Writing With Silvia Hartmann
Reject Me! PLEASE!
(Plus A Spurious Creativity Pattern ...)
Over the years, I had quite a few run ins with editors, reviewers and critics.
It stands to reason; what I do is what I do and that is not to everyone's taste, I understand that.
There is a particularly bizarre form of helpful advice for "improving my manuscripts" which I come across every so often and which really does my head in when it happens, and it works like this.
For example, I've just written a novel called Vampire Solstice, which relies on the interplay of the main group of characters, ten in all.
If you haven't read this yet, think of these people as "the 7 samurai" plus their boss and his wife. That's the story, that's what it is.
So someone comes in and offers me good advice, along the lines of this.
We'll take out six of the seven samurai because we don't need them. We'll make the leader evil instead of good, and his best friend can become a virgin girl he's engaged to. The boss's wife can be a private detective. "You make those changes, and it'll work ..."
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE WHEN IT'S AT HOME!
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST REJECT MY NOVEL!
Just say that it isn't what you want to read, say, "Just take that away, it doesn't work for me!"
That would make some sense, and we'd both be on our way, happy in our own unfoldments.
You just can't do that to a FINISHED work of art - it doesn't make any sense, that's not improving it, or editing it, or polishing it.
It's totally destroying it and in it's place, something totally different that IS NOT THE ORIGINAL STORY comes into being.
Now I appreciate that this sort of nonsense is happening in Hollywood all the time, but it is truly INSANE, stupid, doesn't work and is exactly the sort of process that produces EXACTLY the kind of box office DROSS that we have become way too used to putting up with.
This manouvre is like taking Lord of the Rings, and saying, "Well, we'll get rid of the elves, we won't need any hobbits, Sauromon isn't a sympathetic character, he can become a busty waitress in a small roadside cafe, and we'll replace the orcs with ... hm, let me see now, yeah, cuddly small pigs and frogs. Oh yeah, and we'll change the title - we can call it The Muppet Show!"
NO IT WON'T!
Whatever you end up with at the end of this process is NOT an edition or a version or an improvement of the original - it is something altogether what the original wasn't, and didn't want to be.
Personally, I've had these kinds of "suggestions for improvement" given to me enough times now that I recognise the underlying pattern of "destroying the original message and story completely" right away; so when it happens yet again that well meaning editors and publishers hold out a contract and suggest "a few minor changes ... and then we'll publish it ..." I just tell them to write their own goddamned books and leave mine alone, and walk away.
However, there is lemonade in this lemon handed to authors on a far too frequent basis.
We can go and turn it around and make this insanity into a workable creativity pattern to produce A BRAND NEW AND ENTIRELY COHESIVE STORY.
We can start with something we really don't like.
Pick any movie, any book, any short story that you wish hadn't seen/read/experienced.
Let's say, for argument's sake, Lord of the Flies.
Now, change it so it becomes more to your personal liking and preference.
An island is pretty boring, so we'll set the story in New York.
Can't be doing with a bunch of boys, I'll prefer older men, in suits, rich and powerful. And let's have some women too, while we're there.
Sitting around on an island and hunting isn't what I like to do, I like to go to the theatre, so our group of rich and interesting and goodlooking people have something to do with the theatre and entertainment.
Being cut off from civilisation, no, that doesn't work for me ... let's have them be involved in global media production.
I like a bit of a conspiracy, so ...
And Lord of the Flies isn't a good title, so I think we'll name it, hm, let's see ... ah! I know! Immortal Control. Cause they're immortal and have controlled all fashion and media and public opinion since the dawn of time. AND they're all extraterrestrials ...
There we go.
A film script to go-go.
In under five minutes.
And Lord Of The Flies can stay just what it is, and no-one is hurt in the making of either.
Over and out,
PS - And as an addendum to writers and authors, especially the young and scared - don't do this EVER to yourself.
Listen. If you have written a story with a main character who is a 45 year old black accountant from Missouri who used to be in the army, the story CAN NOT WORK any longer if you replace that character with someone else.
It's the butterfly effect - a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the Atlantic causes a tornado on the other.
In *any* story, all parts belong together, and everything is cohesive, and connected.
When you first got *the idea* for the story, it came from somewhere.
That somewhere it came from knows more about EVERYTHING than you or I ever will.
You start messing with the basic structure of the original idea, and then you have alread a DIFFERENT manuscript on your hands - a 2nd story that is not even related to the first.
If someone tells you that you can't sell a novel featuring an accountant and that he must be a cook, or a mechanic, or an assassin, or a logistics officer, then leave the original story alone and sit yourself down and write ANOTHER BOOK featuring this new character.
You will find that if you change your players and your settings, events change too - new timelines are created.
I have known way too many authors who have totally DESTROYED their work by trying to change out components that belong into one story to please him, her, or fashion.
Don't let anyone tell you that this isn't true, because it is.
Characters may evolve, but they may NOT Jeckyll and Hyde after the original idea has been received.
Every metaphor, every little item the character owns, all their times, everything they think and everything they say, every interaction they have with every single item, tree, passer by, the challenges of the events themselves is all TOTALLY IDEOSYNCRATIC TO THAT ONE CHARACTER.
You change one thing and everything must change.
So do be careful.
If you wished after a few chapters the chap should be living in a condo with a swimming pool but of course, can't afford that on his accountant's salary, then write about how he wishes the same thing, and how he goes into the public baths late at night and imagines it is his own swimming pool he's in.
Don't try and backtrack and play "Back to the future", give him a different job, have a rich uncle materialise in his past or any of that "deus ex machinae" bullshit that makes everyone cringe in the cinema as one.
It always, ALWAYS lands in agony and catastrophe because we're simply not smart enough in consciousness to compute the variables on a person and their entire life, emotions, behaviours and actions.
The original idea on the other hand holds all of that inside itself, like in an egg.
If you unfold the egg and you don't like the story, or your agent or editor doesn't, just write ANOTHER ONE and leave the first story alone.
When you're rich and famous, it too will sell well with the rest of your back catalogue. Scholars can do entire university courses on the differences between the first, and the second novel. All will be well.
But don't allow anyone to perform "character assassination" on your stories and tales.
Be strong, protect your originality and creativity - and keep writing in excellence,