Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Witty Writer of Rewrites

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Rewrites can be fun. Or not.

If you don’t know what I mean, here’s the scoop. I handed in a manuscript to my publisher and they came back and said they loved the book, but it needed strengthening in some areas. So they gave me the evaluators’ comments, as well as some of their own comments, so I could do the rewrites and get it back to them.

I love evaluators. Really, I do. But sometimes the comments can be confusing for a writer.

For example, on one of my earlier books I had an evaluator tell me they hated my character who went by the nickname of Pepper. (Her real name was Penelope). Flat out hated everything about poor Pepper. But the very next evaluator loved her. Said she was funny and quirky. So, to solve the problem, I took both evaluator’s comments into consideration, made a few tweaks, and voila! The book was published and no one has told me they hated Pepper again. (People could still secretly hate her, of course, but no one has told me.)

For this new manuscript I’m working on, the first evaluator was extremely thorough. This person even included page numbers on the paragraphs that needed to be fixed. They did quote one section of my book, however, that they thought could be construed as “uncomfortable subject matter.” I was very surprised, since I’m no Sariah Wilson with her Nephite Who Loved Me deal (wink, wink) and so I hurried to look at the section the evaluator was pointing out. I am going to quote it for you, because I want you to tell me if it makes you uncomfortable and if so, how would you change it.

Isabella dug right in. “I am so hungry,” she said between bites, trying to think of something to say.

“Me, too,” Tyler replied, but his eyes told her he was thinking about much more than food.

Isabella stopped, her fork in mid-air and felt the blush creeping up her cheeks.



The context is that this is my hero and heroine who are on the run from the bad guys, have already been through a mountain of adventure and are grabbing a quick bite to eat before they go on to the final confrontation. What do you think? Too hot or not?

The other evaluator’s comment that stuck out to me was from someone who thought my manuscript should be at least another hundred pages long, but they said something that reminded me a lot of Rob Wells. (Rob, are you moonlighting as an evaluator? Because really, this person sounded a lot like you. Odd. I mean, odd that they sounded like you, not that you're odd. Never mind.) The "evaluator" said, “I personally would like at least one of the characters to be more witty.”

I have pondered that little comment quite a bit. I don’t know if I can make that happen. I mean, we all know that I am no Rob "Witty" Wells. He is one of a kind. And I am definitely not a Kerry Blair, Stephanie Black or Jeff Savage, where wittiness just rolls off of them in waves. Perhaps being witty is a talent and, apparently, I skipped that line in heaven. I’m sure Rob, Kerry, Stephanie and Jeff were trying to wave me over, but I was running to get into the line
for . . . yeah, um, playing the flute. That’s it. I do have talents. Sort of.

But anyway, I’m not sure how to make a character more witty, but I’m looking at it. If you have any suggestions for being more witty, let me know. (If you say the word witty a lot of times, it starts to sound funny, have you noticed that? Witty, witty, witty.)

So, that’s how I’m spending my time, trying to get this manuscript back in before my children are out of school and chanting the word witty.

I love being a writer. Truly.


20 Comments:

At 5/15/2008 11:55 AM, Blogger Worldbuilder Robin said...

Um, yeah, that passage you quoted sounds like Tyler is totally making a pass at Isabella. Is that the intent? I don't know about the "inappropriateness" of the whole thing, especially since I don't know about their relationship up to this point. But perhaps Tyler's implication that he's "hungry" for Isabella is a little over the top. Perhaps Tyler could be startled out of staring at Isabella and dig into his food as well?

As for wittiness, it could be just a matter of having a character who has wry or snappy comebacks for almost every situation. Personally, if none of characters seem like the witty type, then don't try to refit one of them as witty just for this one evaluator. If the characters are well-written, and they work together the way they're supposed to, then why does on need to be witty?

Not that I'm an expert or anything. Take my free advice for what it's worth. :)

 
At 5/15/2008 12:01 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I love evaluators, too. (Truly, as you said.) But I do think they can be crazifying.

"I would personally like one of the characters to be more witty."!?! Well, excuse me for saying this -- I'm only one day removed from chemo and thus still cranky -- but, who cares? If she'd written that she would have personally preferred for one of the characters to be Croatian would you jumped to make it so? (And believe me, you who are still blessedly un-evaluated, some of those readers offer "insight" that makes just as much sense.)

