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Monday, January 11, 2010

Pursued From Out Of The Night

I recently recorded and posted my entire story "From Out of the Night" on my Prelude To A Scream Podcast.

It's a dark humour tale of a panicked woman whose only desire is to save her family from the flesh-eating/blood-thirsty creatures stalking around in the night outside their home.

You can listen to the full story online or download it from the podcast's website here.

Pardon me for taking a few moments to pat myself on the back, but here are a few interesting things about this tale that struck me.

First, there's a phrase I wrote into the tale that I still love after all these years (could it possibly be as long as two decades now) since I first wrote them.

We are pursued from out of the night by dreams of the unknown and visions of the unexplainable.

I quite like that. Not sure why, but it jumps out at me now. Every once in a while something I wrote ages ago does that to me. I'm pretty sure it jumped out at me back then when I decided to use that sentence for the title of the story.

The second in my back-patting exercise is how truly realized the characters in the tale are. And while I'd like to pat myself on the back for that, I know that much of this is thanks to some great suggestions from an editor.

Working with an editor, I managed to take a tale that I had originally crafted in a quick afternoon and polish it into something a little stronger and better. And this was back in the day when editors and writer's main "conversation" wasn't as quick and immediate as a simple email. This was back in the day when good old fashioned letters and manuscripts were exchanged via Canada Post/US Mail.

I had previously sent the story to 6 other markets before it crossed the desk of Stephanie Connolly, editor of The Darker Woods magazine. She wrote back saying she liked the tale and suggested a re-write in which I should expand upon the relationship between the two main characters as well as explore a bit of the "back story" behind Mary's fears. She said if I'd sent the re-write back to her, she'd consider publishing it in her magazine.

I took her advice, dove back into the story, and, using her guidance, questions and suggestions, discovered further buried details about the characters and further strengthened the tale. She accepted the tale and it was published the following year in The Darker Woods #2.

And though, when this story was first published, she decided to "cut" the very final scene from my story, feeling it didn't add to the tale, I put it back in when it was re-printed in One Hand Screaming. Ironically, I put it back in specifically because, in my mind, the actions of the very final paragraph speak to the relationship between the two main characters in a way I believe the editor had intended when offering me the great suggestions she did.

This illustrates, to me, the critical importance of listening to an editor's suggestions in your writing. But also, the fact that, while you should always take what an editor says very seriously, don't completely abandon something that you personally feel rather strongly about. I've had friends who have completely re-written their novels to suit an editor's tastes after a first reading, only to have the same editor completely brush them off after weeks of hard work and revisions. Then, when they've tried the re-written novel with editor 2, that editor makes suggestions that sound more like the author's original work.

Why does this happen? Because every reader, including editors, have their own personal preferences and tastes. What editor 1 loves, editor 2 finds it flat and boring. What editor 1 hates, editor 2 believes is the best thing they've read in years.

In my own experience of writing and working with editors, I've found that it's critically important to listen closely to what an editor is suggesting. And crucial to take everything they suggest quite seriously. Many of my stories have been revised following an editor's suggestion and advice and have come out to be far better than the original. Sometimes it's a simple matter of tweaking one small thing, and other times it's more detailed revisions.

So, an editor's advice is critically important. But it's also critically important that you don't just blindly follow the advice, but rather consider what the advice might mean to your story.

Ultimately, there's no winning if ALL you're trying to do is please a single editor.

Ultimately, you must take the editor's advice and see how it fits (if it fits) in with the "truth" you're trying to get across in your story.

When an editor makes suggestions or offers advice, YOUR key as a writer, is to seriously consider the advice, then re-read your story with that advice or those suggestions in mind. And if you're able to spot ways in which you can incorporate the advice, without losing the original intent of the story, or without losing part of what drove you to create the tale, characters and situation in the first place, then chances are, you'll come out ahead of the game.

The trick is figuring out where exactly to compromise without compromising your integrity as a storyteller. If my goal in writing a tale was to convey the importance of a husband's devotion to his wife, anything I do that takes away from that conveyance doesn't help the tale, nor me as a writer.

Sounds hard?

It is.

Writing is hard, though very satisfying work. This is yet another one of those challenges that a writer must face. Because, when you face it, and it works, you come out much stronger and your writing wins.

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