Forums Club Ed Editors’ Forum Developing your “ideal” book

Viewing 3 reply threads
  • Author
    Posts
    • #59016
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      When we develop a story, we’re basically trying to help the author reach some ideal version of the ms. So, we have some ideas in mind about what that ideal is but if we’re good at the work, the “ideal” we edit to is situated firmly in the author’s ms. But we have to start somewhere, and this is why it’s easiest to learn dev in relationship to genre fiction–because genre fiction has “rules” and conventions and audience expectations. If those form our “ideal” then we can take steps to ensure the ms meets those rules, conventions, and expectations.

      But the more specific you are about your ideal (“must have the theme stated in Chapter 1”; “author uses few adverbs”) the less “real” your template can be, and the less it looks like reality.

      Being able to identify aspects of the ideal you have in mind can go a long way towards helping you grow as an editor and in helping you see where misconceptions can be leading you astray.

      What are some “ideal” characteristics of story that you’ve learned are perhaps too inflexible? For example, here’s a minor one: I used to think it was way more important to include descriptive details about characters’ appearances than I do now. Readers make up their own ideas about what the characters look like. More important, I think, is having characters act and talk in distinctive ways (so we can tell them apart).

    • #59547
      Adrienne Pond
      Participant

      I am glad you brought this up, Jennifer. I too used to think that it was important to include specific physical details about characters. I’m not even sure why I developed that thinking in the past. I’ve recently gotten hooked on the Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell. I’ve been paying close attention to how she describes and differentiates characters and their characteristics. I haven’t noticed eye color or height or dress styles or hair color/style or weight, etc. being blatantly singled out as important for understanding and being drawn to the characters. And I don’t miss these things. I find her a skilled writer and I am not having any difficulty picturing all of her characters and what makes them quite different from one another.
      I remember recommending to a writer once that she could improve her characters by describing them physically. Fortunately, someone else (a great fiction editor) was involved and gently asked “Why?” It was an excellent moment for me because the writer’s characters were not evolving and coming through for other reasons that I couldn’t see at the time. Having my recommendation questioned by a very experienced fiction editor, and then having her help me understand her thinking, left a big impression on me and I was grateful. It actually led me to write a flash-fiction story in which I left so much to the imagination that you didn’t even know if the main character was male or female. It got honorable mention in a contest–which can seem a disappointment but it is really a compliment as well as a little kick to do better next time.

    • #60332
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      What a great story, Adrienne.

      I was just talking about the use of character sketches with an artist friend of mine (the character sketch being a sort of checklist that describes what the character looks like and details of their background). I’ve sometimes encouraged authors to use these and have used them myself as a way to track consistency of how a character is represented throughout a ms (character has blonde hair, went to school at UCLA, etc.) And that’s fair–you don’t want the character to be an orphan in Chapter 1 and in Chapter 5 he’s calling his mother for advice. For the sake of continuity, capturing character information in one place can be helpful.

      But in terms of getting to know a character, there are better ways to figure this out than asking “What is your favorite color?” Favorite color has zero bearing on the goal the character is pursuing and why they’re pursuing it. So these types of exercises can make one feel like one is doing the work of character development without actually doing the work of character development.

    • #63253
      Nancy Disenhaus
      Participant

      I am so glad to find this thread! I too am just learning how to give useful feedback and how to avoid irrelevant notes. For the high school student fantasy writer I’m working with, so far I’ve noted to her that she might want the two pairs of boy-girl characters to not be so similar, and to think about whether she really wants to be setting up potential romantic pairs; I know this young writer is gender-fluid, and she (or they?) was (were) surprised to learn that reader expectations might create a false impression of her actual intentions with the characters. I’m just hoping I’m on the right track with those comments; I am playing it cautiously as I get to know what she needs (they need) and can absorb. (She is only 15 but hugely talented–but still a beginner.) (Pardon my pronoun struggles–after 37 years of teaching English to high school kids, it is so tough to get out of the habit of pronoun agreement!)

      • #63712
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Nancy, it sounds like you’re doing a good job of being a proxy for the reader. I recently worked on a romance where the heroine’s interaction with a male character in the first chapter had me convinced he was going to be the hero, but then he disappeared for the rest of the book. I kept waiting for him to show up again! This type of unintentional signaling is very common.

Viewing 3 reply threads
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.