When Can I Ignore an Editor's Comments?

Monday, November 19, 2012
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve heard the advice that not all editorial comments are created equal. Some editors simply miss the mark, because they don’t have the same vision for the piece that you do. Disregard them and move on.

My advice? Listen. Wait. See what happens.

Recently, I had a middle grade fantasy critiqued by Emma D. Dryden at a writer’s conference. I had taken my protagonist from 8-years-old to 12. At least that’s what I tried to do. I had my doubts about whether or not it worked, and I wondered if the story was complicated enough for this age group.

Enter Dryden. First she pointed out that my character wasn’t 12. He was 11. It may sound picky but if you have an 11 year old you’ll understand. This is a time period full of huge developmental changes. One year makes a difference.

Then she pointed out that my story felt too young because my antagonist was my protagonist’s younger sister. “Why not make her his twin?”

Whoa! What? The story I wrote was about an oldest child having to learn to deal with a youngest child. Twins? Twins would change the whole dynamic. This wasn’t the story I’d written.

But it would make the story more complicated. Wasn’t that something I’d been worried about?
This wouldn’t be the same story at all. I thanked Dryden and vacated my seat for her next appointment.

My next session was a characterization workshop. Instead of creating a profile of my protagonist and then writing a scene, I reworked my antagonist. She changed from his younger sister to his older twin. She’s mad because he’s not as mature as she is and that’s why she’s making his life miserable.

Then I sat through a panel discussion on YA literature. At least I’m fairly certain that’s where I was physically. I was thinking about the ways that my younger antagonist had tormented my protagonist. An eleven-year-old simply wouldn’t be mean in the same ways as a six-year-old.


At least one setting will have to change. I figured that out during a session on media.

And the ending, my ending will have to be completely rewritten. That came to me at dinner.

No, the editor didn’t have the same vision for the book that I did, but her suggestion solves the problems that I had already spotted. It solves the ones that she pointed out as well.

And this new story? It is deliciously dark and won’t leave me alone. Anything with this much energy needs to be written.

Even if an editor doesn’t share your vision, listen hard and listen long. You just might be surprised to hear your characters celebrating a bigger and better story.

Author Sue Bradford Edwards blogs at One Writer's Journey.


Sioux Roslawski said...

SueBE--That's great advice. When the occasional editor is off their mark, at least they cause you to reconsider your story choices, to relook at the plot and the characters, to strengthen your convictions. YOUR editor caused a whole line of dominoes to fall into each other in a chain reaction, resulting in an improved story...which is what we always want when a new set of eyes looks at our manuscript.

Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post. As writers we always want to "trust our first instincts" with our stories and characters, but an outside view (especially an expert on) can force us to reconsider options. I'm having to look at this very thing in my WIP and it's a bit painful, but necessary.

Tamara Marnell said...

I haven't worked with a professional editor, but I do have brutal beta readers. I spent the first eight months of this year working on a historical novel. Then this happened:

Significant Other: "It's boring and forced. You're writing like George Eliot, not like you. What happened?"

Me: "Well, you know, it wasn't originally going to be a historical. I had to set it in the 19th century because it wouldn't work today."

Significant Other: "Why not?"

"Why not?" Because...because...f--.

I have a very modern voice, and I knew I was trying to squish it into a genre I didn't belong in. So now I'm reincarnating everyone into the twenty-first century--which isn't that hard, actually. People are people whether they're in 1897 or 2012. The speech patterns and clothes have changed, but we have basically the same relationships and motivations. I just have to burn my first manuscript and rewrite the whole dang thing from scratch :(

Joanie said...

Your "insights" reminded me of growing up and reading Trixie Belden mysteries (my favorites at this age) and the way the author had Trixie and her brother Mart 13-months apart, so they were almost twins, but not quite. Even as a young girl I could see that the younger Trixie often acted more mature than the older Mart, which fit in well with real life. Keep us posted when your book is out--I can't wait to read it!


Anonymous said...

I feel your pain! I am also starting over from scratch. With two characters changing completely and one of my favorites probably disappearing from the story altogether...it will just be easier. Note: Easier, not easy!

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