Thoughts on Rewrites and Editorial Methods

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I am still trying to shake the sleep out of my head and rub it out of my eyes. And it’s my day to blog. And lucky for me….I received a rewrite letter on Monday and am still trying to process it. So here goes with some general thoughts about rewrites and specific thoughts about this particular rewrite. In no particular order, because, hey, I’m still half asleep.

First – I didn’t cry over this one or even have to put it away for a several days to let it settle into the bottom of my brain and ferment a while. My new Lady Editor gets what I was trying to do and wants to make the book tighter and darker and with a greater clarity of purpose, all of which I totally dig.

As rewrites go it isn’t bad: Lady Editor pointed out inconsistencies, topics I duplicated or changed midway through, sections where one character is narrating (multiple POVs) and my editor doesn’t like the voice, wanting more backstory in the main character up in the first 40 pages.

The last part is a problem because my character is on a journey of self discovery while being a kickass killer of rogue vampires. The fact that Lady Editor asked for more means that:

1. either I did a poor job of pointing out that she has no memories of her early life, in which case I have to beef that up or

2. well, she wants more and I have to give Jane more memories out of the ones she has forgotten. None of which I yet know.

Fortunately Lady Editor has left how I satisfy her curiosity up to me, which I appreciate.

Over the years, I have had editors who were closet writers and who totally rewrote my books. My first rewrite letter made me cry for three days. It was like date rape. Really. I mean – hey, Mr. Evileditor wooed me and bought the book because it tripped his trigger, and he raved about the book and how wonderful my co-writer and I were and how totally fantastic the novel was yadayada. And when he sent the rewrite letter back he also sent a line by line (yes, already done, can you believe it?) and had rewritten the book in *heavy* dark pencil. Entire pages of backstory were X’ed out.

And that was the date rape part. He wanted everything except knives, guns, cursing, and sex removed. We were writing a bang-bang-shoot-em-up cop novel and the editor wanted only killing and blood. He said no one wanted to see why the character was what he was, no one wanted backstory or his home and date life. Just blood. And the more the merrier. Sick cookie. Not my character or co-writer, Mr. Evileditor.

And my agent was no help. He said, and I quote, “If you don’t like the changes you can send the money back.”

Ulp. That was the beginning of my shell. You know, the hard shell writers have to develop and wear to survive this business. A shell to protect us from the rare Evileditor, the less rare bad review that is like a knife to our spines, and the even more common self-defeating and self-beating voice, the comments made by our altermuses, the ones who don’t inspire but accuse. (You suck. You’ll never write another book. That voice.) My personal shell is pretty dang hard, but that little voice can get in through cracks I can’t see. It is far more evil and dangerous than Evileditor, and I work to seal against it nearly every day.

Okay, back to the rewrite. While the character names will mean nothing to you, here are some specific things Lady Editor wants:

*Similarly, Jane should tell us more about what she knows about vampires quite early on—how the vamp scene is organized, etc.

*I’d like to see a little more sleuthing on Jane’s part, so that her human investigations compliment her Beastly tracking. The tracking of land ownership seems to be her only real line of investigation, but I was never quite sure how that linked to the rogue—why should he hunt specifically on land that he owns? Could she do a little more investigation?

* As characters, I had trouble distinguishing between Bruiser and Troll. Maybe it’s because Jane reduces them to their similar nicknames? But could you make sure they seem a little more differentiable?
*Maybe Jane could call Molly a few more times to discuss things/report in so that she’s more of a presence in the book?
*If you see opportunities to do so, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to pump up Jane’s involvement with Katie’s Ladies. The scenes she has with them are really engaging, and it seems like they could be developed. Maybe if not in this book, then in the next one (helping Bliss explore her witchy powers for example.)
So, as rewrite go, this one was a really good one. Yes, it was 5 pages long and I only gave you snippet of that, but the letter was concise and easy to follow. So, now is the real treat. A total rewrite letter… below the break.

Faith

Gwen Hunter

January 6, 2004
Dear Gwen,

Happy New Year, and here’s to a wonderful 2004! I finished reading Shadow Valley over the Christmas holidays, and it was a pleasure. Shadow Valley has a suspenseful storyline, believable relationships, your trademark incredible characterization, and a heroine who is strong in her own right. The relationship between Mac and Bella, in particular, rings true.

