You may not be aware of how the process works, but once a fiction manuscript is handed in, it goes through at least two edits–really three. First is the “substantive” or “Macro” edit (choose your favorite term), where an editor reads the entire manuscript without changing a thing. This edit is for STORY. At Bethany House, where Esther was published, a team of editors actually looks at the manuscript and makes comments. If they agree on an issue, the writer is then asked to consider making changes in whatever area(s) they mention.
Esther was pretty well received, if my memory serves, but my editor, David Long, made a wonderful suggestion that was absolutely spot on. He said that Vashti was mentioned in the story as a threat, and I’d written her into several scenes, but the threat was a little understated . . . could I make more of that threat, so Esther had a more concrete reason to fear her? Voila! Such a great idea. I had already written the scene where Esther confronted the king’s lover’s mother (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know the one I mean), and I’d already written about something she did in the epilogue–those were historical events. But I could do more.
So I wrote in a little subplot that is of Vashti’s doing, and I had Harbonah and the eunuchs handle it. It’s fictional, but Vashti really did do something much like it–and even worse–so I thought it was a perfectly logical subplot to insert into the story. In any case, it greatly heightened the tension and put suspense into a story for which everyone already knows the ending.
Writing a story everyone already knows is challenge enough–a writer has to come up with fresh insights and new elements of tension to keep the reader reading. But I always look at Titanic, the movie, for inspiration. We all know the ship went down, but we are fascinated because we’re caught up in the love story between Jack and Rose, plus as we watch, we are there. A writer must write with enough sensory detail to put the reader on the scene.
After the substantive edit, comes the “line edit” in which the editor goes through the ms and checks every word and sentence for clarity, grammar, etc. And to be honest, that part of the process went so smoothly I don’t think I even raised a brow when I read the edited manuscript. It sounded just like me, and that is great editing. 🙂
After the line edit, comes the copy edit, where terrifically detailed people check issues of logic (how can he be 15 on page 30 and 14 on page 40?), facts, spelling, grammar, you name it. And after that it goes through proofreaders.
And after that, we all hope we have a nearly perfect book. But as my friend Al Gansky always says, you can have a 100,000 page book that’s 99.9 percent perfect, and you’ll still have 100 errors. We haven’t found any in Esther yet. But in one of my previous books, the protagonist was engaged to Karl in chapters one through three, and Kurt from chapter four on. Sigh. That mistake slipped by everyone.
Tomorrow: Your questions, my answers. 🙂