Tuesday, January 13, 2009


By Martha Reed

I had a wonderful time at the Hallie Ephron workshop the other night and one thing Hallie said really stood out for me. She mentioned a writer friend who had completed and submitted a manuscript and the copy editor told the author to ditch the first seven chapters, just strike them off and start the story there, at that fresh point.

Now, I don’t know about you, but writing seven chapters would have taken me three or four months of solid effort and I probably would resist such a suggestion. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to agree with the idea because I ran across a similar happenstance with my first novel. I spent months – literally months – crafting and honing and polishing my opening chapter and had a dreadful realization about halfway through the manuscript that I needed to kill that chapter after all my hard work.

That was when I learned to follow the suggestion of previous writers and just blow through my manuscript until I got the whole story down and THEN go back and start the editing process. I admit that with the first novel I was so amazed that I was even actually writing something that long it was enough for me but I have learned since then not to concentrate so much effort on perfection because IT WILL CHANGE – probably more than once – before the whole thing is over.

I learned this lesson again on Sunday morning. I’m not going to give anything away, but I have a set up between a couple of characters and all along I knew that one of them (Character A) was evil and blackmailing Character B. I thought that the blackmailing would be hateful enough (if slightly clich├ęd) but as I was working deeper into Character B I realized that this person was such a complete alcoholic Character B doesn’t even remember what happened that eventful night.

Well, I thought, that’s torn it because how can you be blackmailed for something you don’t even remember doing and then the twist came to me, a way to make it even more deliciously evil – Character A knows Character B doesn’t remember what happened and is using the blackout to extort money on the pretext of actually doing good.

Now, if I can make that clear to the reader – my next challenge – my story will take on something fresh while adding a layer of depth to Character A as well as to Character B. Insights and inspirations like this are why I love to write.

Of course, going back to Chapter 3 to edit out the blackmail bit is annoying but as they say, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over – and then I’ll hand it to a copyeditor and edit it some more.


Annette said...

I've got some serious slashing and burning going on with my WIP after Hallie's workshop, too, Martha.

Dana King said...

The COPY editor said to cut the first seven chapters? Shouldn't that advice have come from the editor editor?

martha reed said...

Maybe I got that wrong - editor/editor sounds write. This proves I should finish my coffee before I blog.

Thanks for the catch!

martha reed said...

See, I did it again.

editor/editor sounds right.

:)The words are deserting me.

sz said...

I'm confused. If char b does not remember, then they would be embarrassed and want to pay hoping to not have the info get out, which is evil not for good.

Or do I need more coffee ?

Interesting post. Thank you !

Gina said...

sz -
I had the same first initial reaction, then I realized that this is why we have to read Martha's current WIP -- so we will know how she makes it all work out that way.

Martha Reed said...


I'll try to explain it but I am still working through it in my own head, too.

Character B doesn't remember what happened. Character A remembers it all and was a participant. Instead of blackmailing Character B over an event he doesn't remember, Character A decides to lead him on with false hope and repeatedly asks him for money to 'help out' the other people in the situation. Of course, all the other people are dead and the money never gets to where it's supposed to go (Character A keeps it) and because of the alcoholic blackout Character B is too embarrassed to delve any deeper. That's the evil part.

I'll keep working on it. I promise all will be revealed in the final mss!

sz said...

Hi Martha,

Some coffee for thought (which I still need !)

Most alcoholics who black out routinely know, and if there is a way to "investigate" they will. As quietly as possible.

That said, said "investigation" may create more story line for char b if it is a main character. Maybe help twist things back around ?

Did that just make sense ?

Kathryn Lilley said...

"Most alcoholics who black out routinely know, and if there is a way to "investigate" they will. As quietly as possible."

That's FABULOUS. Thanks for getting my reading day off to a great start!