No, it’s not a mash-up where Whorf marries Saskia Brandt and Data downsizes to a computer the size of a credit card. This post comprises a thought or two on the process behind what falls under the label ‘Coming to America’ — or, more accurately, working with my American agent on the edition of Déjà Vu that we’ll submit to publishers over the next few months.
Non-writers — and a few writers at the beginning of their career — tend to feel that their work is in final draft early on. Most experienced writers will agree that the editing process represents as much work, if not more, as those early drafts that seemed finished. The process is a enjoyable one because the changes take the book, inch by inch, towards the best it can be.
So, despite the flattering Amazon reviews, I’m keen to take another look at Déjà Vu and tweak it inline with the comments given to me by my agent, Katherine.
I often think of the writing process as being like producing a film, which is odd given that I have no experience of film production. But the first draft is like a rough cut: the material exists in ugly, clumsy but substantive form. Later drafts are like film edits: boiling down the bulk, compressing and adding meaning. The comments of the agent are akin to those of a producer — ‘Should this dissolve be a jump cut?’ — and intelligibility — ‘Why not insert a brief scene where Bob reveals a personal secret to Jane?’
As you might expect, Katherine made clear that I’m free to ignore all her comments, but I haven’t because they are good ones. In this new draft, I’ve made Saskia’s hybrid mind clearer to the reader; filled in some plot blanks that readers often don’t understand on their own; and, with minimal touches, I’ve tried to stop the reader bouncing out of the story on account of unnecessary complexity or unexplained happenings.
The trick, of course, is to leave the good stuff untouched and improve the bits that are just about working.
Here’s one example. In the current draft, Saskia’s physical appearance is not described explicitly. Katherine thought that a physical description early on in the book was needed. Why didn’t I include one? Well, I hate authory bits where the reader is told about a character. I want these descriptions to serve the story too.
Excerpt from the current edition of Déjà Vu:
Ghost-touched by the air conditioning, her sweat dried cold. She entered the lift, which rose on a piston and opened high in the building. Her office was one among dozens on the floor. Its plaque read: Frau Kommissarin Brandt. She licked her thumb and squeaked away a plastic shaving from the newly carved B.
Excerpt from the unpublished, newer draft:
…She licked her thumb and squeaked away a plastic shaving from the newly carved B. There was a picture alongside the name. It showed a serious, beautiful woman in her late twenties. No make-up. No earring in the exposed, left ear. Many photographs had been taken and Saskia liked this one the least. As always, she scowled at herself before opening the door.
I’m fairly happy with this description. It is plausible that Saskia would see this picture; it’s still vague, but gives enough for the reader to imagine her appearance; and it contains her reaction to it, which tells the reader something about her character. With luck, I’ve avoided this kind of thing [from Dan Brown’s angels and Demons]:
Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the forty-five-year-old Langdon had what his female referred to as an ‘erudite’ appeal …Langdon still had the body o a swimmer, a toned, six-foot physique that he vigilantly maintained with fifty laps a day in the university pool.
If I ever write like this, shoot me. Shoot me vigilantly.