I guess I'm saying that you have a great gift for characterization, Julie. The people in your books seem to live and breathe and become people that I know. I fear that inserting witticisms into the dialogue of a character who wasn't "born" witty will seem forced. Then the next evaluator will come along and say, "I would personally like fewer puns and less irony." (Or whatever else is passing for "witty " these days.)

There is only one line common among evaluators that I hate more than "I would personally..." It is, "If I were writing the book..." I saw that three times in one evaluation. I sent back a reply that said only, "You know what? LET her write the book and we'll BOTH be happier." Turns out I didn't have to revise that one at all.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, perhaps chemo has nothing whatsoever to do with me being cranky. Apparently, it comes naturally.

 
At 5/15/2008 1:49 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Robin, thank you so much for your feedback. It is much appreciated and I liked your suggestion, too! :)

Kerry, you're right. If I tried to write someone witty, it would probably come off dumb and the next evaluator would hate it and I'd have to take it out anyway. Somehow you always make me feel better about my writing. Thank you!

 
At 5/15/2008 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only thing I would suggest about this if I were the evaluator has nothing to do with uncomfrotable subject matter. Do the question trick to change some telling into showing and you've gotten rid of my only suggestion to your always insightful, wonderful, pros. All the best dear author friend...

Isabella dug right in. “I am so hungry,” she said between bites. What else could she say?

“Me, too,” Tyler said without eating anything. He just stared at her. Was he thinking about more than food? Isabella lowered her head to hide her blush.

 
At 5/15/2008 6:00 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I could be the odd one here, but I don't think that passage is out of line at all.

I personally have a love/hate relationship with evaluators. Many a time they've pointed out great things that I'm so glad i got to change. Then there are times you wonder whether they read YOUR book because the commentary is so far in left field. Then other times the feedback between two readers is totally contradictory--one person loved something, while another despised the exact same thing.

It's tough to know what to do with that kind of feedback beyond trusting your gut. Or throwing darts blindly. Whichever. :)

 
At 5/15/2008 7:51 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I'm with Annette. Good grief, there is nothing wrong with that line. I personally don't understand why we have to leave any physical attraction at all out of our books. Know what? When you're falling in love with someone you want to touch them and kiss them and maybe even something more with them (and look, I can't even write it here on the blog for fear of reprisals). I'm pretty sure Heavenly Father knew what he was doing when he designed us this way, and I think it is normal and natural. I understand that there can be a slippery slope and that we have to be careful, but honestly!

It's one of the reasons I love my Bollywood movie "Bride and Prejudice." Here you have a culture that also values morality and staying pure before marriage, but at the same time can freely talk about it and even tease about it without being crude or crass. It's just a normal part of their lives that should wait until marriage, but I like that (in the movie, anyway) it's spoken about and not covered in guilt and shame the way it is in our culture.

If it makes you feel any better, I recently got in trouble for this from an evaluator too. Apparently Ammon isn't allowed to be attracted to anyone, what with being a Book of Mormon hero and all. And people made up stuff from my book that I never intended - like that Ammon was immoral with someone (when I read that I was like, what? Where on earth did you get that?)

I also agree with Annette that sometimes evaluators point out things I've missed (i.e., plot points I dropped or gaping holes of confusion in my prose) or give helpful hints, but I've also had the big contradictions and the evaluator who thought I should just die for writing such blasphemous stuff.

I'm thinking I'd love to get big enough (book-wise, not weight-wise as I'm already there) so that I can throw my hefty weight around and ask for no more evaluators.

And The Nephite Who Loved Me is an AWESOME title.

 
At 5/15/2008 7:52 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

P.S. - And with all that in mind, I still think it's sort of shocking that the word desire is in the title of my second book. I've been waiting for my angry letters about it - none yet.

 
At 5/15/2008 8:00 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Anon, I'm dying to know who you are! Thank you so much for your comments and ideas. That is an awesome solution I hadn't thought of. :)

Annette and Sariah, I'm so glad that you guys are around. I've had so many great ideas today, but honestly I hadn't thought of the darts one, Annette, so thank you. Sariah, I totally get where you're coming from and I just have to say, you make me smile. A lot. :)

Thanks again for the comments. You guys are the best.

 
At 5/16/2008 1:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me see. How can I reveal my identity without revealing my identity? That is really the question trick.

And The Nephite Who Loved Me is not nearly as good a title as From Zarahemla With Love.

 
At 5/16/2008 12:55 PM, Blogger Don said...

Way back in high school, I had an acquaintance who liked to take things people said and twist them into some kind of double entendre. It was a childish game that quickly grew old.

