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Pen IN Hand
Mind Over Murder
By Peggy Bechko
March, 2006, 02:00

ather ‘round guys, this time I’m going to tell you a story of my (distant) past and extrapolate a few morals from the tale.

There was a time when I had published two novels with a major publishing house and had an offer on a third. Problem was the manuscript was over length – by about one third. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The editor made an offer based on my agreeing to cut the book by a third and eliminating a minor character the editor thought superfluous.

Everyone reading this is no doubt gasping at the mere thought of slashing work by a third. But wait, that wasn’t the problem. When it comes to cutting, condensing and compacting, pretty much anything is possible. Just follow my lead.

First you scream and throw something across the room. Then you might utter a few curse words, kick the desk leg and finally get down to work. With focus and ruthlessness a lot of words can be eliminated. In fact, if you draw a deep breath and step back you may well even come to agree with the editor that the cutting did a lot of good. It made the manuscript tighter, snappier, more taut with suspense.

So if you’re faced with the dreaded chopping block, check the impulse to harass your editor, cultivate a yes-I-can attitude and get to work.

Our moral so far?

Publishing is not only an art, but a business. Cooperation will get the writer much further than a stubborn, or cavalier, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. A good editor will not only make requests or demands, but will frequently be of assistance. Discuss changes and cuts when you’re unsure.


That doesn’t mean the editor has all day to dally with you, but reasonable questions will be addressed. And if you get a bad response, give it a day or two and try again. After all, they’re as human as we are. Perhaps the editor in question was having a bad day. If nothing improves you might want to consider a new publisher for your next book.

Ah, but on to the other request/demand: the removal of a character. Okay, permission to scream again. And this was a much bigger scream. Plainly we were not viewing this character from the same perspective.

The character the editor saw as unnecessary was minor, yet pivotal. Most of the action did not include him, but turned on him or was triggered by him. Besides, he was a lot of the comic relief. Okay, so a cover-to-cover rewrite would remove him, but what, then, would be the catalyst for the action; where would the comic relief come from? 

I thought about it – a lot. 

Then it came to me. I’d cut the book, do the work. Along the way I’d trim this minor character a bit, even remove him from a few scenes where he had little or no impact. But mostly I’d just leave him alone. 

Which is what I did.  And the book was published a year later.

So, the moral to that part of the story? Well, editors are people too. Did the editor just not notice I didn’t remove the minor character? Possibly. Perhaps the editor was having a bad day when it was strongly suggested I kill off a character or be killed myself.

Or, and this is more likely, perhaps once the real work was done, once the manuscript was greatly shortened, the impact of this minor character was more readily apparent and the need to keep him in the book more obvious. 

The overall moral is, throw your fit, preferably not at your editor. Then think, consider, be true to yourself, and cooperate to the greatest extent possible. 

On that path lay the greatest possibilities and the most reward.IN Icon

Author of Doubledaywestern novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (Ebook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating on a animated series.

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