Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Throwing Up and Climbing Down the Fire Escape

Writing is 1/10th first draft and 9/10ths revision. Or 19/20ths revision. Or 39/40ths revision.

You spend hours and hours and hours perfecting your story. You agonize over it. You mull over it. You dream about it.

But sooner or later you have to share it. This is the hard part. Because you have to take this story that you’ve agonized and dreamt and mulled over for what seems like forever. And give it to someone else. Who inevitably is going to suggest something

This isn’t your peer editor’s fault. It’s just that he or she doesn’t know how the story’s supposed to go.

As a writer, when you hear one of those wrong suggestions, you’re gut reaction is to say, “No. That’s not going to work because . . .”

And that’s the important word: Because.

Because obviously that because isn’t obvious to the reader yet. So your job is to make sure it’s clear. And that’s the beauty of an editor. They can point out to you where the becauses aren’t clear.

For example. Character A throws up in church.

This happens in Chapter 3. Character A (aka the hero) throws up in church. He or she leaves the building early to lie down in the car. While Character A is outside the building, Character B (the villain) pulls the fire alarm. Character A then watches in shock from the car as the entire church congregation climbs down the fire escape.

Your peer editor is concerned that Character A is missing out on all the action in Chapter 3. So he or she suggests you have character C (aka the sidekick) throw up instead. Because that will free up Character A to climb down the fire escape along with everyone else.

But obviously this isn’t going to work because Character A is afraid of heights and, therefore, would never climb down the fire escape, which is why you had character A removed from the scene early by having him or her throw up.

And of course, it’s very important that Character A is afraid of heights because the same character has to overcome that fear later on in Chapter 22 during the climax of your whole book.

Ha! Take that, peer editor!

But here’s the thing. Your editor didn’t know that. Why didn’t your editor know that? Because you didn’t make it clear enough that Character A is afraid of heights.

Maybe you mentioned it during the climax. But obviously that didn’t make a large enough impression on your editor. Or he or she would have known that Character A couldn’t climb down the fire escape.

Now . . . how can you make it more clear that Character A can’t climb down the fire escape?

You can have Character A try to climb down the fire escape and fail. Now you’ve accomplished the following:
1. Meeting your editor’s concern about Character A getting in on the action.
2. Making it very clear that your character is afraid of heights. And . . .
3. Strengthening your entire story by clarifying the challenge and conflict within Character A during the real climax of the book.

This is what having a peer editor is all about.


  1. Even while expressing the merits of an editor, my gut is still twinging from ever having to hear that "because".

    Great post. :)


  2. Okay, so now I am intrigued. Is this a scene from a book you are working on or a 'just for example'?

  3. Hi Karen,

    Nope, this is just an example. As far as I know:)

  4. Great post! Love the example. Definetly makes it more clear. We're friends on GoodReads! I apologize, but I have not read one of your books yet, my TBR pile is huge!! But yours is on it! Hopefully one day you'll be reading my books! When you see this, do you think you could follow my blog(s)? That would be amazing! Thanks!

  5. Why are they climbing down the fire escape anyway? Wouldn't people exit the building the most direct, non-smoke/heat filled way? Just a thought:).