Editing Honest Conversation is like going to a high school reunion. Everyone is older, and just different enough that it takes a moment to recognize them. ”Hey, didn’t you used to…?” But then the night wears on and like flipping a switch suddenly you realize that under the extra twenty pounds and new career somewhere in there is the same person, the same likes and fears, the same old problems. It’s amazing how much time changes, and how much never seems to change with time.
I’ve decided to shift perspectives. Not in the sense that I’m changing the purpose of the story or why I wrote it, but in that I’m trying to dig way deeper and write a story that is less linear in it’s execution. Less, shall we say, pointed. As I was editing the hard copy I kept writing in the margins “What is John thinking? Why isn’t he ever really allowed to TALK?”
And then I realized something; you see, when I first wrote the story I was Zoe. I didn’t really care what anyone else had to say because I was furious and disappointed that no one was really listening to me. I wrote the story from first person to really go into what Zoe was thinking and feeling, and at the same time that choice blocked out all other voices. John and Zoe would be having a conversation and it was almost completely one sided. If I’d cared to, I could have shown Zoe wanting to understand her friend and pastor more, but at the time I was on a tear. I only had one thing, one goal, that I was reaching towards.
This time around I really want to showcase all points of view. The television show Law and Order, every so many seasons, has an episode where you see everyone’s perspectives but the truth behind the story can be almost impossible to understand, and when the credits roll you as a viewer have to decide how you feel about the final verdict. This time around I want Honest Conversation to be like that. I want people to identify with all of the characters, even the ones I happen to disagree with. I want people to feel safe putting themselves in the story and asking, “in this tale, who would I be?” It’s less about getting people into my head, this time, and more about getting into theirs.
So, after already having done a tremendous amount of editing, I changed my mind about some things. I started over, going line by line. Shifting the perspective from first to third person. Filling in the other side of the conversation, showing the other characters, their little tics and foibles, their thoughts and fears. Letting the reader decide who they identify with, and why.
It’s a process that has literally exploded the story, sometimes adding five pages to one page of original text. But it is oh so worth it. Let me show you with this section from the original:
John walked in and smiled at me. I smiled back and motioned to the empty and sat down, immediately opening his briefcase and smacking his Bible down on the table between us. ”You didn’t bring yours?”
“I know well enough to bring a gun to a gunfight,” I replied. ”It’s in my purse.”
Compare that to this passage, from the revision:
Something caught the corner of Zoe’s eye, and she saw John walking around the corner with a leather satchel over his hunched shoulders. A bright yellow umbrella contrasted with his dark blue trench coat. His hair was mussed and there was a distracted look on his face. If Abigail had been there she would have sent him to the bathroom to straighten up with a single glance. The door jingled as John walked in and he glanced around, looking past Zoe twice before he saw her. Zoe smiled weakly, gesturing at the empty seat in front of her. She was sitting at one of the larger tables, her pen and notebook already open to a page full of grim doodles. John walked over and left his satchel on the seat, shrugging his way out of his coat and propping the yellow umbrella precariously up against a table leg. “Let me go order something,” he said.
“Sure,” Zoe replied, her mouth already halfway buried in another long sip. A moment later John returned to the table, rummaging around to lay out his own notebook as well as his Bible.
“Where’s yours?” John asked, his fingers stroking the battered blue cover of his own Bible, so used to wear that the once silver lettering had faded to a shadow.
“It’s in my purse,” Zoe replied. “I know well enough to always bring a gun to a gunfight.”
The difference ends up being not only in other characters having a voice, but also in showing Zoe in more of a fair light. You get to see her confusion, her distraction, and even her pain more wholly. I hope that at the end of the day that change makes her a more sympathetic character for the readers who thought she was close to unhinged the first time around. Hopefully it makes the story more engaging as well, since the reader can get more of a feeling for the setting by experiencing it through more than one biased voice.
In any case, I’m loving the process, but also having to accept the fact that it may take far longer than I’d once envisioned. My month of revisions may end up being six months or more.
But it will be oh so worth it!