Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Editorial Review on Violet Dawn--Part I

Happy Wednesday, BGs.

Beginning today over on the Charis Connection blog is a three-part post from me. (Link to Charis is over on your left.) Some of you will recognize it as an excerpt from our NES (Never-Ending Saga) months ago. It details my woes in plotting Web of Lies (coming out in January).

And now for my current woes—rewriting Violet Dawn after receiving my “macro” editorial letter. That is, the big picture edit. For you new BGs, Violet Dawn is the first book in my new Kanner Lake suspense series, set in Northern Idaho. The book will release next August.

By the way, I made a mistake yesterday. The review letter isn’t 22 pages; it’s 15. Single-spaced. That’s long enough. No doubt my memory stretched the thing out.

So what does it say? I can’t go into details with every point because I don’t want to give away the story. But I’ll cover as much as I can.

First I want to stick my neck out with an opinion. Every novelist ought to be getting an editorial letter as detailed as this one. That’s because all novels, no matter how talented you think the author may be, need a good, hard edit. Problem is, they all don’t get one. When I hear an author say, “Oh, I hardly had to change a thing in my novel,” I worry. I don’t think, “The novel must be perfect.” I think, “How much experience does that editor have, anyway?” Not all editors are created equal.

Either I’m right about this, or I’m just a lousy writer who needs a lot of fixing. Either way, I’m doggone thankful for my hard-nosed editors.

The Violet Dawn review letter was written by two editors. The first is a freelance gal, with a great reputation in our industry, who will continue working on the book through future edits. This is the first time this freelance editor and I have worked together. (She will continue with me for the whole Kanner Lake series.) The second is the Zondervan acquiring editor, who added her notes and agreements to the first editor’s in a different color font.

Nothing like being double edited. No wonder the letter is long.

First 1 ½ pages: “What’s Working.” Nice to see editors take some time with this up front, so a poor author won’t feel too beat down. Some things that the editors say are good in Violet Dawn: Rich emotional complexity. Empathetic, well-rounded protagonist and secondary characters. Energetic pacing. Terrific action. Good sensory awareness of setting and events. Thematic threads are subtle but taut.

Hey. Sounds like a perfect novel, right?

Now for the big picture concerns. 5 ½ pages. Yikes. Each of these points takes up a lot of paragraphs as the editors discuss specifics and suggest changes.

1. Need to identify which of the plot questions is the best and primary driving force through the story, then make sure the plot serves the purpose of keeping these questions alive and immediate. I plead the Fifth against going into detail here. Suffice it to say, I had to really think through this issue, with the help of the editors, and change some things accordingly.

2. Greater surprise in the twists. Thank goodness here for the fresh eyes of the editors. This is why I don’t want my editors to know the story ahead of time. That way they can check to see whether the twist is too jolting or not surprising enough. With my full knowledge of all the surprises, it’s very hard for me to judge this.

3. A more complex who-dun-it puzzle. Again, I can’t go into details.

4. More characters sooner. This was an interesting one to me. I’d had my protagonist, Paige, take up the entire first act for specific reasons. The editors suggested writing some new scenes for secondary characters so I could bounce from Paige to them, introducing each of them earlier. Much better idea. This resulted in my writing three new scenes.

5. More rabbit trails. This ties in with amping up the twists.

6. Tighten writing. This concern takes about a page, including specific examples of various sentences. Nothing surprising here and easy to fix. I’m always tightening the writing up to the last. My goal is to make every line zing.

Lesser Concerns: 3 pages. Most of these had to do with various characters. Pumping up/tightening their characterization. Each of the concerns was discussed in a paragraph or more.

Here’s one I got a kick out of: “Misused Verbs.” New editor informs me I “use transitive and intransitive verbs interchangeably.” Really? I had no idea. Then the Z editor pipes in and tells new editor that this is one of the trademark signatures of my voice, so she lets me get away with it whenever she can. To which the new editor replies, “Oh, okay, didn’t know that. I sure don’t want to squelch your voice.”

How fascinating. I didn’t even know I was breaking a grammar rule, much less than my Z editor was actually letting me get away with something. Interesting thing, those writers’ voices.

