I was going to write a post about character motivation today, but after a conversation with Tracy Baines, I realised that yesterday's post raised an intriguing question - is the way that Back from the Dead is now, the way it was always meant to be? Has being edited professionally finally released my inner muse and banished the shackles of convention that were holding me prisoner? Or has it watered down my artistic vision to feed a cookie-cutter industry that values quantity over quality?
The short answer: Kind of.
The longer answer: Life is compromise. Writing is no different.
I suspect that there are tens, if not hundreds of ways that my book could be written in order to bring it successfully to market. I may still not have found that way. The trick, as I see it, is finding the route that imprints the maximum amount of my personality onto the work, while still offering enough scope for the reader to see themselves in the story. We strive to find a blend of the personal and the universal, I suppose, and invariably an editor helps us make that compromise.
But there is a risk in all of this, some fear that our book will be taken away from us, that in our lust for publishing glory we will lose sight of what made us write it in the first place. Yet, by the very act of sending that book out to agents and editors, we are signalling our willingness to compromise, or at least we'd better be. *
So often for this blog I've found myself dipping into my first YA novel (The New Janice Powley), because it's almost like a proto-blog, a collection of thoughts about writing that I tried to twist into a narrative. The lead character of that book is a young writer and a key strand of the plot concerns his book - his artistic vision - and how it is manipulated and shaped into something else by an ambitious editor. My own fears of the editorial process, laid out in 12 point Times New Roman.
It's now plain to me how much I couldn't see about the industry at that point (and probably still can't!) There are a million and one unpublished books out there, so for an editor to take one and warp it into something else just to sell a unknown author, well, there's a plotline that sacrifices believability on the altar of satire.
A good editor should never try to make us be like someone else, they must magnify the aspects of our own writing style that best serve the book, as well as guiding us through the unfamiliar parts of the process. A good editor does not have to be an agent or a publishing professional, they can be another writer, a tutor or a friend - sometimes all of these things. If we are to be clever and nimble as writers, we must learn from everyone we can and help everyone who needs us.
* There are, I am told, a very rare breed of agents who refuse to give editorial advice, but I've yet to actually meet one. I suspect they stay at home, going over the small print in publishing contracts.