sigh. This really is one area that is going to kill me, but I'm going to do it. I have to do it. I have to get over this. And please, no emails about how s-e-x scenes have all this depth of meaning and really enhance a story, and blah, blah, blah. Although I have laboriously tried to analyze books and convince myself of this over the last five years, I've yet to meet a scene (other than really brief ones like Tess Gerritsen has in her books, and a few others that I've read that are fine, just fine) that can't be completely excised from the book without losing a single thing. Not one single thing. Tess' really brief scenes are usually more about expressing some need or desire that must be expressed at that point and the actual lovemaking is usually just a few very brief lines, if not done behind closed doors. That's perfect. It makes the point and moves on without breaking the tension/suspense in the book or making her characters come across as hormone-driven morons. Unfortunately, I don't think I have that freedom, seeing as how I'm not published and Tess is a brilliantly famous best selling author, and what do I know, anyway? If you disagree with what a million other people are saying, who is wrong?

    So, end of whining. What I am going to do is study Tess and Theresa Monsour and a few others who do this s-e-xual tension thing really, really well and try to imitate them. If I can do THAT maybe I can actually add this to my manuscript without feeling like I've violated the integrity of my characters. More importantly, I might be able to add it and not create something that I would never want to read.

    You see--that's the point you need to get to when you get a revision letter. My whining above, childish though it was, was a necessary phase for me to work out my resentment/fear/sadness that my original manuscript wasn't quite as good as it could be, and that there were areas I really needed to work on. The thing you have to realize is that the one issue that makes you the angriest or hurts you the most is probably the area that needs the most work. For me, I know it's s-e-xual tension because I don't like writing about emotions--they make me very uncomfortable, and I get annoyed when what I see as the "real plot" gets "sidetracked" by all that emotional stuff, particularly romantic emotional stuff. Because of this, it is my inclination to give it short-shrift. But in a book, the characters' emotions are the life of the story so you can't ignore it.

If you have one area in your writing that touches on a subject that makes you uncomfortable or that you don't like in other books, study it. It's stretching as a writer, moving out of your "comfort zone", that will make you a better--no, a great--writer like Tess or Theresa or any one of a number of fabulous authors.

So revisions are not a bad thing. They are an opportunity to reach for something better. Don't close your mind. Be flexible.

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