Novellablog: Editorial Dilemma: Listen to the Adults or the Kids?

Short post today, because I have other things to devote my considerable freaking-out-energy to, but remember how I was having a panic attack about potential editorial mistakes I could make? Here’s one I’m stressing about right now. Give me your thoughts.

I’ve now heard from five of the six Kid Editors. I’ve also heard from four critique mates and my husband. Most of the comments have been consistent: I need to spend a bit more time making sure that things are clear for readers who aren’t familiar with Arcane and the events of The Boneshaker; there’s a major Tom Guyot reveal, but I didn’t have a scene between Tom and Natalie after that big reveal and everyone felt that was a missed opportunity; everybody felt I needed to clarify someone’s motivations at the end. Fair enough. Fixed, fixed, and fixed. (I think.) I’m waiting to hear from the last editor reading The Kairos Mechanism before it goes to the copyeditor, so we’ll see what she thinks about the changes I made.

I’m also very eager to see what she thinks about The Thing I’m Worried About. The Thing They Don’t All Agree On. The Subject of This Post. Here it is, and it’s a perfect example, I think, of the problem of having to rely on yourself to edit your own work.

Everybody quotes that “kill your darlings” thing. I hate that thing, but I understand the importance of being willing to let go of what you love if it doesn’t serve the story. But what about this stupid situation?

At one point in the story, the two protagonists (Natalie Minks and Ben Claffan) venture into a garden behind the home of Arcane, Missouri’s most mysterious citizen, Simon Coffrett. Simon is a big question mark, and I wanted to give readers a bit of an extra glimpse into his world. So I let Natalie and Ben explore the garden for a bit. Arguably, I let them explore a bit too long.

The thing in question involves five pages of text. Considering the manuscript only runs 130 pages at the moment, five pages is a pretty substantial chunk. On the other hand, it’s not five pages of description. There’s one major thing that happens and one major discussion that happens. So, let’s say it’s three and a half pages of contested material, once the substantive stuff’s been removed.

Most of the adults were very put-off by the fact that I spent three and a half pages meandering there, and suggested strongly that I cut it back. The kid beta-readers, however, wanted–no, demanded that I spend more time there. They wanted more details, more color, more description.

So it comes down to this: do I cut it back, because the adult readers (who are, not coincidentally, the readers most in touch with the pacing and narrative expectations of the publishing world I know) think it’s a bit too meandering and detail-geeky? Or do I leave it, because the kids think it’s great, and gives them some sort of insight into a character they desperately want to know more about?

No, seriously. I’m asking.

10 Comments

  1. I’m 43, so I guess that counts as an adult 😉 I won’t be very helpful, I’m afraid, but it seems to me that’s quite evenly split, so how about opting for not doing anything? Make it the point where you as the writer do as you see fit.

    A bit more seriously, though, I have just started reading The Boneshaker, therefore I am not sure about anything. Perhaps a more appropriate approach would be whether the scene, or what happens in there, is more relevant to the events in The Kairos Mechanism or to later events. In other words, is it part of the story or a teaser for future works? If it is a teaser, would it be adaptable so that it could appear in one of those future works? If the answers are “it’s really a teaser” and “yes, it could appear elsewhere” then I’d say you could leave it out altogether.

    Hope it helps!

  2. You raise good points. The only teaserish element is that the characters get to spend some extra time in the garden before the particularly meaningful things occur–they’re allowed to explore a bit. I would absolutely not (intentionally) dedicate that much space to something purely a teaser without relevance to the current book. I’m not inclined to actually add more time there, but I think you’re right and the “do nothing” approach might be the way to go.

  3. No kidding, especially since they gave me the answer I most wanted to hear. Robin Wasserman made a similar point on Twitter–the adults are probably cautioning brevity out of fear that the kids’ll get distracted, but if I have evidence to the contrary, I can probably not worry about that concern.

  4. Tie goes to the writer. If half your people want more and half want less, you could probably just leave it, as long as you’re happy with the passage. Just my opinion… 🙂

  5. If I were you, I would say leave it as is or go with the Kids. After all, this is for them, right? I think one of the problems we sometime face in children’s literature is that all too often things are determined by “the pacing and narrative expectations of the publishing world” rather than what kids actually want to read. 🙂

  6. Sorry–I replied last week, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be showing. This is what I said:

    No kidding, especially since they gave me the answer I most wanted to hear. Robin Wasserman made a similar point on Twitter–the adults are probably cautioning brevity out of fear that the kids’ll get distracted, but if I have evidence to the contrary, I can probably not worry about that concern.

  7. Again, I don’t know why my reply didn’t pop up, but you raise good points. The only teaserish element is that the characters get to spend some extra time in the garden before the particularly meaningful things occur–they’re allowed to explore a bit. I would absolutely not (intentionally) dedicate that much space to something purely a teaser without relevance to the current book. I’m not inclined to actually add more time there, but I think you’re right and the “do nothing” approach might be the way to go.

  8. You raise good points. The only teaserish element is that the characters get to spend some extra time in the garden before the particularly meaningful things occur–they’re allowed to explore a bit. I would absolutely not (intentionally) dedicate that much space to something purely a teaser without relevance to the current book. I’m not inclined to actually add more time there, but I think you’re right and the “do nothing” approach might be the way to go.

  9. Sorry–I replied last week, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be showing. This is what I said:

    No kidding, especially since they gave me the answer I most wanted to hear. Robin Wasserman made a similar point on Twitter–the adults are probably cautioning brevity out of fear that the kids’ll get distracted, but if I have evidence to the contrary, I can probably not worry about that concern.

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