Revisionist History

Thursday, January 29, 2009 / Bloggified by Jake Bell /

I'm so close to finished with these revisions and what I hope will be the final draft of my first book, which, by the way, I'm now calling "Ms. Mathewson's Secret Identity," though that could change a couple more times before publication. What's really hanging me up are little details that don't really matter, but are kind of important in the grand scheme of the characters.

A lot of the revisions are just adding a few words to a sentence or a line of dialogue. For example, the main character, Ron, is working on an extra credit project for science class and one of his friends asks him about it in chapter seven. My editor noted that he's never mentioned the project to his friends. I took for granted that kids who hang out all day and after school probably would talk about things like that, at least in passing, and thought the fact Jenna asked about it would imply it happened "off camera."

But it was very simple to add a two lines to the conversation that takes place in the lunchroom after the teacher offers him the extra credit assignment.

"Hey, what was that about? Did you get in trouble?"

"No, he was offering me a chance to pick up my grade with some extra credit. I'll tell you about it later."

Boom. Moving on to the next fix.

Unfortunately, some of the problems aren't so easy to mention in passing. Such as the fact I have two scenes with Ron's dad and two or three references to his dad, but no scenes with his mom and only one reference to her. My editor wanted either equal time for mom or an explanation of why mom wasn't around.

The truth is, I hadn't really cemented why mom wasn't around. Part of me wanted her to be dead. Another said she had a really important job--I'd tossed around Mayor's Chief of Staff--and lived in a condo downtown where she only saw Ron and his sister every other weekend. A third part said just go the easy route and make Ron's the typical nuclear family and write a new scene with mom and add her into one of the scenes with dad just by changing "my dad" to "my parents."

The problem is, I don't want to dwell on either the death or the divorce since whichever I choose isn't a central part of the book. But just adding a line like "My mom had died two years earlier," completely out of the blue on page three is a non-sequitor and a creepy one at that. The only other place it really could work is around chapter eleven, but by then we're well past the character introduction point and throwing in a "by the way, my mom was dead" comes as a shock and a distraction.

At this point, I think I've ruled out the Chief of Staff job, so mom has to either be dead or still married to dad and hanging around. I have two good plot elements I can use in future books if she's dead, so I'm leaning that direction. Now I just have to figure out how to make it seem like I'd planned it this way all along and not that it was just an editing decision made in the final hours before the manuscript was finalized.

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