Editor Jordan Brown loves revision. This is his job! It’s his job to help an author get his/her vision onto the page. By speaking at the 2009 SCBWI Conference Brown hopes he can also help all of you (would-be authors) to discover your own vision. So if you’re ready to get down to the nitty-gritty of revision – read on!
“Sometimes you have to go a very long distance out of your way to come back and go a short distance correctly.” – (Unknown Source, but refers to the revision process).
How to Take Critiques and Feedback:
- When receiving comments on your manuscript you have to make sure the comments speak to the vision that you have, otherwise they are hard to use or useless.
- Ask yourself – What is the story about? We are not talking about plot here. This is a question about character. Character drives your plot. Focus comments you get toward your character, how does it affect your character?
Plot is Secondary:
- How much a reader cares about the plot in your story is relative to how much the character cares about that plot (what is happening). What is at stake for your character? Put your character into situations and see how they will react.
- Brown gave an example about plot using Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Brown pointed out that the relative amount of “bad things” or “Ill fortune” that happens to Hamlet throughout the story stays constant. It flat lines. So having ill fortune fall upon your character is not what makes the story interesting or worthwhile. It is how Hamlet deals with and reacts to these situations (good or bad) that makes the story a masterpiece.
Are Things Happening Too Fast?
- If you receive the comment that things are happening too fast, one reason this may be so is because the scenes don’t do anything unexpected. The scenes seem to go where he expects them to go and don’t go any further to reveal something new and unexpected. Usually these scenes need an extra beat, an extra moment where in the characters do something you wouldn’t have thought they would do.
- “If it feels like everything that I expected to have happen, happens, then it feels like nothing has happened.” – Brown. This means things are then moving too quick because he isn’t getting more than he expected. Something needs to be accomplished.
When You Get out the Chain Saw:
- When doing a large-scale revision be sure to focus on the characters age and make sure the voice matches the age. Then ask yourself if other kids can relate to this character. They will identify with your character through the uniqueness of the character. Specifics are all that matter when it comes to your character.
- Ask yourself: What does each scene do to increase the stakes of what my character wants? Look for scenes that are repetitive or may accomplish the same things (the same story beats). Be ruthless with your scenes, but always keep them in a folder. Don’t delete the scenes that you cut.
When You Start to Polish:
- When doing small-scale revision try to cut back on unneeded detail. Keep the essential details. What is the character fixating on? Use description and dialog to serve the character, and the function of the scene.
Why is Your Story Important?
- Make the plot important to the character. You must be telling a major formative story for your character. This should be an important part of his/her life. Think about what the most important episode or moment in your characters young life would be – that should be what your story is about.
A Few Other Comments on Revision:
- When editors/agents say that they are not sure where to place your book on the book shelf, this means that the age of the character does not seem to match the target audience for the book. For example a YA book about a 12 year old.
- Brown thinks books should be in the first person, or third person limited. However the British seem to be able to do third person omniscient very well. He also mentioned a very interesting book to check out that is written in second person called You by Charles (Benoit ???) which comes out in the fall of 2010.
A Bit About Jordan Brown and What He is Looking For:
- Jordan Brown is an editor for two imprints – Walden H. Press and Balzar and Bray at Harper Collins.
- He publishes middle grade, teen, and character driven work with a great voice.
- He likes retellings of old stories with a new voice or point of view. Timeless stories told in a new way. He encourages you to think outside the box in regards to format, or how a book is told/put together.
- He is looking for stories with characters he can connect to.
- He really likes graphic novels, and middle grade.
- He really loves the work of Frank Boyce who wrote “Millions.”
- He edited the book Immortal Fire (the third book in the Cronus chronicles series). He is not usually a fantasy fan, but he really connected to the characters in this book.
- “Reading is a one-on-one experience that allows your reader to interpret meaning from it.” – Brown
Jordan Brown is an editor at Walden H. Press and Balzar and Bray at Harper Collins. He has edited such books as Touching Snow, Hush, The Star Fraction, and Broken Angel.