We’re carrying on with Nancy’s questions–which are so good I’m giving serious consideration to letting her choose all our blog topics. Forever.
My question here is what if they want you to cut something you think is essential, but they apparently are not naturally seeing the importance of it? Does that mean I didn’t make solid enough connections? Was I not explicit enough in the picture I was painting? I read loads of stuff
all the time occasionally that I don’t necessarily make the correct inferences. Is that my mistake or the authors? Should I apologize for or correct my work in order to “reach” a broader audience? I suppose it’s different with you—you can use all the Victorian vernacular you want, for example, without fear of alienating an audience. If they don’t want to read Victorian books, they don’t have to.
Short answer: if you think something is essential and your editor thinks you can cut it, you didn’t persuade her it was essential. It might be; we don’t know because you didn’t sell it. So, you have two options. You can take her opinion that it isn’t crucial to the story, kill it, and move on.
The second option is more challenging. If you go this route, you need to figure out where you failed to link this part to your overall story. Brainstorming with your editor could help. Does she agree that this could support your theme but just misses being neatly tied in? Does she think it’s repetitive and therefore prime for cutting out? Or does she flat believe it doesn’t support your overall story?
Listen to the answers and rethink it AGAIN. If you’re still persuaded that it needs to be there, you’ve got some convincing to do, and in light of editorial objections, you should have some guidance of how to get there. It might require elaborating on the scene. Sometimes adding a single line can link a passage to a previous incident or observation to which it would naturally relate. It might require trimming. Did you load the passage with lots of descriptive prose that’s making the forest too thick to appreciate the trees? Prune it. Set the scene and then leave it be. Give the story space to tell itself instead of always inserting the super cool thing you found in your research and want to show off to readers. (That one is particularly challenging for historical fiction writers. We find VERY COOL THINGS indeed, and it hurts not to put them all in. But readers would really, really hate us if we did.)
As to your question about inferences, sometimes its reader, sometimes its author. When I lay in little hints and innuendos, I know not every reader is going to find all of them. On the flip side, I don’t know them all either. Readers frequently find connections or metaphors or Easter eggs that I didn’t put in deliberately. The subconscious mind can play a BIG part in creativity, and mine is forever sprinkling mine with little goodies I didn’t intend. Readers read and comprehend at MANY levels. There will be people who just get the events of the plot and pay little attention to the characters and their arcs. There will be others who don’t really care as much about the events as long as they can feel a deep connection to the characters. Without that, they don’t care at all about the story. (And some readers are fundamentally incapable of appreciating a book unless they LIKE the main character. That’s a peeve of mine, but a blog for a different day.)
Also, get out of the headspace that you need to apologize. You’re creating. That’s messy. It’s full of detours and diversions. (Note: I did NOT say mistakes.) You may think you’re heading down one path and suddenly realize you need to divert, changing course to a MUCH more interesting place. For instance, I just turned in Veronica Speedwell’s first book. And in the first version, I told too much. I was trying to figure out Veronica’s sidekick, so I wrote his backstory into the conversation. Into LOTS of conversations. I mean, I LOADED the book with details about what his life experience has been.
Guess what? It’s totally unnecessary. The fact that he IS a certain way is all the plot demanded. It didn’t need the why. The why is MUCH better doled out over the books in the series. So on my editor’s advice, I scrapped a good 90% of it. And the book is better. It’s tighter and more focused. Did I make a mistake in telling his story to begin with? Absolutely not. I LEARNED.
So when I turned in the revision to my editor and she loved it, I still toyed with the notion of telling less. I emailed her and suggested cutting ANOTHER development in the story, saving it up for a future project. And that’s what we’re working through now. I will most likely end up scrapping two whole scenes that were good, solid scenes. I may get to use them down the road; they may never see the light of day. Doesn’t matter. I learned from writing them. They’re experience, not mistakes.
To hit your final point, nope. I can’t use all the Victorian vernacular I want. For starters, I’d restrict my potential audience to almost nothing. Modern readers like the Victorian atmosphere but they want it accessible. That doesn’t mean I give them “history light”. I don’t put anything into the books that wasn’t at least possible–no advanced science that didn’t exist, no technology that hadn’t been invented, no social constructions that had not already been created even if they were extremely limited in scope. I never knowingly use words coined after 1887. (Some writers fudge these things, and that is TOTALLY an authorial choice.) But it’s a fine line between sharing real history and making it engaging and comprehensible for a modern reader. They might be interested to know that Irish Home Rule was a big deal in the 1880s–and they might really enjoy the choice bits about whose assassinations during that decade can be traced to that cause–but they most likely are not going to want endless blather about the intricacies of the politics of separation. I use just enough history to set the stage for a reader, explaining the world in which my characters are operating, then I get the hell out.