Friday, September 17, 2010

That Character Must Die!

Teeth and Bones Editing Contest:

We have a winner!

We had over 100 entries for the contest. We're grateful for all the entries. And keep watching the Novel Matters blog as we will be holding more contests like this one from time to time. We love offering these happy surprises to our readers. 

The winner of the Teeth and Bone Editing Contest (chosen from a hat by Bonnie's son)  is: 
Ellen Staley!

Congratulations, Ellen! You can e-mail Bonnie at our gmail address (in the contact section) for instructions on the next step. 

I happen to
be one of those writers who loves to hear an editor say: "You have to kill off Joe and make Mary tons more empathetic. And that Sue doesn't step up to the plate. Consolidate her and those three other characters into one. Hey, have you considered making your protagonist a guy?"

(I also get my lip waxed. Keep that in mind.)

This is the truth of the matter--an editor won't ask you to make changes unless s/he is completely committed to the story and believes you're up to the task of making it sing. You want your editor to sharpen his red pencil. It's painful, but having an editor step alongside will help you write a story that will last.

And that's what we want, isn't it?

I've never trusted a critique partner who couldn't rip my writing apart. I figure the manuscript is beyond help, if they don't offer suggestions. I sure wouldn't trust an editor like that either. (I've never met an editor like this, but I've heard they lurk within the golden halls of the NYC publishing scene.) In fact, I edit my stories with every reading, even after publication!

And I love the challenge of revision from editorial notes in a I-will-climb-Mt. Everest-in-my-flip-flops sort of way. No, it's not a trip to Disney World, but it's a cognitive thrill ride that tests me. After all, I've spent the better part of a year writing my story. I want it to go off to the presses ready to please readers. More truthfully, I don't want to embarrass myself. Editors make me look much better than I am. For that, I love them.

Here's an example. If you haven't read The Queen of Sleepy Eye yet, please read the remaining part of this post through your fingers.

I submitted a proposal to sell Queen. Everyone knows stories can take on lives of their own once the writing process starts. In the synopsis, I killed off a character. By the time that part of the story came around in the manuscript, I loved my character too much. He didn't deserve to die. The story world was a better place because of him. My editor didn't think so. His editorial notes looked like this:



My editor was right. I rewrote the last 25% of the novel, killing off my sweet character as originally planned. The story was stronger. The ending more satisfying and much sadder.

After the last two weeks, I think we agree that we need editors and heavy edits are a blessing rather than a curse. It's Friday. We're all edited out, so let's have some fun and give you a chance to enter the contest. So, what will you send your editor for Christmas this year? No budget. No size limit. Be generous.


Marian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marian said...

I'll try again. I deleted my last comment because it needed an editor. I don't have a editor, but if I had an editor I would send her (or him) the latest kindle.


Marian said...

That's "I don't have an editor."


Lynn Dean said...

@ Marian - That's hilarious! :)

@ Patti - Great post. It's so hard to stay emotionally unattached to a story you've poured your heart into. Without passion I could not write it, but to edit I have to be dispassionate and objective. Very tricky, that.

Which is why sometimes it's good to get help.


Nichole Osborn said...

I need an editor, before I can send him/her something, but if I did have one I'd send them a big fat Christmas bonus. They would have deserved it after reading my MS.LOL!

Patti Hill said...

Marian: A Kindle, eh? I'll be your editor!

Jan Cline said...

I killed off a character in my first novel and loved doing it - but she was a bad person. I think I might struggle with killing a character I loved. Anyway, I cant wait for the day when I actually have an editor! That would mean my goal to being a better writer is that much closer. I have a question though. How friendly should you be with your editor? I mean do most writers have a sort of friendship with their editors? Does that play a role in how objective they can be about your MS?


Nicole said...

Most likely, if I had one, I'd send him/her a one way ticket to Siberia. Just kidding. ;)

MandyB said...