Shadow Valley gets off to a strong, suspenseful start, with Bella’s kidnapping and the shocking scene where Mac realizes she has been buried under the rocks. You’ve written a gripping opening that involves the reader in Mac and Bella’s relationship and draws them into the story immediately. As the story progresses, I found that there were some places where this level of tension flags a little, and I would like to see it sustained a bit more fully throughout the narrative. Several of my notes below offer some ideas for keeping the level of tension high, without losing the excellent character development.

Here are a few general suggestions that apply to the book as a whole, followed by more specific, minor details listed by page number:

General Comments:

1. Mac is the reader’s entry point into the story, and it is her level of tension about Bella’s kidnapping that will keep the reader in suspense. Her fear for Bella needs to be a constant hum running through the story, even if she is avoiding dealing with what might have happened to her daughter. At times, Mac’s appreciation of small details seemed a little incongruous, given that her daughter is in grave danger. For example, on page 135 she talks about the delicious breakfast she is eating. With her daughter gone, it seems strange that she stops to appreciate these small pleasures in her life. Are there places where “‘positive” words (like “delicious,” in this example) could be cut, to keep the tension high?

2. As the story progresses, we learn that Marlow was abusive to Mac, both verbally and physically, and that Mac has been a victim in this relationship. However, Mac seems very strong, even at the beginning of the book, when she has just divorced Marlow. In order to believe that Mac was once meek, and deferred to Marlow and his abuse, we need to witness this part of her personality. Are there places that the reader could see her memories of first meeting and marrying Marlow, and of her acquiescing to his demands? What if Mac and Marlow are not divorced but separated when the book opens? Given the fact that she was abused in this relationship, divorce is a very strong step that would take enormous courage. Knowing that she has divorced Marlow because of his infidelity gives the reader a sense of her strength immediately, rather than seeing it build from the extraordinary circumstances she survives. Perhaps by keeping a bit of ambivalence toward the state of their marriage initially, it will give the reader a fuller sense of her growth as the book progresses.

3. I found that the chapter heads have a conversational tone that diminishes the level of suspense. What do you think of replacing these with time reinforcements (e.g. Monday, 9:55 am), to keep the level of tension high and emphasize that the clock is ticking in the search for Bella?

Page specific comments:

