When I originally posted The Genuine Article I wasn’t happy with it so I had this idea that I would take my own story edit it and use it as an example to discuss editing. Thus came about The Genuine Article Take Two which I’m still not happy with but sometimes this happens with stories and you need to go back to them a few times to make them work. Apparently Neil Jordan didn’t write The Crying Game in one go, it was something he wrote then came back to years later and rewrote it and that’s a fantastic film in my view, it might even be my favourite but it has stiff competition from To Have and Have Not. The point being that what doesn’t seem to work today could be amazing tomorrow so don’t give up hope.
Many things can change during editing even the story which happened with GA and GAT2 . When I was editing it the idea occurred to me that perhaps the twist would be more interesting if the sisters weren’t simply estranged but one of them was dead, it offered implied possibilities for the narrator’s bothersomely vague warning. Who are ‘they’ in GA? No indication and, to be honest, I can’t remember if I ever knew. In GAT2 it could be suggested that the ‘they’ could be other ghosts who are annoyed that her sister isn’t conveying their actual messages. Or maybe you want to interpret it as something else, that would be fine too. I still have no idea why her sister is obsessed with dying, maybe because she ‘killed’ her sister, or maybe because it’s an obvious question to ask a precognitive, or because she’s a medium, maybe you have a completely different idea and that would be fine too.
Does the change make it a better story? Perhaps, there seem to me to be more potential layers to it, then again there’s a risk of going a bit Sixth Sense (I was going to point something out here but I don’t want to spoil the movie for people). Anyway, the only people who can really decide this are you the readers, some people might like the second version more, some less and some won’t like the story at all. These are things you have to try not to worry about when you’re editing because you’ll never be able to write a story that everyone will enjoy, you can only write the story the way you think it should be written.
At this point it should perhaps be noted that if you workshop something people might not always agree with your idea but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with theirs either. Though I found that quite often my fellow writers were right about certain aspects because sometimes you simply need a fresh pair of eyes when yours have gone editing blind.
Yep, there is a point when you’re editing where the mistakes or the possible opportunities disappear before your eyes because you’ve read the story so many times. At this point, if you haven’t got someone else to read it or you’re simply not confident enough yet, it’s time to take a break, set it aside and go back to it later. At this point you will either think it is done or still need some tidying up, but either way a few days break will give you time to formulate ideas or simply feel more satisfied with your work. Or you be like me with GAT2 and still think there’s something amiss and you’re banging your head against a wall. Perhaps one day I’ll revisit these characters and write something completely new or something of the story will turn up in another story but that wasn’t the point of this exercise.
Looking at the piece I think maybe it’s simply the lack of humour. There’s a grimness there that I can’t write out within the confines of the exercise and I think I’ve grown beyond as a writer. These days I prefer my darkness tinged with some humour (check out the Weekly Serial and you might see what I mean in the subtext, and in places the not so subtext). Back when I wrote GA originally I was trying to make my work more obviously clever, not that I’m blowing my own trumpet and calling myself a clever writer, but as I discussed in my article on writing workshops my confidence as a writer was knocked by someone who dismissed my work because it was largely genre fiction.
This brings me to my final point; if when you’re editing you find yourself altering the story make sure it’s because you want to write that story not because someone else has told you to write that story. Once got myself completely in knots with a short story collection because I was trying to write one story while the leader of the workshop kept telling me I should be writing another story because I was only writing to ‘be funny’. Once the project was over I scrapped the stories, they were clunky angsty awkwardness because it had ceased to be my story. If I’m going to mess up a story I’d rather do it on my own terms, I’m quite capable.
Perhaps I should add before I finish that writing to ‘be funny’ is perfectly fine, I love writing humour, even if it is a bit weird. It was simply that this person said it in a way that most people might say ‘you’re an idiot’. Nobody should behave like that in a workshop, especially not the person running it, if they do I suggest a mutiny which unfortunately I lacked the confidence at the time to enact.
To sum up; sometimes when you’re editing you’ll find a different story to the one you’re expecting but that’s perfectly fine, such moments are what editing is for. You’ll find as your writing progresses that you may be able to go back to old material and make it better or find that it was perfectly alright all along. However, don’t let anyone tell you what your story should be because no two writers are the same and no-one’s opinion is more valid than anyone else’s, even if they think it is.
As always I would suggest you experiment and have fun with your editing because nobody actually has to see it until you feel confident enough to show them it.
For more writing advice check out my archive page.