Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reviled Revisions

I guess I'm the exception when it comes to revisions, because I don't like them. When I have completed a story and have handed in my final draft, I have a hard time cutting and rearranging things, because it feels like I'm losing some of the content that I feel is vital to the story. That is not to say of course that I think my writing is perfect, far from it. I have always appreciated the discerning eye of my editor, and I usually happily accept all of his suggestions and make the necessary changes no questions asked. There have been times though, when he has questioned the tone or content of the story, and I have had to firmly stand my ground.

For example, here is one of those situations. The excerpt is from my new book, "How to Ruin Your Life and Other Lessons from the Fourth Grade" and what follows is an exchange between myself and my editor.

Even though I didn’t want to admit it, it was true . . . Katie was faster than me! She had beaten me during gym practice and she had even beaten me the next day at lunch. Though I probably could have beaten her, if Mr. Shepherd’s butt hadn’t got in the way. The whole thing was making me feel terribly sick. So sick, that I didn’t even feel like eating dinner. Instead, I went straight to my room and crawled into my bed. Mom came in to see if I was feeling okay. I told her that I was nervous about the race on Tuesday. She told me that I would do just fine and that her and dad would be proud of me no matter what. Mom is always telling me dumb stuff like that. I bet if I told her the whole world was going to explode she’d still say, “That’s okay P.J., things will be better tomorrow!”

Mom had only been gone a few minutes when Dad came into my room.

“Your mom tells me you’re nervous about the race on Tuesday,” he said. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really!” I said, pulling my blankets up over my head.

“You know it’s normal to be a little nervous. Everyone feels like that from time to time.”

Why does my dad always ask me questions like “Do you want to talk?” or “Do you think I’m made of money?” or “Do I look like I was born yesterday?” and then when I answer him he ignores me, kind of like I never said anything at all. It’s weird.

“You’re not still upset about Katie?”

I didn’t answer him, because I thought it was better to be silent than to lie.

“You apologized didn’t you?”

I closed my eyes.

“P.J!” he snapped.

I looked out from beneath my blankets long enough to shake my head.

“Why didn’t you say you were sorry?” he asked.

“I was going to, but then Katie turned the whole class against me!”

“No one cares whether you win the race or not!” Dad said in his most serious voice. “I don’t know why you won’t believe me. Your mother and I have both told you that. We would be proud of you whether you win a medal or not."

Email from my Editor

Dad's orders to PJ to apologize to Katie (when PJ's parents first
hear of the dustup over the race) are still imperatives - we're telling you
to do this, and did you do what you were told. Are you sure you want to
leave them like this? It makes Dad seem a little hard-nosed.

My Response

I completely understand your feelings about the tone of Dad's response to Katie. I think what I am trying to get across is that PJ is a stubborn young girl. She is head strong and does things without thinking sometimes and her parents are very accustomed to her habits. I based much of PJ's family life on my own as a child. My mother was gentle, while my father just cut to the quick and told you what to do, but not in a harsh way. When I read the exchange between PJ and her father I don't think he comes across as rough. I think he appears realistic. As a parent there have been many times where I have told the children what to do, not asked them or encouraged them to sort it out themselves. If they have done something they know is wrong and are too stubborn to fix it, then there have been times where I have had to be firm with them. I don't think his being firm comes across as being hard-nosed.

That's an example of one of those times where I have had to disagree with my editor, though I must admit it's not too often that I do. Most of the time I take his suggestions and go with them. Who the heck am I to disagree with a man who has won literary awards and his been in the "business" almost as long as I've been alive.


Tracy Madison said...

Oooh, great post, Carolyn! Thank you for sharing your experience with your editor. :)

Carolyn McTighe said...

Thanks, Tracy. I've been loving yours too! You are a very eloquent writer.

Maureen Lipinski said...

Nice twist on the topic! I think a lot of writers are so afraid to question their editor or agent's decisions, but your post is a perfect example of why (in measured portions, of course!) it's important!

Lesley Livingston said...

A-ha! I knew that there had to be at least one of us who didn't dig the revis!

Nice bit o' alternate perspective, Carolyn. Thanks for that!