Currently deep in edits and revisions for the newer, stronger edition of Mirrors and Magic, my steampunk retelling of Snow White set at a turn-of-the-century traveling circus. I thought I would post a little note, in case anyone was interested in the process.
Here’s a highlight of some of the most significant changes, and the stuff I saw when I put on my “editor hat” that prompted them:
Why change it?
It’s an info-dump that stops the action cold. Worse, it doesn’t actually relate much to Neve’s story. I’ll probably include it as an appendix, since I do think people enjoy seeing more of the “alternate history” of the Clockwork Republics.
We’re switching from a more or less omniscient point of view (POV) to a tight 3rd person rotating between Neve, Brendan and Bella.
Why change it?
The omniscient viewpoint creates emotional distance and reduces tension, neither of which is good for this story. A tight 3rd person creates a sense of immediacy and intimacy for the reader.
Switching POVs as often as I did also created confusion for the reader. It was hard to tell who you were supposed to care about, and who was a background character. The scenes from minor characters’ POV only served to reveal critical plot information. Moving those reveals to Neve, Brendan and Bella strengthens and keeps the focus on our three most important characters.
Bella is showing up sooner in the story and getting more “screen time,” including a couple of entirely new scenes.
Why change it?
In the original draft, Bella is a great mustache-twirling villain. Part of the humor of the character is that she’s a sociopath who’s completely oblivious to the fact that she’s not the heroine. But a good villain isn’t necessarily a good antagonist. An antagonist is a character whose goals are actively in opposition to the protagonist’s.
For much of the story, you hear about Bella, but never see her. There are vague rumors about the bad stuff she might have done, but nothing specific or definite. Then suddenly she appears mid-story in Full Villain Monologue Mode. She doesn’t have an arc of her own—she’s just there to be the big bad that Neve needs to defeat.
Introducing her bit by bit, starting earlier, and showing more of the action from her perspective allows the reader to see, instead of hear about, why she’s the bad guy. Giving Bella her own plot arc also gives me a chance to create more dramatic tension for Neve’s story, raising the stakes and making it less certain that Neve will succeed in the end.
Why share all this with you?
Because the more I work with these stories, the more I’m convinced that editing is the craft part of the writer’s craft.
The first edition of Mirrors and Magic wasn’t a bad story. I’ve had several people tell me how much they enjoyed it, and it’s received a number of good reviews. But it also wasn’t the very best version of the story.
I don’t just want to be a good writer. I want to be a professional. A professional is willing to listen to criticism. Some of these changes were in response to honest, but tough, reviews.
A professional is willing to “kill their darlings” in service of the story. Even if that means cutting the cool alt history parts that don’t actually move the story forward.
A professional can look at their work after some time has passed, with the objectivity and skill to diagnose any weaknesses and come up with a way to fix them.
This year, I’m planning on taking my game to the next level. 😉