Our Pitch Wars Interview was published last week so you can get insight into why Emma picked me, and why I picked her.
Based on all our back-and-forth communication about the magic systems in Emma’s book and the character’s ages and the point of the novel, and the best place to start, Emma set about revising Chapter 1.
As with most revising, it wasn’t a straight path.
Here are some samples from our email exchanges:
Still working. I will get you something TODAY! Sorry for the hold up.
Blah. I suck. The good news is that I have found some cool research about ley lines that I think will go perfectly with the magic system and the new-wave funeral home angle. I've been working on those notes and finding a way to make them work with the plot parts that don't currently work.
The bad news is that I haven't made much progress otherwise.
Emma, you don’t suck! OMG.
AND you are doing EXACTLY the work you need to be doing — the thinking and sorting in your brain. ALL this novel needs is that work done, and woven in. As I said before, the first few chapters will be hardest — a new entry point. And we may trim and move a few things around. But it’s mostly going to be aging up the characters, getting their story/emotion on the page…. It will all be good.
Attached is my tweakage of the first chapter. I think/hope it answers the WHY question we've been looking for. I hope it's not too heavy handed or info-dumpy. Fingers crossed! :)
Unfortunately, the revised chapter was, in fact. too heavy handed and info-dumpy. It read more like a summary of a novel than a novel itself. This was surprising for two reasons:
1.) Emma is SO good at writing scenes and letting her story be “in the moment” on the page, but here she just didn’t do what she is good at.
2.) Emma KNEW it. She CALLED it. I often find that writers know exactly what’s wrong with their work but they don’t have the training or the confidence to trust their instincts. In this case, she was trying to answer all of the WHYs we’d been discussing in a short piece, instead of spreading it out more organically.
Here is that scene, with some notes from me – but the notes weren’t so much to Emma as they were to me as I was trying to work out what was going on in the text. There were so many “topics” introduced and developed and abandoned, and my conclusion was basically that it was just too much – too much info dumped, too much summary.
I ended up spending my writing an email back to Emma explaining my reaction and proposing next steps. That email is below.
I read the chapter and wrote some notes on it — and yes, it’s too info-dumpy and heavy handed for Chapter . Too much ramp-up. BUT for your sense of what is happening and why this story has to occur and what Emma needs, it answers everything almost perfect. So in that sense it’s awesome work! And work the needed to be done. we will come back later and think about the opening of the novel.
What I would like you to do next is get Cici into a scene and into some action — let’s see her on the ghost tour, let’s see her encountering the real ghost and being freaked out — that something is happening here which she desperately wants to happen, has been waiting to happen. So that’s actually Chapter THREE.
Here are some things to think about in terms of revising:
• When she introduces herself on the tour, says her name, can she say something about her family being the morgue owners and how she lives in the room where her grande died and how she/ they have a special connection to the spirits in this place, etc — all as a set up? (Remember everything needs to be either a set up, a pay off, or the road in between…) In this case, I am thinking that she could use that info to add creepiness to her tour, but she’s actually saying something true about herself and her story for the reader’s sake too. Like maybe she says what she WANTS — that they have a unique connection or understanding to the spirits unlike the stupid new funeral home. I feel like people on the tour would love that — it would make it so real and authentic and creepy.
• When she gets to the burial ground, could her granme be buried there? That would be a way to lock in that idea — and we could see Cici reacting in a less cocky/confident way (different from her tour guide persona) there. If grande can’t be buried there, let the burial ground trigger her memories/thoughts/problems about granme — how gramme’s death shook up Cici’s understanding of life/death.
• Look for places to age her up vis a vis Jimmy. When she asks him to come back to the church, make it clear why — does she not want to be alone? Does she need him because of his witch knowledge? Does she WANT to be alone with him? Same for why she calls in Griff, too. We want the WHY for these two right here. What do they offer her? What is their relationship with her and each other?
• You might put someone on the tour to trigger her thoughts about her loser boyfriend and her love life — like a snuggly newly engaged couple. Just enough for her to say where she is in terms of all that — her philosophy about love and “happily ever after” would totally play into her thoughts about death (and where granme is — is she with HER love, Cici’s grandfather? Or is that part of the problem….?)
