In my previous blog I wrote about books so enjoyable that you don’t want them to end. Now I must confess that writers sometimes feel that way about a book they are writing. We tend to fall in love with our characters and with the story. It’s not that we think it so wonderful, but that because we love the characters and the story we’ve put them into, we want it to be our very best work. Sometimes we complete a manuscript but can’t leave it alone. We want to do more character development, put in more details, maybe add another plot twist. Or maybe we wonder whether we’ve made a situation clear enough. Will the reader understand what we mean here? Does this part need to be better explained?
Even when a book gets sent off to an editor and proofs returned for checking, it’s easy to spot places where the writing can be improved. This is not a matter of correcting an error but of wanting to elaborate a bit here or maybe take some words out there because now you see that the sentence is better, stronger without them. They aren’t wrong, just not needed. And after a book is published, I suspect that many of us, in looking over the finished work, wish we could change something, do a bit of rewriting here and there to make the book better. I know I’m guilty of these feelings, and I suspect I’m not the only author to have them.
I’m sure I’m not the only writer who finds it hard to let a manuscript go. Maybe there are ways I can improve on it. Are there parts I could make clearer? Could I add details to make the writing more vivid?
Maybe I could. Maybe I should. But more likely I shouldn’t. If I’m sending the book to a publisher, my editor will let me know if something isn’t clear and needs some amplification, or, more likely, that something is unnecessary and needs to be removed. When my editor for Seduction of the Scepter marked a large portion of dialog for removal, I objected strenuously. It was a dialog between my protagonist and her instructor regarding the political necessity of arranged marriages in the rather complex political situation in her country. “That information is essential to the plot,” I argued. “It makes clear to the reader what my protagonist must come to accept.” But the editor was adamant, assuring me that the removed material was not necessary, that the reader would understand the situation perfectly well without it. And of course she was absolutely right. Most likely had the material been included, the reader would have skipped over it anyway to get to more interesting material.
This morning I awoke well before the time I needed to get up, and I lay there thinking about my completed manuscript of The Twisted Towers. The towers of the title each correspond to one of the five major gods of Selveen, a country that has been conquered and made a part of an empire where the Selveen gods are not recognized. But the Selveen people continue to worship their gods in underground shrines devoted to them. In addition to the five major gods, three minor gods are mentioned in the story, two only cursorily while the third plays a larger role. My thoughts turned to the minor gods. Of course there are more than three minor gods, but I haven’t mentioned any others. Perhaps I should add a couple of brief mentions, just enough to make the reader aware that other minor gods occupy the Selveen pantheon. I have a character who is very familiar with the Lower Level passages onto which the shrines open. Why not have her comment to another character whom she’s leading through those passages, “This small shrine that we’re passing honors Munji, goddess of thought. I rarely see worshippers come there now. It seems the Selveen people have no use for thought in these difficult times.” With that short bit of dialog, I could introduce a fourth minor god and also make a statement about the condition of the Selveen people. A simple fix. And in another place I could introduce Ligassi, goddess of marriage. I have a scene in which a distraught princess, alone in her garden, shreds the petals of roses as she ponders her unhappy marriage. I could have her reminded later that roses are sacred to Ligassi and have her fear that in shredding them she has offended the goddess, and her marriage is surely doomed. Both wonderful ideas, I concluded. But later, in the bright light of day, I realized that these additions, brief though they would be, are not needed. They contribute nothing new to the plot. They simply represent my reluctance to leave the world I’ve created and the characters to whom I’ve given life.
As an author who is currently publishing my own novels, I must guard against that tendency to embellish my work with unneeded fribbles and frills. And I must pay close heed to comments from those who read my novel in manuscript form before its publication. If they point out a section that is too long, too wordy, or simply isn’t needed, I know I must be willing to revise and cut—no matter how much it hurts. And then I must let go of my manuscript and send it out, warts and all, to make its own way in the world.
[Check out Seduction of the Scepter. Find it on amazon.com]