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Revising in the Dark
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When you're an author, you sit and write the books in your head. Sometimes the story flows, sometimes it slogs, but you write. Most of us have critique partners or groups—people to bounce ideas off of, and to offer feedback on the WIPs. If they say they have trouble with a plot thread, or even the way you've worded a paragraph, the decision to change things is yours. But what happens when someone with more clout than a crit partner wants changes?

Late last week, I heard from my agent, who finally heard from the editor. We'd submitted a three chapter proposal last November, and, as happens so often in this business, we waited. And waited.

The news. Good and not quite so good. The good. The editor didn't say no. The not so good. She wanted me to revise.

While the revisions she requested seemed to contradict what she'd asked for to begin with, I certainly wasn't going to say no. Her suggestions included things that I don't necessarily like to do—include more back story up front. She even suggested a flash back. However, her suggestions were broad (or vague, depending on how you interpret them). Her biggest concern was that she didn't want the murder to happen as soon as I'd written it. Unlike most mysteries, where starting with the murder is common, in this case, she wanted to see more of the protagonists interacting. "Let the readers get to know them before thrusting them into a murder investigation."

The book is a cozy mystery, and it's not a genre I've written before. Since the cozy genre involves "civilians" or "amateurs" rather than professional crime investigators, I can understand the point. It's more like the heroines in my romantic suspense novels, who aren't really equipped for the situations I shove at them. Things escalate until they're forced to deal with the mystery plot. These characters have no experience in crime solving when the book begins.

In the original proposal, the murder victim was discovered at the end of scene 1. The editor wasn't specific about where she wants to see the murder in the revisions. Most of what I've been doing is exploring the characters at work, discovering their backgrounds. But, as readers of this blog know, I'm not in favor of opening of a book with back story, so I'm trying to make sure I'm not writing "filler" just to delay discovering the body. The new scenes have to provide clues, indicate where the story is going, as well as simply letting the readers get to know the protagonists.

So, I've been busy deciding how far back I need to go, whether to introduce new characters, whether to start going in a different direction. Normally, if I think I've taken a wrong track, or if I don't like a scene, I revise to fit my vision of the story.

However, in this case, I'm trying to fulfill someone else's vision of the story—a vision that I haven't seen. Kind of like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle when there's no picture on the box. At least it's only a 3 chapter proposal.

(And if you want a little fun with a puzzle where you DO know the picture, click here.)

Here's hoping the second go-round is more to the editor's liking. According to my agent, if she hadn't thought there was potential, she'd simply have said, 'no thanks.'