To re-write or not to re-write, that is the question

I said I would write a blog about the progress of getting my second novel “Song of the Nightingale” published (or not, as the case may be).

I have sent it out to two people so far:

  1. A professional reviewer called Ben Smith. He gave me excellent advice for “The Jewel Garden” and I trust his suggestions.
  2. Ben took a bit longer than the 2 weeks I expected and I got a bit impatient and decided to send it to just one literary agent. She had rejected “The Jewel Garden” but said she might be interested in a book about castrati.

I have had responses from both and I need to decide whether I agree with their recommendations and what changes I should make.

I could, of course, ignore their feedback, but what would be the point of spending £195 and then ignoring Ben’s advice? Similarly, although the literary agent reminded me it was just her opinion, she is a reader and presumably knows what makes a good novel. Her views may be the views of the majority of other readers.

BEN’S REPORT

I have selected some excerpts from Ben’s report:

Narrative Strategy

The first person narration works well for the story and allows for exploration of the emotional impact of traumatic events. It also services the concealed facts of the story. I feel that a slight proportional increase in dialogue would balance the narrative more effectively and aid characterisation.

Characterisation

I have just taken Philippe as it is a good example of Ben’s feedback. Similar comments regarding the other main characters.

Philippe: He has a good vantage point as a narrator as he is present for most of the story and credibly absent when facts need to be concealed. Additionally, his middling social status allows him a broad view of society. His family circumstances lend him an ‘outsider’ status which you could perhaps make more of. His observations about wealth disparity and religious corruption could be sharper; this would contextualise his empathy for the boys and remove the suspicion that he is a passive character by underlining his impotence within the social structure. I’d particularly like to see him reflect on this when he wears il Conte’s ring.

Sofia: A wonderfully drawn character, I wouldn’t change her at all.

Story/Plot

The story is very strong indeed and is plotted out lucidly. The opening is arresting and I like the ending although some readers (and publishers) might suggest that following the boys’ contrasting lives further would bear fruit.

Ben then suggests one addition and one significant change:

  1. Adding in the scene, as a flashback, of when the boys are actually taken from their families
  2. Changing the rape scene into one where Sofia consents but then regrets.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The premise is enticing and it is executed with pace and clever plotting. It is more commercial than your previous work and sits happily in a historical fiction genre that publishers will understand. None of the revisions I suggest are structural so, from my point of view, this is one draft away from completion.

All in all, I was very pleased with Ben’s report. There are no structural changes and, as he says, most of the improvements can be made by dialogue and an extra scene or two. My biggest doubt is regarding the rape scene. My intention was that Philippe thinks he has raped Sofia but that actually she wants his seed (sorry, a bit basic!) because she wants a baby but no husband. I think I will make this a bit more obvious – but I still want Philippe to feel immense guilt, which he would only do if he thinks he has raped her.

LITERARY AGENT’S RESPONSE

I have to say I was quietly thrilled when she asked for the manuscript just a few days after I had sent the 1st 3 chapters. She then sent an e-mail a week or so later, which in itself is pretty amazing – the time not the content.

Her main concern is that it is Philippe’s story, whereas she thinks it should be the boys’. She obviously doesn’t like first person narratives and considers Philippe to be a “crashing bore” (see Narrative Strategy above for Ben’s opinion that 1st person works well). She suggests that it will be easier to understand why, for instance, Sofia accepts Philippe as a lover, if this part of the story is told from her point of view. Also, the story of the boys would be brought more to life if the reader understands their motivations and thoughts from their point of view.

I am a very insecure writer and over the last day or two I have swung between leaving it in the first person or re-writing in the 3rd. Who is right? Ben? The literary agent? Me? No-one?

But as I wrote this blog and re-read the literary agent’s e-mail it is her sentence “(Philippe) dominates the novel which is more his story than that of the far more interesting castrati” that has decided me.

Yes, it is Philippe’s story – and that is the story I want to tell. So, decision made – I will retain the 1st person and not try and please the one literary agent. Phew!

I will, however, absolutely take on board Ben’s suggestions:

  1. Improve the dialogue to make clearer the characters’ personalities and to put more flesh on their bones.  Also, make Philippe less of a crashing bore!
  2. Add a few more scenes to describe dramatic events that I had left to the readers’ imagination
  3. Change the rape scene slightly (but only slightly) to try and make it clearer that it is only rape in Philippe’s head. Ann Evans, the leader of the writing group I attend, who had read the whole novel also suggests I should take out Philippe kicking Sofia’s dog during this scene. I don’t agree. Philippe is full of anger and guilt and the dog is trying to bite him – wouldn’t you kick him? The dog doesn’t die, by the way. I think I will make more of this bit of the scene but, sorry Ann, the kicking stays in.

So, unless I have another period of dithering or every other literary agent I eventually send it to also says otherwise, I won’t re-write in the 3rd person because, after all, it is Philippe’s story I want to tell.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “To re-write or not to re-write, that is the question

  1. Viv Brown says:

    An interesting post. But I have to agree with Ann. Readers have to connect and sympathise with your main character. If he is cruel to animals that is not going to happen. Anger is not justification enough. And I would not be so quick to dismiss the opinions of an agent. They are not just readers. They know and understand the market. But it’s your novel, your decision, and I wish you luck getting it published.

    Like

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