I’m getting good practice in case I ever have the unlikely opportunity to work with an editor or agent to get my novel published. (I say unlikely, because the publishing world is weighted down these days with grim stories about the death of the bound book printed at the expense of someone other than the author. E-books and vanity presses where you can pay to print your own book are taking over the literary world, according to these doom-filled messages.) The practice I’m getting is simple: rewrite everything.
My first taste of this came in class last night, when I met with my instructor. I told her I was submitting three or four chapters to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest, (whatever fills the maximum twenty-eight pages they’ll accept), because I knew from a previous short story submission that trying to win the contest at this stage in my novel-writing career is not as important as getting useful feedback from two independent readers. She supported my plan.
I also said I was moving scenes around, wanting to begin the story in as strong a place as possible, but had learned that moving just one scene required reworking many other scenes. Fortunately, I had finished drafts of all the new scenes in time to refine them before the contest deadline.
She then asked me questions, mostly about what was happening to my protagonist. She suggested I make my main character a little more sympathetic at the beginning. I agreed that she had a point, given that it may be hard for readers to relate to a smart aleck, immature twenty-eight year old living a purposeless life. But I wasn’t ready to concede immediately. “Who wants to read about someone who’s perfect?” I asked. “She’s going to improve and change. We just need to give her time.”
“Work something in now,” she said. “And start the book at the point where she gets demoted.”
“But that’s way in the middle, at least ten chapters in,” I said, thinking about the deadline ahead and the hours it would take to carry out this recommendation. “Plus, I haven’t really worked out what happens after that scene.”
“It’s a great starting place, puts the readers down in the thick of the action. It’s perfect.”
When the conversation ended, I remembered that she once told us her editor had directed her to remove her favorite character from her manuscript, a process that involved changing nearly every chapter, and gave her a weekend to do it. I guess it’s good to learn these lessons as a rookie. I hope I get to use them someplace beyond the classroom.