In my mind a good editor must be passionate about their clients work but have the moral fibre to be truthful and brandish that red ink without compromise. To thank my editorfor an excellent job,I would thank them personally in bold type in the front of my novel and make sure they had an excellent meal at their favorite resturant (anywhere in the world!)

Patti Hill said...

Lynn: You've caught the dilemma perfectly. It's difficult to turn that corner to dispassionate sometimes. That's the value of a great editor.

Nichole: Once word gets out about the bonus, you'll probably have battling editors.

Jan, you've asked a very good question. Your relationship with your editor will be like any other professional relationship. You'll have to take cues from your editor as to what works for them. I'm always mindful of my editor's time. Follow their lead.

Nicole: You're too funny!

Patti Hill said...

Mandy B: Yes, yes, yes! We all pray for an editor like that. Let the blood run for art.

Ellen Staley said...

That character must die! And he did. But his death was so necessary to crush the protagonist and in so doing, save him.

If an editor told me so and so also needs to vacate those pages, GULP . . . ok.

I sense a great challenge in the air. I look forward to working with an editor, getting to that stage in the publishing spiral that means someone sees hope in my writing.


Anonymous said...

I'm having enough trouble killing off my bad guy. Am I being wimpy, or am I setting up a series? Or maybe he's simply not bad enough yet. I need an editor to tell me, probably!



Anonymous said...

Ellen: I love the idea of the publishing spiral. I want in the spiral, too. An upward one, of course. :)



Anonymous said...

"Cognitive thrill ride" is a great term! I was just praying last night about how my writing is not a thrill ride where the characters take over and my passion for God can be felt through the words. I need to let loose with my writing, the way you let loose when you get on a thrill ride!



Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Patti, I can relate to your experience with killing off a character that you came to love. I did this with one and it was so painful. The story never started out with this in mind. One of my critique partners was surprised but seemed to understand why I eliminated the character. Now I'm anxious about how other readers will react to it. I know it's a more meaningful story as a result. I've yet to work with an editor at a publishing house. I hope when the day comes I'll be able to take directions on rewrites in a professional manner.


Patti Hill said...

Ellen: You'll be ready for the great challenge. Editors are real people with a heart for stories. You become their resume, so they work hard at helping you shine.

Voni: Here's a tiny poem I keep at my writing desk:
Be Careless, Reckless!
Be a Lion!
Be a Pirate!
When You Write.
by Brenda Ueland

Pat: Working with an editor is like any other relationship. You grow in trust as time and experience accumulates. You'll do great.

Cherry Odelberg said...

I tend to resent edit suggestions. It's my BABY you're rejecting here, after all. I'll be back after I cry, etc.
You said it so well:This is the truth of the matter--an editor won't ask you to make changes unless s/he is completely committed to the story and believes you're up to the task of making it sing.
Wow! I need to learn to bask in the security of that committment.

Question? Will an editor argue and debate? I would love to be able to haggle over and analyze until I fully understood why an editor made such a request.

Bonnie Grove said...

Cherry: It's a good question, one I think many writers wonder about on the way to publication.
The short answer is: No - but with a proviso. Editors know their stuff - not only do they know how to strengthen a story, but they understand the journey of an author. They understand how difficult it is to hear the ms needs changes, but that doesn't alter the fact that it needs changes.
Most substantive changes will take place in the midst of dialogue between the author and the editor.
Editors have reasons for the changes they ask for, and they share those reasons openly, discuss them with the author - etc.
My post last week had an example from publisher/editor Amy Einhorn who ensured the author would be on board with her editorial changes before she acquired the book. Amy Einhorn wanted to work with the author, but she needed to ensure it was a creative partnership first. It was, and The Postmistress has become a huge selling hit.
Editors are not evil! They don't want to kill your baby, they want to work with you to ensure your baby will win the beauty contest - best in show!

lollipops said...

I'd love to win


Kathleen Popa said...

