Another fabulous Theory on Thursday this week, with new Penguin author Jennifer Scoullar. Jennifer openly shares about her recent editing experience with her debut book (our in July) Brumby’s Run. Jennifer’s account is fascinating whether you’ve recently been through something similar or are looking ahead to what the editing experience might hold…
‘We edit to let the fire show through the smoke’ – Plotnik
On the fifth of January I received editorial notes from Penguin for my upcoming novel, Brumby’sRun. An expert, in-house structural edit with a major publishing house, was for me the vast unknown territory between submission and publication. I had some idea what to expect, and in some ways was looking forward to the experience. Fellow rural author Karly Lane had commented to me, ‘I LOVE editorial reports- my first one was the most amazing writing experience I’ve ever gone through. It’s amazing how just a few questions can spark your imagination and send you in a whole new direction’ Another writer friend of mine, Jewelene Barrile, said ‘I want that revelation of a brilliant editor taking my ideas and polishing & resetting them in a way that opens my eyes to the craft of novel writing forever more.” Sounds good, doesn’t it?
But I must admit, the report put me into a spin. The first thing I noticed was how well the editor knew my story – almost better than I knew it myself. It was disconcerting to find this person fluent in what had been, up to now, my own private imaginary world. More than that, she could pick when I’d hurried a scene or missed an opportunity to deepen a characterisation. It was uncanny! She started me off with flattery, talking about the evocative descriptions of the High Country, the heartfelt bond between the twins and their horses, and the beautiful brumbies that almost steal the show. She was happy with structure, with pace, with point of view. So far so good, though I could still feel a but coming.
Once the buttering up process was over, we got down to the nitty gritty. ‘As you’ll see in my notes below, most of my observations relate to character – I often found myself wanting to know more about a particular character, or wondering how their behaviour would affect others.’ Then she gave me a detailed character breakdown, and her thoughts on how to fix things. There was no direction, just endless questions. ‘We know Faith is Sam’s anxious, loving upper-class mother – but how well do we really know her? There’s a great opportunity in the early chapters of the book to develop a deeper relationship between Faith and Sam, and I’d love to see more of Faith throughout the novel. What drives Faith? What does she do for a living? What makes her happy? How is her relationship with Sam? We get the impression it’s bad, but why?’ And so it went on – almost 4,000 words of it.
She finished with ‘This may seem like quite a lot to think about at this point, Jenny, but there’s no rush’. (I had three weeks!) ‘I envisage that the next step from here would be a minor redraft, depending on what strikes a chord for you in these notes’.
The first day I just read the report over and over, feeling thoroughly daunted. The next day I wrote two thousand new words and then deleted them. The next day I reduced the report to its essence, to dot points, and started a redraft in which I tried to address the very valid issues my editor had raised. Things began to fall into place.
Text editor Mandy Brett talks about ‘The character of the relationship between editor and author, in which power see-saws in quite a freaky way. You are a taskmaster who issues deadlines, criticism, demands, sanctions. You are also a servant whose principal task is to make someone else look good and not be observed doing it.’ http://meanjin.com.au/editions/volume-70-number-1-2011/article/stet-by-me-thoughts-on-editing-fiction/ This is so very true. Such a privilege to have someone who really cares, help you release the full potential of your story.
Editor, novelist and reporter Arthur Plotnik once said, ‘You write to communicate, to the hearts and minds of others, what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” By the end of the redraft my manuscript was vastly improved. It’s strange though. In some ways the process I went though is still as mysterious as ever.
Thanks so much Jennifer, that was fascinating. Sounds very similar to the experience I just went through with JILTED. When I saw the initial report, I almost died but now I think my editor is a GOD!!
Jennifer’s book Brumby’s Run (blurb below) and I can’t wait. You can check out Jennifer’s webpage, like her on Facebook or follow on Twitter.
Brumby’s Run tells the story of Samantha Carmichael, a young woman whose life is turned upside down when she discovers she was adopted – and that she has a twin sister, who is now critically ill. With little warning, Sam finds herself looking after her newfound sister’s farm, high in the Victorian Alps. What starts as a daunting challenge soon becomes a wholehearted tree change, as Sam grows to love the property and the locals – especially handsome mountain cattleman Drew Chandler. But is Sam’s sister ready to really accept her into her life? And can Sam truly leave the city behind?