Finally, 5 pages of “Details”—individual sentences in which the editor questions the use of a word or phrase. These are easy to fix, and I did them first, before the rewriting changed all the page numbers and they’d be harder to find. This is actually more of a copyedit thing (one of the more specific edits down the road for Violet Dawn), but as long as the macro editors spotted these sentences, they might as well note them.

Tomorrow, more specifics on how I handled the major and minor points.


Mary DeMuth said...

Actually I experienced both kind of edits of my first novel. Editor one said glowing things like, "I can't think of any changes. You're so hard to edit." I puffed up. Then that editor moved on. Editor two said, "not so much" in twenty or so pages of edits. But I'm thankful for the anti-ego-stroking edit. It made the book SO much better AND I learned a lot.

Tina Helmuth said...

I had to look up transitive and intransitive verbs to refresh my memory of what they are. Now that gives me an extra excuse to reread some of your books to see if I can spot them. I'm curious to see what that does to your voice. Okay, the other reason I want to read them again is that they're just so good.

See? Who needs editors to stroke your ego? That's what fans are for.

C.J. Darlington said...

This is fascinating, Brandilyn. Thanks very much for sticking your neck out and sharing it with us.

Stuart said...

Cool beans!

Alwas love getting a glimpse at what's in store for me if I ever find a house crazy enough to deal with me ;)

Look forward to hearing more about this whole process.

Domino said...

You are an absolute doll! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

This is so good for me in my preparation time before I get a contract.

D. Gudger said...

What are transative and intransative verbs? I have never heard of them before.

B - this is helpful information you are sharing about the edits. It's so true what you say about being so close to your work, it's hard to really know how those twists etc come across.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I'm with you, Brandilyn--every author needs a good edit. Or a really good critique before hand. Preferably both.

I'd thought time was the big reason so many novels don't seem to get that kind of thorough treatment, but you're a two-a-year novelist. Makes me marvel even more.

Gotta say, I'm excited by the positives you reported for this new series. Sounds like you accomplished what you set out to do, bridging the suspense/women's fiction bents you have.

But Aug. 2006? Sigh.


mrsd said...

Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Have to admit I went scrambling for a definition of the verbs, too. For those who are wondering, here's one example of transitive v. instransitive verbs:
Not as difficult as some people think. A transitive verb takes a direct object: it shows action upon someone or something. Intransitive verbs take no direct object; they need only a subject to make a sentence.
Some transitive verbs: Hit (you hit something or someone; you don't just hit); climb (you don't just climb; you climb something); and bring (bring what?). Intransitive verbs: sleep (you don't sleep something; you just sleep); and fall (while you can fall down the stairs, you don't fall the stairs).
There are a few things worth noticing. First, just because something grammatically needs a direct object doesn't mean we actually use it. If someone said, I swung the bat and hit, we don't have to ask what he hit; the direct object ball is understood.
Second, many intransitives might look like transitives, as in She walked three hours. Here three hours is not really a direct object; it doesn't say what she walked, but how long (it's actually an adverbial phrase).
Third, many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive: while a word like ran is usually intransitive, it can also be transitive in "He ran the program for two years." Children can play catch, or they can just play. Even sleep, given above as an intransitive, could become transitive if we said He slept the sleep of the righteous.
The only real danger is when you start changing verbs willy-nilly: "We have to think quality" (giving the intransitive think a direct object; you probably mean "think about quality," if you mean anything at all); "I hope you enjoy" (instead of enjoy it).

Here are a few other websites with info on the difference:

Enjoy :-)


Unknown said...

Thanks so much for continuing to be so open about this stuff, Brandilyn; it is heartening for newbies like me to hear that even successful novelists still go through this stuff.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Well I was going to ask about the verbs also but Cara gave good info. Thanks Cara for the sites. Brandilyn thank you for sharing this process with us. It really helps!

Val said...

Thanks, Cara, for the thorough explanation! I think I'm going to have to follow Tina and re-read some of the books in order to catch what the editor meant about it being a part of your voice.

Brandilyn, this is really helpful to hear about! Thanks for sharing.