It seems to me it would take the same sort of mind to construe "uncomfortable subject matter" from your passage.

The flirtation is clear, but you would be hard pressed to convince me it crosses any sort of line.

 
At 5/16/2008 3:56 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

You don't have to change everything that an evaluator suggests, just explain why or why not. Maybe--the other evaluators didn't find anything wrong with this phrase, etc.

 
At 5/17/2008 1:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if your evaluator has a similar problem to mine that might explain the "objectionable" comment. I don't have a name for this weird quirk but it goes like this: I'm (sadly) not really easily offended. However, I constantly worry that other people will be. And not by me. By things I have no control over. Example: my Relief Society book club read a memoir last month that had some profanity and some uncomfortable moments in it. For me, it's a true story of someone's real life so I take it as it comes and deal with it in the context of the story. But I was totally stressed thinking about all the nice ladies in my book group that I thought might be distressed by it. I know this is a silly reaction since I didn't write the book and they're grown women, but I can't help it. So looking at where your evaluator said it "could be construed as uncomfortable subject matter,".....I'm thinking maybe the evaluator wasn't offended (because there's nothing objectionable about that exchange at all!) but worried about other people being offended. Maybe it's an overreaction (I know because I do it all the time) to what other people MIGHT think rather than just worrying about what he or she thinks for him (or her) self.

Sigh. Okay, let me try this again. It's totally not objectionable and your evaluator is most likely underestimating the readers' threshold for stuff like that.

 
At 5/17/2008 2:42 AM, Blogger Sue said...

My word. I can't believe they thought that passage was out of line. We're LDS, not third graders. It would be so nice for the LDS reading public if we were occasionally treated like adults. Good gravy.

 
At 5/17/2008 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd just like to thank everyone (Don, Sue, Heather, anon, anon) for taking the time to comment. You have given me some very valuable feedback and lots of food for thought, which I really appreciate. I was also glad to find my own opinion validated as well as some wonderful suggestions.

Thank you all once again. :)

Julie

 
At 5/17/2008 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julie:

I am anonymous #1 and #2, but not anonymous #3. Just so we get our anonymouses right (which is another word for undercover rodents).

In my first post I mentioned that the only thing I would comment on if I were an evaluator were some ways to turn some telling into showing by using a question. And that is the case, I would likely never make a comment, as an evaluator, on what was out of line or inside the lines with regarding to inuendo in this case.

However, if I were just talking gospel talk I would like remind you of one thing, which will likely get me into really deep hot water with all the romance authors in the room.

Have you ever been in a Sunday School lesson and the teacher or one of the members of the class says, "Well, and if we were in the temple then I would say this, but just know that..."

There are realitvely few (and you could argue that there are none) new ideas present in the temple endowment that you can't find in the scriptures. No new doctrine that isn't readily available in the standard works. Nothing. So why are temple goers asked not to speak about the endowment outside the temple?

Many people like to characterize temple worship as "secret". Nothing could be father from the truth when all the doctrines and readily available in print. So why so much secrecy?

The truth is that the temple endowment is sacred and public in Sunday School class, at the gym, in books, articles, newsletters and the grocery store makes in mundane, everyday. Those doctrines are intended by the Lord to be discussed in holy places because, I believe, we are supposed to come to the understanding that they are sacred not mundane. The word profane (the root of profanity) menas common, used in common or having a common usage. When we talk freely about temple doctrines outside the temple (which we don't) we profane those sacred doctrines.

So it is with the discussion of sexual ideas. Those relationships were intended to be between husband and wife in the private, sacred moments between them. Discussion of those ideas, when they are discussed in public settings at the gym, the grocery store, or in a novel, make them common place. In other words, they become profane.

It isn't that what you wrote is out of bounds. Its that the endless discussions about sexual matters was intended for husband and wife. And, in some teaching moments, for parents to share with their children. So when those ideas become common speach (and you must admit that those ideas have become profaned in the media and the world at large in a huge way) they lose any sense of being sacred.

You can argue that what you wrote is pretty lite and I would agree. But at what point does speaking very lightly about temple worship become Okay and lite? Is it okay to refer to some of the temple ceremony in a sunday school class or quote just a phrase or two from the endowment because you are among edowed members anyway?

What you wrote is certainly very light stuff. But it is the start of moving the sacredness of sexual relationships between husband and wife toward profanity. The see a very slippery slope.

