Story: I’m back.
Me: You were gone a while.
Story: The editor had a lot to say about me. Maybe you should read his comments.
Me: Wow. These are a lot of changes. Nothing too spectacular, though. I think I can do this all right.
Story: Did you see his last suggestion?
Me: Uh oh.
Me: I wasn’t expecting that.
Story: I know.
Me: If I make a change like this it will change you completely. You will no longer be the original vision I had when I wrote you in the first place. Hm. I’m not sure I want to do that.
Story: I know. What are you going to do?
Me: I’m not sure. I think I need some guidance here. What do you think?
Story: Here’s how I see it, and how any writer should see it when confronted with this problem. You are the one who has the first vision as to what I am going to be about. As you write me there’s probably some synergy between you and the story itself, leavened by your imagination and creativity, which itself is tempered by knowledge, confidence, and technique. That’s all fine and dandy, especially when it works. Let’s say in this case it did work, which I think it did or you wouldn’t have sent me out in the first place. At least, I hope not.
Story: Then another reader comes along. It could be an editor, a beta reader, anyone. Let’s say it’s another writer who agreed to be your beta reader, but it could just as easily be an editor or publisher or anyone. She reads your story and likes it, but recommends changes. Now what you have to remember is she is not you. She didn’t write the story and she wasn’t in your head at the time you wrote the story. When she reads it she brings her own worldview into play, and her own lens through which she views and judges fiction, talent, and artistic integrity. This doesn’t make her less right or more right when it comes to judging your story, it just makes her bring a different viewpoint into play.
Me: I’m with you so far.
Story: So this is what you must take into consideration. Do these suggested editorial changes make the story, make me, better? If they do, perhaps you should seriously consider adopting them. If your main goal is to write the best story you can, and then with outside suggestions and editorial control make the story even better….yeah, that’s usually an easy decision. Sometimes writers are hesitant to make any changes at all. Personally, I think this is a mistake. I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a blue pencil now and then, to be frank with you. Writers aren’t perfect, and the work they create is not perfect, because they are human. And despite what some people think, humans are not perfect. Especially writers, when you come right down to it.
Me: I always thought I was quite wonderful, myself.
Story: That’s a conversation I’ve been meaning to have with you later on. But back to the problem at hand. So you have a story, the suggested editorial changes make it better. Okay, easy decision. Maybe the changes don’t substantially change the story much at all. Again, probably an easy decision on your part. But if the changes harm the story, at least in your estimation, or in my case change me completely from what I am into something totally different, maybe even into a different genre altogether…then you’ve got a hard decision to make.
Me: Like now.
Story: Like now. This isn’t a plot shift or concentrate more on one character thing. This suggestion morphs me into something completely different from what you originally envisioned, and ultimately worked to create. So the final decision is left up to you. Are you willing to make these kinds of substantial changes? Even if they change the whole tone of the story, perhaps what the story is about in the first place? If they are changes you can live with, and if you see a valid reason behind them, well…your decision becomes more difficult. If you don’t like the new artistic direction, or if you believe certain changes actually harm the story, then you probably should not make them. There’s one thing you should never do, however.
Me: What’s that?
Story: Make changes you don’t agree with because you’re afraid the editor won’t buy the story. Well, maybe he or she won’t. But you should never make a change to a story based on fear. Make the change if you agree with it, if you believe the change makes the story stronger. Frankly, you’d be a fool not to. Everyone involved in this process, yourself, the editor, the publisher, the reader, they all want the best story possible. Keep that in mind.
Me: Okay, I’ve decided. I’m going to make this change. I know it doesn’t guarantee you will be accepted by the editor, but I’ve been thinking about the proposed suggestions and I think I see what he is getting at here. It means I will have to substantially rewrite you, but there’s something in my gut, some instinct, that tells me this is a better way to go. I had the original vision of what you should be about. I think the editor looked a little deeper because he had a different perspective and saw something that originally escaped me.
Story: In that case you are almost certainly making the correct decision. As you said there are no guarantees in this profession, but I’ve always believed a writer should be willing to go that extra mile to make the story better, even if it goes against his vision. Writing is a profession and it’s a business. If you think the changes make me better, even though they make me different, then I agree you should go ahead and make them.
Me: I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me now.
Story: We both do. I can’t exist without you.
Me: That’s a very nice thing for you to say.
Story: Don’t get all slobbery on me now. C’mon, I can’t wait to see how I look in my new genre. I only hope the shoes match.