As I mentioned last time, I’m gearing up for the release of the next novel in my Mythos Legacy series, Pure Sacrifice, coming out August 12th. In my previous post, I alluded to the fact that revisions for this book were difficult. Very difficult.
In truth, revisions are never easy. Unlike just plain edits, which might have us questioning a word, sentence, paragraph, or scene, revisions might have us questioning everything:
- the characters and their arcs
- the plot arc and specific events
- the conflicts and stakes
- the goals and motivations
- the story and core premise
- the themes and messages we’re sending, etc.
Those are big ideas. And big ideas might require big changes.
The Fine Line of Developmental Edits
We are likely to face those kinds of questions when we receive feedback, especially if our developmental editor or beta readers are good. And stress is a normal reaction if we get feedback about those big elements because the changes often seem daunting or require a lot of work.
(Or if we’re neurotic, we could stress even if we don’t get that feedback. I didn’t receive any big-picture suggestions on the third book in the series, which will release this fall, and I freaked out rather than celebrate because I knew—I just knew—something had to be wrong with the story. *smile* Second-opinion editor: Nope. It’s all good.)
As I’ve discussed before, it’s not enough to rely on just copy editing. Jefferson Smith’s Immerse or Die study of story openings found that only 25% of the “strikes” that get him to close a book fall under copy editing.
Readers are just as likely (if not more likely) to hate a story for a plot hole or a Too Stupid To Live character as for missing commas or repeated words. So we need to make sure those big-picture issues are being examined.
Yet sometimes the feedback we receive might cause us to wonder if the suggestions are a good idea for our story. If we’re indie published, we can make any decision we think best.
If we’re in the midst of the query process, we might receive a “revise and resubmit” letter. Then we’d have to decide how much work to put into a story the agent or editor might still reject.
Or if we’re traditionally published and under contract, we might face an awkward choice. Our development editor is usually our acquiring editor, so we might feel pressured to make changes we disagree with, and we might doubt ourselves, wondering why they even wanted our story.
Whatever the situation, we might struggle with figuring out when suggestions will actually make our story better or when they’ll only make our story different:
“I’ve seen editors who want to change the premise(!). I’ve seen editors who want to change the tone (from dark to slapstick!). I’ve seen beta readers who want to change the whole plot(!). *sigh*
In all cases, if those changes would make the story closer to the story we intended to write, great! But we shouldn’t change just for the sake of change.”
Sometimes suggestions just tell us how they’d write the book, and that’s not going to help us tell our story. How can we tell the difference? And how can we know which battles we might want to pick when debating our publisher’s editor?
Be Wary of “Baking Soda Changes”
I came across a great post by Ally Carter about the sort of changes stories often go through during a book-to-film adaptation. She compares story chemistry to baking chemistry:
“If a cookie recipe calls for pecans and all you have is walnuts? Fine! If it calls for M&Ms and you’ve got chocolate chips? Well, that might work.
But only a fool would substitute baking soda for baking powder.
Why? Because that changes the chemistry and will throw the whole thing off whack and out of balance.
Good book-to-film adaptations know the difference between Baking Soda Changes and Walnut Changes. They know better than to mess with the chemistry.”
She goes on to explain that what constitutes a Baking Soda Change will be different for each book. For some books, the setting is an essential part of the story, and for some, it’s not. For some stories, removing a subplot won’t affect the main plot, and in others, they’re intricately linked.
She suggests focusing on how the change will affect other aspects of the story and gives examples from Harry Potter:
“”We found a great young actress for Hermione but she doesn’t need braces.”
“We decided to set Hogwarts in Ireland instead of Scotland.”
—Walnut Change (an unnecessary change, but a Walnut Change nonetheless)
“We decided to give Harry a spunky kid brother because there was a kid brother in Jurassic World and everyone loves a kid brother.”
—Baking Soda Change”
“Baking Soda” Changes: Not Always Bad
At the very least, Baking Soda Changes are those that affect:
- what makes a story work
- the essence of what makes a story feel like ours
- the character arcs we want to explore
- the themes or messages that resonate with us
That doesn’t mean every suggestion for a Baking Soda Change is bad. Unlike Ally’s comparison between finished books and movies, our in-process stories might need their chemistry adjusted.
The point is that for Walnut Changes, especially from an acquiring editor, it might not be worth it to argue. Those generally aren’t hills we need to die on. But again, what constitutes a Walnut Change will be different for each story.
On the other hand, with Baking Soda Changes, we want to look closer at whether those changes would bring us closer or further away from the story we want to tell. In other words, when we have to pick our battles, these are the changes to focus on.
Even as an indie author, I make myself justify every suggestion I ignore. So I have these debates in my head to make sure I’ve really analyzed the suggestions versus the affects on the story.
In short, understanding what the Baking Soda Changes are for our story helps us dig into the essence of our story’s elements. And with that understanding, we’ll be better able to make our case about whether the changes make sense for our story.
Case Study: Pure Sacrifice
One of my developmental editors (Jessa Slade of Red Circle Ink) made several Baking Soda Change suggestions for Pure Sacrifice. I wasn’t surprised, as pieces of the story had felt off to me as well.
Her suggestions included major changes to:
- the worldbuilding,
- the heroine’s arc, goals, and motivations,
- the hero’s internal conflict and motivations,
- the premise of the scenes leading up to the Climax,
- a few plot events, and
- the themes.
Huge, right? But…
When I stepped back from the suggestions that I knew wouldn’t work for the story I was trying to tell, I found several ideas among her examples that—although seemingly huge changes—would get me closer to that story essence in my head.
By skimming through each scene, I came up with a two-page list of questions to help me seamlessly patch the changes. The questions focused on what Ally mentioned above—how the changes affected the rest of the story—such as:
- Why can’t she ABC?
- How is XYZ supposed to work?
- Why is he avoiding ABC?
- What does XYZ mean for ABC?
In short, lots of whys, hows, and what does it means. *smile*
With that list in front of my keyboard, I was able to fix every aspect of the story (and maintain continuity) in one pass. Even better, by really understanding the baking soda elements at play, the changes turned out to be not so huge.
I didn’t delete or add any scenes. I didn’t rewrite any big sections. I didn’t change the main plot events or any turning points.
I changed some dialogue. I changed a lot of motivations and internal thoughts. I changed a few details about the questionable plot events. And I changed a few word choices to focus on different themes and messages.
By no means am I saying this revision was easy. I started out the post (and my last post) admitting that it was difficult.
But this key of understanding the underlying chemistry of the story, along with the two pages of questions to maintain story flow, helped me see how the pieces and parts fit together. In other words, the thinking about how to fix it and all the questions to answer took at least as long as making the actual changes.
After all that, the story is so much better. I addressed every single issue Jessa brought up. And more importantly, it’s so much closer to the story I wanted to tell. The changes didn’t break the chemistry—they fixed it.
There are many ways to approach revisions (one of my guest posters last month even shared a worksheet for her method), and there are many reasons why suggestions may or may not work for us or our story. Perhaps this idea of Baking Soda Changes will help us separate what we want to do from what we don’t and give us guidelines on how to get closer to the story of our imagination. *smile*
Have you ever received revision suggestions that felt wrong? Were you able to point to how it would break your story? How did you handle the situation? Does the analogy of Baking Soda Changes help your understanding? Have you been able to make any Baking Soda Changes work?Pin It