There is a place for the prudish and it may stand right next to the sacred and holy.

Just a thought.

 
At 5/17/2008 12:11 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Anon 1&2, I see your point, I truly do, but I disagree slightly.

In my opinion, it becomes a slippery slope where control and caution are not used or shown. I don't think that someone looking at the person they love in such a way is necessarily wrong. I do believe that God gave us these feelings, but that they are to be controlled because they have such a special place in His eternal plan. I guess my question is, Are we really so adverse to even showing a small scene in a book of a man looking at the woman he loves? He doesn't touch her, it doesn't go any further. In my mind, it only becomes a slippery slope if it does go further or if somehow the reader construes thoughts or actions that weren't intended. And, for me, in this instance, it doesn't qualify as a slippery slope.

As you said before, so much more is portrayed all around us every day, profaning something sacred, from commercials to magazines, to the internet and beyond, and if this small scene bothers us, I wonder how we wade through the massive amounts of so much more explicit things we deal with every day. Should we cut everything out of our culture that hints of desire and love between a man and a woman? Should we go back to arranged marriages so that we don't look on the woman/man we may be seriously dating and feel love and desire for? Isn't there such a thing as righteous desire that you feel when you have found the person you want to spend your life with? Like I said before, I think that this issue only becomes a slippery slope when control of thoughts and caution in actions is not used.

I do want you to know, and I want to emphasize, that my hero doesn't do anything inappropriate. I have felt in the past that I was very sensitive to these sorts of issues in my writing and that's why I was surprised that this was tagged in my book. Well, that, and without giving away too much of the story, the fact is, in that scene my hero is dying and only has twelve hours to live. He wants to be with my heroine and have a life with her, but knows it is impossible. He's looking at her with longing because he knows it can never be. They both do. :(

As I said before, I really did appreciate all the comments (including yours) I received because it did give me a lot of things to think about. I honestly would never want anyone to feel uncomfortable reading my books and because of that, I am going to change the scene. But I do think this issue is very prevalent in our society and I think very relevant to what we are facing in the world around us. There are definitely valid points on both sides.

 
At 5/18/2008 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey:

What you should have said was, who edits your posts, anyway. I wrote that in three minutes between a hundred chores and thousand household duties and laying cement (can you believe that) and doing the garden and, well, it was a busy Saturday even before breakfast was served.

I'm only saying that profane is common and sacred, is, well, the opposite of common. The moment you move the discussion out of a sacred setting and into a common public setting it becomes more and more profane. I'm also not suggesting any solutions, pointing any fingers or passing any judgement on our societal ways or any societies that have gone before ours. I'm just pointing that once the disucssion leaves the sacred confines of the family and joins the profane setting of the mass media, and novels, and movies, and newspapers and office party jokes, and locker rooms and girl's parties, etc. It becomes profane.

And I'm going to submit this withthour re-reading. I have way too many other things to do than edit, for goodness sakes...

 
At 5/18/2008 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey:

What you should have said was, who edits your posts, anyway. I wrote that in three minutes between a hundred chores and thousand household duties and laying cement (can you believe that) and doing the garden and, well, it was a busy Saturday even before breakfast was served.

I'm only saying that profane is common and sacred, is, well, the opposite of common. The moment you move the discussion out of a sacred setting and into a common public setting it becomes more and more profane. I'm also not suggesting any solutions, pointing any fingers or passing any judgement on our societal ways or any societies that have gone before ours. I'm just pointing that once the disucssion leaves the sacred confines of the family and joins the profane setting of the mass media, and novels, and movies, and newspapers and office party jokes, and locker rooms and girl's parties, etc. It becomes profane.

And I'm going to submit this withthour re-reading. I have way too many other things to do than edit, for goodness sakes...

 
At 5/18/2008 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, I do agree with you about the profane and the sacred.

And I would NEVER comment on your editing because, frankly, I enjoy the discussion and other points that you bring up. :)

Julie

 
At 5/19/2008 1:13 AM, Blogger Nancy said...

My two cents- I'm sorry you're changing the scene. In my humble opinion, it's far from inappropriate. I think it's a shame that our culture often takes something healthy and makes it shameful. Flirtation begins before marriage and what you had written was nothing more than flirting. How in blazes do we all get married if we don't flirt first?

*Big sigh*

Well, you do what you must. But I agree with the comments by other authors- there are times the feedback is wonderful and other times it's nothing more than subjective. You go with your gut on this one.

Nancy Campbell Allen

 

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