Monday 26th June 2017
Trusting your gut is a very scary thing, especially when the stakes are raised.
I’ve gone through a few more pages today editing Black as Knight and I think I’ve found an area where my agent and I slightly diverge.
For the most part, removing clauses and redundant sentences doesn’t bother me. I’ve learnt so much about the writing process from this exercise it’s been truly wonderful (hard work, but still wonderful). I feel my writing has levelled up as a result. Whilst I can turn out a decent first draft, I now can edit it to something better.
And even in the rare areas where my agent and I disagree, I still take the time to challenge myself. Unless I can come up with a good reason for it to stay, it gets cut.
But I’m seeing a number of interesting comments surrounding the relationships in the book, and it’s got me a bit perplexed.
There are a couple of relationships in Black as Knight, one which surrounds the main protagonist, and another that surrounds someone else. There are some spoilers within these relationships so I’m only going to talk in vague terms.
I always knew that they would be the most contentious thing about the book. I think people will either love them or hate them (with very little inbetween).
When I first wrote the book I never envisioned it as becoming published and so I didn’t worry, but as this book has continued to move forward, it’s been a source of angst.
The safe option would be to downplay them. Commerically speaking it would be the bright thing to do. That way I’d avoid any possible contention. But at the same time, being safe didn’t get me this far.
I can be a bit heavy handed when I write emotions and so with each consecutive draft I’ve toned the relationships down, not so much to diffuse any contention but rather to ensure the focus is on the relationship rather that the contention.
The relationships are difficult and multi-faceted. They’re messy and I like that. Even with established relationships like that between Mr & Mrs Munson (characters you’ve not met yet) it’s not neat. Mr Munson is verbally abusive to his wife at times. She lets him get away with it only so much and then shows that she’s very much in charge. And yes, I suspect that some people will read that and hate Mr Munson for being like that.
But real relationships (and people) aren’t perfect. I don’t believe I’m condoning Mr Munson’s behaviour. I believe I go out of my way to show that… but I’m also totally fine with some people not liking him as a character as a result. I’ve tried to deliver a complex and interesting character to the page and how readers react to him shouldn’t be dictated by me.
With one of the relationships, it’s supposed to be something that isn’t obvious. But through writing it and making changes… it’s now a bit heavy handed.
The other, whilst not core to the plot, plays a part in the main character’s growth.
My agent isn’t saying to remove them at all, but is making a case for removing the complexities, making it simpler, removing doubt. This will make it clearer for the reader and I can totally understand that. It’s really sensible.
But I’m not sure that’s right.
Deep down, there’s part of me that thinks there’s a lot riding on these relationships. I think it could make a huge difference to whether the book sells, and if it does, how commercially successful it will be. But perhaps that’s emotional heavy-handedness as well. The sensible option would be to follow my agent’s advice (I trust her completely) and end up with something more commercial.
And yet… there’s something nagging at my conscience. It’s telling me not to make the wise move. It’s telling me to take a risk here.
My agent is the first to stress that this is my book, the choices are mine, but I feel there could be huge consequences to the reception of the book by readers if I don’t get this right.
With these line edits, I’ve tried desperately hard to be detached from the text so that the decisions I make are based on text and not my emotion.
Yet this – the messy relationships – my gut is screaming at me to go careful. Simplify it, you lose the awkwardness of the one night stand. You lose the tensions of dealing with your ex you still feel something for.
These are subtle emotions that I’m attacking with a sledgehammer. In that respect, they definitely need to be edited. The confusing needs to be tackled with a deft hand. I need to remove the mess without simplifying the subtlety. But I need to make sure that in doing so, I don’t sterilise these relationships.
The easy thing would be to leave the scenes as they are. The other easy thing would be to do the opposite and remove them, make them something more black and white. My gut tells me there’s much harder option of a middle ground that keeps them but uses subtlety in emotion to not overwriting it.
So I’m going to sleep on it, to consider my various options and make a decision tomorrow on the best course of action: whether to follow the logic that is likely to make the book as commercially successful as it can be… or risk that for something greater.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.
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