Editing Part 2: Crying is good
I have four completed manuscripts, one published, one in its way and two waiting their turn (fingers crossed). Whilst they are different stories, with different characters, they have similarities. Same target audience, based on a strong female protagonist and all are emotional. All have made me cry.
What I've learnt about writing emotional stories is that crying is good, (I have cried tears of sadness as the characters are going through their story). Getting an emotional reaction from your reader is good, however you also need to give them the occasional break - that was a big lesson for me to learn.
If you were to read the first draft of Harper, it's an emotional rollercoaster. Poor Harper went through a lot and it seemed like everything was just too much. Again, the importance of feedback - Nancy questioned - does this have to happen, can there be a break here? She didn't tell me what to do but got me thinking. Emotions are good but readers (and the writer!) also need a break.
So here's the story of Monty.
My brother's family had a dog called Monty, a miniature Airedale - small in stature, big personality. I can't remember the exact details, however Monty was staying with us for a few days over summer.
I tried to walk him but if he wasn't up for a walk he would just lie down on the ground. He wouldn't budge and nothing I could say or do would get him walking again. I just had to wait.
One day he walked two laps of our local footy oval without stopping and I considered that a huge success.
Nancy had suggested I add a few scenes to the manuscript, to give Harper and the reader a break from the emotions that we were all experiencing.
By Chapter 13 a lot had already happened to Harper. I was sitting at my writing desk, with a cup of tea, reading the manuscript when a loud snort came from beside my chair. George, was in his basket under the desk and next to me was Monty. (George was my son's dog, a small fluff ball who also appears in Harper.)
I remember looking at Monty as he stretched and snored after our mid morning walk. I gave him a long pat, which made him stretch even more, and then it just happened.
Monty became part of the story.
Harper is riding her bike along a path and meets him and his owner (my sister-in-law). It is a light hearted moment, and for a page or so the reader gets to breathe.
What I learnt during this part of the editing process was that sometimes things can be added for the reader, not just for the character.
When I look at a manuscript in its first draft form, I can see now how I can add things in that don't necessarily change the story or its direction but adds a bit of complexity to it - after all we are not always just happy or just sad.
It is possible for us to find a moment of humour or delight in the midst of our grief, just as it is possible for a celebration to have a sense of sadness because someone we love is missing. This is the human experience. And what I needed to remember, what the feedback told me, was that I had to build that experience into my story.
So Harper met Monty. She learnt how to make pancakes. She danced and she wept.
In a recent post I mentioned getting feedback on structure is the first thing I do. After that I need to have an emotions check - this is still part of the structure, because I am adding or subtracting however it's a deeper layer.
The other thing I have learnt about writing emotions for my characters is how the point of view can impact on how emotions are interpreted.
In the first draft I write from everyone's point of view, the characters turn up and I write. This needs to be tidied up in the structural edit and I change it to one point of view. The reader knows what is happening in the mind of the main character however has to interpret what other characters are thinking or feeling based on the description I add - and isn't this just like real life?
We read other people's body language and interpret their meaning by the words they use and their tone, we sum people up by their looks or what we have heard about them. And we don't always get it right.
However, there are times when everything just falls into place, even if it's just for a moment and, for me trying to write, for Harper needing a break from the grief, Monty was that moment.