I was rather dismayed and surprised to discover how common it is these days for writers to be compelled to rewrite and revise a book at an agent or editor’s pressure, often for no other reason than to fit more neatly into one age-based category or come across as more commercial, trendy, marketable. Some books certainly need intense revising, rewriting, restructuring, and editing, while others need more of a light polish, but that should depend upon the writer’s talent and the book itself. Not just because someone else said so.
Since I always thought of my books as being more about young people than specifically YA or mature MG, I’ve ended up with a number of characters who, by modern market standards, are awkwardly-aged for the types of stories they’re in. Most of them also age dramatically over the entire book. For example, Lazarus of my hiatused WIP Lazarus Lost and Found starts out as 13, in mid-February 1944, and goes to age 17 in late 1947. The things he goes through are extremely mature, complex, and dark, far above the typical upper MG book.
Lazarus’s little sister Malchen (Amalia) is even younger in the first book featuring her. My hiatused WIP The Natural Splash of a Living Being starts in late September 1944, when she’s not quite 12, and will go to probably her 16th birthday in November 1948. (She has the same birthday as Harpo Marx.) Again, the content is extremely dark and adult in spite of her age. It even starts with these lines:
In another lifetime, or another place at least, Amalia von Hinderburg would’ve been starting sixth grade, dreading menarche, developing a bustline, doing the things normal girls her age did.
But instead of graduating elementary school, she now held diplomas from the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdanek, and Janowska, and was in the process of earning her degree from Gross-Rosen, specializing in Christianstadt.
I deliberately made my Atlantic City characters’ age ambiguous when I did my radical rewrite and restructuring of The Very First. At most, it’s said they’re under 12. I thought about it, and I just don’t feel right aging them up even two years. By the time their true age will be revealed, the reader will be used to how they’re deliberately written as a fair bit older than their chronological age.
I did, however, tone down a lot of the inappropriate situations and language in TVF, and will continue scaling it back in the other books. As an indie, I can make my own judgment calls on how to rewrite, what to leave in, what to delete, what to change. I won’t be told to either age them up to perhaps 12 or 13 from the start, or to take out all the mature situations.
I have to shake my head at the “advice” to combine or delete characters just to make a book shorter, or to remove subplots and scenes. Why would you do this if there’s no compelling reason beyond you were made to feel it’s wrong to write anything over a certain length? I decided on my own to axe the majority of my Atlantic City characters’ new friends. Beyond five notable exceptions, none of them really do anything important, aren’t real major characters, never carry storylines.
If I were being traditionally published, I’m sure I’d be told to remove the orphanage girls from my Russian novels, even though they’re there for a very important reason. When reading the first draft of my first Russian historical in April 2011, for the first time in almost 10 years, I was blown away by how I was able to weave so many different characters and story threads together, so that they all ultimately link up. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve been able to write that book so well had I been older.
I tend towards ensemble casts, which isn’t so popular anymore in mainstream fiction.
Little Ragdoll and You Cannot Kill a Swan are superlong, and a traditional editor or agent would no doubt argue they start in the “wrong” place. Probably I’d be told LR “really” starts by Chapter 10, “The Sacrifice of Gemma,” and the reader “doesn’t need” to see the development of the relationship between the Troy siblings, their black-hearted mother, and their generational poverty. But without that base, nothing that happens after the late-start inciting incident makes much sense. There has to be grounding background and context.
Likewise, I’d probably be told Swan “really should start” possibly around the time Lyuba gets pregnant with Tatyana, or when she and Ivan get their signals badly crossed and end up in unwanted charade relationships with other people. But again, the buildup to the greater drama is important. Starting by Chapter 3 or 4 would strip away all the context of the history between Lyuba, Ivan, and Boris.
Sometimes a song doesn’t have any vocals till over a minute in, and that doesn’t make the lead-in instrumentation annoying or “too long.” It just means it’s building towards something awesome. Without the long lead-in, the song isn’t nearly the same.