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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Stonking Great Stories.

Am gearing up to do yet more rewrites on what has come to be known as The Book, in this house. There are other books, some almost written, some half written, some planned. But THIS is THE BOOK. It has been through more versions than I have had hot dinners. Well, not quite, but it feels like it. And yet, each new draft seems to have been an important part of the process, leading me on to something new, exciting, interesting.
When I sent the latest version - so far from where this project started that it seems to me now like a completely different book - to my agent, I kind of expected editorial suggestions. But I also thought that I might finally have cracked it.
When he wrote back to me, with some notes, he also said - more or less - 'this is a very good book, but it isn't a great book. I think you have the potential to turn it into a great book. Do you want to have a go, because I will quite understand if you don't. It's up to you. I'd be happy to send it out, or wait for you to write something else - or have another go at this one. Your decision.'
He also used that dread word 'quiet'. Not, he was quick to stress, that he thought it was 'too quiet' - but he knows his market, all too frighteningly well. And he knows that that is the word that editors will use when they get back to him. 'Beautifully written - but quiet.'
After a little thought, I went onto my Facebook page and without specifying any details, asked my fellow writers (pretty much the majority of my Facebook friends are writers!) how they would set about addressing the problem of 'quietness'. I got a drift of answers at least some of which were helpful. Somebody (who had probably never read anything I had written, folk are like that!) said that I had to make my characters 'real' - but that has never been my problem. Actually, I suspect it's quite the opposite. My characters are sometimes all too real, which may mean that I sacrifice the drama. Another friend, a very fine writer herself, said that she gets the same reaction, and has been told by her North American editor, that she needs a 'stonking great story'. Several people told me that I must follow my heart. And there's some truth in that, as well. But, but, but....I can't ignore advice from somebody who clearly has my best career interests at heart.
I had a conversation with this same agent, a few days later, and he pointed out a particular scene in the novel which he thought worked perfectly, and was, in fact, an example of exactly what he meant. Considering his comments (actually, I have spent several hours in the middle of several nights, doing nothing but consider them!) I realise that what he is after, what the publishing world is really after, is a stonking great story, beautifully told. Failing that, of course, they will go for the stonking great story without the beautiful telling, every time.
All of which begs the interesting question - can I pull it off without the whole book coming crashing down around my ears.
I have to try.
And at least some of my midnight ponderings have revealed something else. The book itself has changed. What I thought was the 'story' of the book, is more like a sub plot. A very important sub plot, vital to the whole thing - but all the same, not quite the main theme, spine, story. That lies elsewhere, or not so much elsewhere, as seen from a completely different angle. And I'm still not telling it. Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps because it frightens me somewhat. It is, let's face it, a stonking great story, but also a scary one.
But I have to have a try, because now that I'm aware if it, it isn't going to go away.
Lots more work. I'll keep you posted.

2 comments:

KarenG said...

I found this post fascinating. Look forward to hearing more about your progress toward making this a stonking great story. Which of course you must now do, having gotten so close.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

You're right. After my first dismayed reaction, I realised that I had to try! But I'll keep the previous draft, just in case;-)