• Can she break her “cool” with the tour more when the bangs happen? I’d like to see her rattled — she can be obsessed rattled nor scared rattled. But we want to know this really matters to her — and why. So it’s not like “gee let’s go check out the church” but “OMG THIS COULD BE IT”
• Make her wanting the big job more pronounced than it is — more urgent. Maybe that’s part of the reason she goes back to the church and is so excited about what she thinks she hears — she’s just desperate to prove her worth to Harry. (And then we need to know WHY. What will getting that job MEAN to her — that she can get closer to something she needs to solve her own personal dilemma/question. Is there a place Harry keeps literally under lock and key? Is there a book of spells she wants to get her hands on? Do the tour guides do some secret solstice ritual that she can’t be part of unless they hire her? That might work bc then when she gets to the REAL secret police ritual, she’s found a better/more independent/more real way to what she wants)
I hope this all makes sense.
Emma and I had a long conversation on the phone, and she agreed we should use this as a basis for the answers we needed to get the infrastructure in place, but try writing the first scene again.
The thing I most love about Emma (and there are many things) is how willing she is to do what is right for the story. She has very strong opinions about what she wants for her story and what she doesn’t want, and she definitely has ego involved, but she is able to step out of all that and think about the story as a separate entity. It is a KEY attribute in doing well as a writer.
If you are revising and editing on your own, you need to be able to take off your writer hat and put on your analyst/editor hat and look at the story on its own merits, then dig back in to fix it.
On Emma’s second iteration, the result was very different.
Emma OMG you KILLED it. This is PERFECT!!!!!! What happened the night Granme died — SO GOOD. Rob in the shop — SO GOOD.
I have a bunch of niggling little edits and want to read it through one more time but I have a super busy morning so can’t get to it until later…. but keep going. Write forward from here. This is IT Don’t stop!!!
YAY!!!! So glad you like it! This one felt so much more natural. Can't believe I didn't start here in the first place. :)
EMMA WRITES AGAIN:
My husband knew I was rewriting chapter one a dozen times. When you sent your email that said I'd nailed it, I showed him. He asked how I felt about it. I said, "It IS way better than it used to be. 100%."
He sent me this text: "You officially have Stockholm's. You are now identifying with your captor."
Here’s the second revision of Chapter One with my edits on it. You may be surprised to see so many notes on a piece that I thought was so good. This is par for the course. An editor looks at everything – all the layers – and line edits dig into all of it. For a discussion on how to deal with all those comments, see below.
Incorporate Edits Now or Later?
A question people often ask when working with an editor is what to DO with all the comments you get. Different writers have different styles and different needs, of course, but there are two main ways to proceed.
1.) Stop and incorporate all the edits – which is to say, go through line by line and respond to every note by either changing the text or ignoring the comment and marking it resolved. At that point, you can either turn the revised chapter back to your editor, or save it as part of a revised draft the editor will read later
The benefits to this method are that you can respond when the issues are fresh in your mind. You just wrote the pages, so you know what you were trying to do and you can generally go back and quickly respond to everything.
Also, if you make the changes, everything you write will rest upon that more solid foundation.
The drawback to this method is that it slows down your forward progress. Instead of writing forward, you are refining and polishing early chapters, focusing on a lot of nit-picky little details. It can be frustrating and make you feel like you are spinning your wheels.
2.) The second way forward is to read through the edits, take quick note of any big things that will change, and file them so you can go back later and respond to them.
A writer who takes this tack will end up with a folder full of edits that they will then go through and respond to all at once.
The benefit to this method is that you can keep moving forward without feeling stuck in nit picky details.
The drawback is that it might take more energy/effort to go back and dig into the text once you’ve written forward.
I normally recommend path #1 for a full manuscript revision, but Emma likes to work in chunks of text – not chapter by chapter but a chunk of chapters at a time. It helps her see the big picture and get the flow of things correct. She has a good process that works for her, and that she feels comfortable with, so that is what we decided to do.
She will file these notes, and write forward. She will be sending me a chunk of chapters, and then later will go back to respond to all these notes.
Emma’s next chunk of pages.