After being buried in many more than the 365 pages it has turned out to be and over 7 months later, I am mailing out the first full manuscript for review by the author with whom I worked on the development of his novel.
In June, this novel was a series of redundant vignettes. Though it had been professionally edited once before, it lacked any transitions, was extremely short on character development, contained no gestures and countless adverbs. It was written entirely in a flashback, framed by a present tense scene where a man sat in a chair remembering. Kind of like Masterpiece Theater, but without the masterpiece.
I read it all through once fast then got to work. First, I needed to move the action around a bit, put it in present tense with a story arc and an occasional flashback, more like a contemporary novel. Next, it needed to be typed into a computer–Did I mention that the draft I was given was a combination of typewriter and handwritten pages? So, I got to work and used the Track Changes function to suggest changes and comment on the writing. For three chapters I typed and commented and suggested as much as I was inclined to; I didn’t hold back, because if I was going to be working with this author for the length of an entire novel, I’d need to know what he was willing to change and what he would resist; I needed to know more about his characters and his intention; I needed to know what types of developmental help he was really looking for. Then, I gave him those three chapters with comments and suggestions and waited for his reply.
I didn’t have to wait long. My author was eager and, frankly, not very busy. Unfortunately for me, he didn’t just accept all of my changes. In fact, in quite a few areas I seemed to get it all wrong. Although I had read the entire novel, I didn’t know who was the protagonist. I didn’t know who the narrator was supposed to be or who I was supposed to root for. I didn’t know who to fear for. I received the most resistance on my suggestions of gesture and removal of adverbs.
One of the comments I received on my suggested text said in rather irritable capital letters: “MY TED DOES NOT ROLL HIS EYES.”
If I removed an adverb, he simply re-wrote the phrase with a different adverb and maybe an adjective thrown in for good measure.
This was a struggle, frankly. This was my largest project where I was writing for someone else and really as someone else. I had to pretend to be the author and use the author’s voice even when I thought it was lousy. At first, I reiterated some of my golden rules of writing, tried to coach him on showing rather than telling, just the basic stuff. He accepted some of it and rejected some of it.
He allowed me to add some transitions, remove some redundancies, create some scene around disembodied dialogue. I think a reader will know who to hate now, although the protagonist is still pretty creepy in my opinion.
By the end I came to realize that this is HIS book, not mine. Ultimately my job is to suggest edits and then follow orders in their execution. That’s what it is about to work for someone.
Fortunately, his goal isn’t a major publisher. And my name won’t be on the cover.