Mark Terry

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Politics of Rewrites

March 12, 2007

That drawing is from Kiddography, the blog of a rather wonderful artist. Check it out.

Anyway, it reminded me ever-so-slightly of some of the, er, headaches involved with rewrites. I've been rewriting a lot lately. I just completed responding to the editorial notes for the third Derek Stillwater novel, ANGELS FALLING, when I received the galleys of the second Derek Stillwater novel, THE SERPENT'S KISS. A whole bunch of rewrites; although all small issues, you as a writer need to try and figure out what they're getting at, which isn't always 100% clear.

As I've mentioned before, I wrote a kids fantasy novel. I turned it in to my agent and she received it Friday and read it this weekend. I received an e-mail from her Sunday saying she loved it, but had one chapter she wanted me to either eliminate or change. She also felt like one character, a giant talking squid, sounded too much like Yoda from time to time, so I should tweak that.

She was right about the squid and it was an easy fix. The chapter she wanted me to cut was a different issue.

In this chapter our hero's geography teacher is being possessed and/or replaced by a demon and he kills it using his magic sword. I had a few uneasy moments when I wrote this chapter the first time because of the nature of the demon. That was what I thought Irene was worried about, so I changed the demon to an Encantado (a shapeshifter out of Brazilian mythology) and basically left the chapter the same. Then I sent the PDF off to Irene.

She came back with, "No, you really need to change this with the teacher or at least..." etc, etc.

After giving this some thought, I realized that the demon aspect didn't bother Irene, but the violent attack on a teacher (in self-defense) by a student in the classroom, even if the teacher was no longer a teacher, was what was worrying Irene.

So I gave it a bit more thought, sifted through my options, and took the entire scene out of the school, changed its title, kept it as an Encantado, but since Encantados are shapeshifters, I had it begin as a crow, change to various other objects before turning into a 10-foot-tall version of the hero's uncle--at least until he pulls his face off to reveal his true nature.

I think this will address both of our concerns.

The lesson here was one I knew anyway and it comes up all the time in my nonfiction as well as my fiction. An editor (or agent) might suggest a change that you might not understand. For that matter, your editor or your agent may not necessarily be sure why they're requesting a change, but they know something's wrong. Your job as a writer is to figure out what they really mean and make the changes in a way that won't screw up your story. In this case, although I may be a little ambivalent about what Irene was saying, I understand her concerns. And I'm quite pleased with my final solution.

Of course, I was quite pleased with my original solution. But this is why I called this post The Politics of Rewrites.


Mark Terry


Blogger spyscribbler said...

"I had a few uneasy moments when I wrote this chapter"

What is it about that? I swear, if I get the tiniest little niggle while writing something, my editor will zero in on it like it's a huge pimple on the middle of my nose.

But I love that she does.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Actually, I think there's an entire post worthy of that comment. Over the years I've discovered that if I pay attention to the little voice in my head, it's almost always right. It's when the logical, rational voice gets going on it that I tend to get in trouble. Figuring out how and when to pay attention is the trick.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Why is it always the geography teacher? Though Sydney might agree. Here's my theory on editors: if they're payin', I'll change my own name.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I had a specific teacher in mind, actually. (tee-hee).

I'm not quite that willing to kowtow to an editor or agent's whims, but most of the time you have to assume they have a reason for what they're asking. I've been lucky with editors with my fiction to-date.

With nonfiction, I've had some interesting experiences. Some NF editors, if you give them too much time, will rewrite things for no reason and then add in their own incorrect factual information that you then have to go back and correct.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

Given that student attacks on teachers have become more prevalent of late (in PA especially - what's up with that?), I think your editor's misgivings were right on. Seems like there's always one little smartass blaming his own psychotic tendencies on art - be it book, music, or videogame. And, you know, I don't want my husband to be on the receiving end of those tendencies. So thanks for listening.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Yeah, I know Stephen King has said he's had some regrets about publishing "Rage" which was the apparent inspiration for some school shootings.

I'm more along the lines of Michael Moore's (hey, did I ever tell you I know him?) "Bowling for Columbine." The title comes from the fact that the two shooters went to their favorite class, bowling, before turning to the school and going on their rampage. The media rather quickly blamed violent video games, but Michael rather astutely asks why the media didn't blame bowling?

[And parenthetically, I don't agree with Mike on everything and I'm very ambivalent about his logic in "Farenheit 9/11", both my wife and I think "Bowling For Columbine" should be required viewing for every 13-year-old in the United States.]

11:51 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

So if I comment now...

1:19 PM  
Blogger Buffy said...

I spend more time on rewrites than I do actually writing. It makes me headheavy. And I don't know how to do them. Basically.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm inclined to think that rewriting is more important than writing, except...

The best writing advice I ever got was from my then-agent Ben Camardi, who said, "Think more, write less."

And I've always wondered, because the late super-agent Scott Meredith once said (in his book on writing), that the writer should train themselves to write well in the first draft, otherwise they're training themselves to write crap. I'm inclined to think he had a point, although I also agree wholeheartedly that sometimes you just have to get the crap down on the page and deal with it later.

10:50 AM  

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