Patti, what a great post! And I love your tiny poem. I think that will go above my desk - alongside the one that is already there:

ALL the words that I utter,

And all the words that I write,

Must spread out their wings untiring,

And never rest in their flight,

Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,

And sing to you in the night,

Beyond where the waters are moving,

Storm-darken'd or starry bright.

That's from W.B. Yeats, who sounds like a wuss next to Patti's pirate.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Feels a bit odd commenting now cos it's Saturday morning over here. Not sure where you're up to time-wise, but I just wanted to say, Patti: I love that poem!!

As for a present... I don't have an editor, but I'm sure if I did they would deserve lots of chocolate and caffeine for wading through my enormous mess of a manuscript. Also perhaps something Australian. I'm thinking maybe a boomerang that doesn't come back. That could be symbolic.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Forgot again... TABEC.

Bonnie Grove said...

You're good, Karen.
We have 35 minutes until we announce a winner!

Enter as often as you can!

Ellen Staley said...

Aaaaggghhh. My nerves are fried. Had to watch a movie, Stranger Than Fiction to calm my beating heart.

But the good thing is, I now have a working synosis, if nothing else, and can get back to finishing those remaining eighteen chapters knowing where I'm headed.

Way to go! Run a contest to get us slow at heart to punch it into gear.

And the winner is . . .


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Ooooh, how fun. Here's another last-minute entry then.


Jan Cox said...

A chance to have someone look at something I wrote. YIKES.

Ellen Staley said...


Thank you!

Now to swallow my pride . . .

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Yay, Ellen!! Congrats :) Enjoy your editing experience with Bonnie... she's a fantastic writer.

Bonnie Grove said...

Yes, congrats, Ellen!
Yes, this will hurt.


Ellen Staley said...

Thank you Karen. :)

I'm too excited, my fingers are slipping on the keys.

I've got my heart in my mouth and my tissue box close.

Let's do it, Bonnie!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Ellen! May God use this experience for you.


Ellen Staley said...

Thank you Bonnie and Voni. Yes, I felt God really pushing me this week on that synopsis.

Bonnie, I responded by email to the gmail site for novel matters and look forward to your instructions.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Ellen. I'm looking forward to seeing how this unfolds. It should be a great experience for all of us.

Patti Hill said...

Yay, Ellen! Congratulations! And thanks to all of you who entered. My goodness, you're a brave lot. We're so pleased to have you in our lives.

Ellen Staley said...

I do not feel brave at all right now. More like walking the plank and I can see the end bouncing. Was that a fin below?

I feel quite honored to undergo this editing process and look forward to the outcome. Hopefully it will be only the first in the spiral towards publication.

Kathleen Popa said...

Yes, it's definitely a fin. Congratulations, Ellen. You're in for an adventure.

Cherry said...

Congratulations, Ellen!

Marcia said...

Congratulations, Ellen!

I'm both disappointed and relieved I didn't win. But I think I'm a winner too, because I worked harder at writing this last week than I'd worked in a while. As a result, I'm further down the road.

Thanks, Bonnie, for offering the contest. Do it again, do it again!


P.S. For some reason, today's blog hasn't shown up in my e-mail box. I kept checking all day. Nada. I finally wised up and came right to the source.

Bonnie Grove said...

Marcia: E-mail me at


Megan Sayer said...

Congratulations Ellen! All the best over the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to reading all about it at the end of the process.

Marcia, I'm with you: kind of relieved I didn't win, and at the same time being part of the comp has made my ms so much stronger, and it's been worth every minute!

Thanks again Bonnie, sometimes a deadline is the most valuable tool you can have as a writer.

Funny, it wasn't until today - facing the prospect that I really might have my story torn apart - that I realised how close to my heart it really was. I've always considered myself fairly objective about my work, and it surprised me. Given me some new goals to work towards, too. Amazing the things you learn about yourself when you apply a bit of pressure!

Bonnie Grove said...

That's so true, right? We learn our mettle when pressure is applied. It sounds like you have taken some great steps toward figuring out what writing life is going to be like for you, and some things you'll need to work with as you go. We all have things we have to work with!