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Writing a perfect novel

My editor saved a guy’s life today.

I didn’t want her to.

I argued a bit.

Told her she shouldn’t do it.  But she convinced me, and now there’s a character in my upcoming release who should have died but doesn’t.  One life saved.

We’re in the final stages of editing Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden, which is due to be released by Future House Publishing in less than two months.  I’ve been working with my developmental editor Emma for weeks, making changes and moving things around.  Future House is much bigger than Flamewalker‘s publisher, so the editing is a lot more intense.  This will certainly turn out to be a good thing, but it’s resulted in some interesting changes in the manuscript.

One of those changes involved the guy who died in the original version.  Emma didn’t like it.

But here’s the thing:  it’s what happened.

He died.  He did.  But now he doesn’t.

And Emma is right.  He needs to live.  It didn’t work for my target audience to have this character die, and certainly not the way I killed him.

It’s led me to think a lot about how manuscripts change over the course of editing.  I’m fortunate to be the current group leader and head cat-herder for Cincinnati Fiction Writers, a critique group that’s been meeting since long before I opened my first Scrivener project.  We’re always dispensing helpful advice, telling each other how best to edit works-in-progress.  Most of the time our members are really psyched to put the group members’ opinions to work.  Sometimes they’re hesitant.

“But it’s perfect,” they’ll stammer, tears magnifying their dilated pupils.

Of course they’re right.  It is perfect.  It’s the way they wrote it because it’s the way the story happened for them, and because of that, it’s perfect.

Just like my original manuscript was perfect.

Perfect for me.

And that’s the issue.

I’m not the reader.  I’ll be buying, at most, ten copies of this thing to give to friends and family.  I’m hoping other people will also buy it.  For that to happen, it needs to be more than perfect for me.  It needs to be right for my readers.  And that means making edits.  Sometimes difficult edits.

It means killing my darlings and saving people who should have died.  It means moving chapters and deleting chapters and writing new ones.  It means changing this manuscript from those original words that first flowed from my fingertips, and turning them into something other people will want to read.

Hopefully a lot of other people.

Because this book isn’t for me anymore.  From the moment Future House said YES, it ceased to be just mine.

I’m confident that the changes Emma and I hashed out have made the novel stronger.  I think readers are going to love the new version.  The real version.  The only version that anyone besides me is ever going to see.

But deep in the dusty catacombs of my hard drive, I’ll keep the original version tucked away.  Like the Lost Ark in a box on a shelf in the middle of a government warehouse, it will hide away forever, its contents fading from memory in the passage of time.

You’ll never read it.

It’s only for me.

Because for me, it’s perfect.


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