p. 10 How long have Mac and Marlow been separated? Bella seems very comfortable with her parents’ separation here.
p. 17 How old is Dell? If he’s old enough to be a potential suitor for Mac, wouldn’t she be a bit concerned at his interest in Bella, even when it appears relatively harmless?
p. 33 Would blood be visible in the wilderness, on the dirt? As well, are the trails here well-defined and established, or overgrown?
p.37 I was not certain at this point which State are they in. Could this be established earlier?
p. 39 Should Mac describe Bella’s clothing, etc. to Yo?
p. 40 At first, I thought that Mac and Yo were returning to the camp immediately. Could their destination be clarified?
p. 48 “Freshen up” sounds strange in the context of Bella’s disappearance
p. 54 Where is Yo during this time?
p. 57 Given that Rachel Morgan is well-known and has money, wouldn’t Mac raise this to the police as a possible motive for the kidnapping, especially since she told Dell her last name? Or, is she convinced of Dell’s motives, and is afraid that telling the police about Rachel Morgan’s fame would lead them in the wrong direction?
p. 65 I may have missed this, but have they recovered the film at this point?
p. 76 Har Har seems quite cruel here, essentially stating to Mac that she is to blame for her daughter’s disappearance, and his motives for making such aggressive comments are not quite clear.
p. 80 This passage regarding Silas takes the focus away from Bella, so that the tension is diminished. Could this conversation be streamlined?
p. 130 This a bit of a turnaround from Ruth’s previously cautious approach to Mac’s involvement. Could there be a bit more of a pause for her to consider Mac’s decision?
p. 133 Around this point, I began wondering why Burgess had not yet been to see Mac. Perhaps a scene could be added in to establish his presence?
p. 136 This red herring about Marlow is a bit abrupt and draws attention to itself a bit too much. Could Mac overhear a slightly longer conversation that leads up to this point?
p. 154 The pace of Mac’s emotions here around the realization that Bella is alive is very effective!
p. 156 If Marlow is an actor, wouldn’t this give him a much higher profile? Also, my initial understanding from the fact that he used to go on shoots with Mac, and that it is his vest she is wearing, was that he was a photographer as well. Are there places to clarify about Marlow’s life, and also about his past with Mac?
p. 168 Mac’s amusement here seems incongruous with her situation: Bella is missing, shots are fired, there is a possibility that Dell could be firing at Bella.
p. 175 Burgess seems to come out of nowhere. Could a scene be added to reinforce his presence a bit earlier, perhaps before Mac goes off to search for her daughter? Or even adding another reference to Burgess’s presence on a team would work.
p. 187 This news implicating Marlow is huge! Are there ways to tighten the writing and give this revelation even more impact?
p. 191 Although there’s a lot of action happening, I found the story’s tension was a bit lost here. Could the dialogue be tightened to increase the impact and focus the reader on the events that are unfolding?
p. 19 This moment, where Mac is not continuing with the search team, is a very significant moment in the book. I would have liked to see more internal dialogue about her feelings toward realizing that she has to stop.
p. 193 This is excellent! The reader really connects with Mac here.
p. 203 The phrase “over my dead body” gives a sense of Mac’s character and her development, but I found it a bit overused here. Are there a few places where this could be taken out?
p. 206 Up until this point, my impression was that while Marlow was emotionally abusive, he was not physically aggressive. This should be implied earlier, so that it does not come as a complete surprise. Also, did Mac leave Marlow because of the abuse, or because of his relationship with Gianna? To what extent did his abuse play into her decision?
p. 208 Mac and Caleb’s relationship seems to be moving very fast; they haven’t yet kissed and they’re sorting out living arrangements! The romance aspect here feels a bit heavy. Could it be downplayed a bit at this point in the story?
p. 210 Again, Mac’s infatuation with Caleb seems a bit misplaced here, with Bella still missing.
p. 218 Are Pickens and Perkins one and the same? If not, could one of their names be changed, to avoid confusion?
p. 243 How many days have passed at this point? Is it physically possible that Mac would see this much change in her body, in this time frame?
p. 266 Excellent level of tension here!
p. 297 As a photographer, would Mac have had enough exposure to EMTs, etc., to know that “Whatcha got” is a universal question?
p. 330 If Mac is able to see the gun clearly through her lens, I wondered why she didn’t focus on the strangers’ faces, as well.
p. 338 On page 266, we learn that Bella has been hurt. Are there any signs of physical injury when Mac finds her?
p. 339 The conversation between Mac and Bella about “swearing” is convincing and effective; could this pattern be introduced before she is kidnapped to establish it before this point?
p. 341 Given Bella’s injuries, is it realistic that she could stand up?
p. 346 Could this passage where Bella and Mac are left alone be stretched out a little bit, so that the reader really feels that they are sage and that help is near? That way, Dell’s appearance will be even more shocking and frightening.
p. 359 How much time has passed at the epilogue since Bella’s kidnapping? Also, would there be a trial for Mac regarding Dell’s shooting, even though it was self-defense? If so, should this be mentioned in passing?

That’s everything, Gwen! As always, if you have any questions about these comments, please don’t hesitate to send an email or give me a call. Would it be possible to have the revisions done by April 1st? If you feel that you’ll need more time, let me know and we can decide on a new date. It’s been a lot of fun meeting and getting to know these new characters, and I’m looking forward to the next stages of Shadow Valley.

All the best,
Another Lady Editor

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3 comments to Thoughts on Rewrites and Editorial Methods

  • Wow, are you brave! I would never have the guts to show anyone what my editorial letters look like. My initial drafts are pretty clean in some ways, but there are always — ALWAYS — things in them that, upon having them pointed out to me, I find humiliating. Glad you and the new editor are doing so well together. She seems great and it’s nice that she knows how lucky she is to have you.

  • Humiliating…
    Hmmm. You know, all rewrite letters are pretty humilating. That is why we *hate* them so much. Truth and its painful, sharp, honest blade.

    But not long ago, I had a writer friend (new to the business) call me all upset about her very first rewrite letter. So I sent her one of mine. A bad one. Well, actually, this one. And suddenly she was okay. I could have sent her the 2 page one I got the following year. I’d have saved myself some hide and pride. But David, if I really — *really* — want to help other writers, then I have to strip my writer self bare and let them see the world I live in.

    And its been nice to get the private emails sharing similar stories.
    Faith

  • Judy

    Please don’t change Jane tooooo much! We love her just the way she is!