Beware: Spoilers for THE GOOD SON
Needs an editor.
Earlier this evening I was talking to Neil Broadfoot (whose debut, Falling Fast, you really should check out) and we wound up discussing the importance of editors to the process of writing. Editors are a vital part of the process. And you can see their importance, especially when a writer has clearly not been edited. I'm not just talking about dotting i's and crossing t's, or checking spelling and full stops. I'm talking about someone getting involved in a writer's process, making them question decisions they made.
The reason I'm thinking about it because of the original ending of THE GOOD SON. Regular readers will know that the book ends on a vaguely hopeful note of McNee moving forward from his own despair. Its a light touch on the hand from Susan Bright, a moment of human connection in a book about loss. And it works. It also set up the ongoing question of whether McNee and Susan will ever actually have anything resembling a relationship, or whether the bad stuff that exists around them will keep them apart.
Its great, because it sets up an ongoing thread through the books that I've been able to use as a counterpoint to the crime plots. Its also been great for making McNee a little more human than he might otherwise appear. But in the original draft, that whole thread wasn't there. Instead, McNee's human connection was with Rachel, the sister of McNee's dead fiance.
Which made that final scene very strange indeed.
I couldn't see it, of course. I had invested a lot in these characters. I thought that this was the way to go. But my editor looked at the scene and asked whether readers might not appreciate the fact that McNee - who has spent much of the book mourning his fiancee - was suddenly looking like he was about to cop off with the sister. It didn't do much to engage sympathy for either character.
My editor was the one who noticed that the scenes with Susan (she was a background character then) had some spark to them. He suggested using Susan as McNee's touchstone and in doing so opened up a whole new way for me to look at McNee and to create some of my favourite scenes in the series. It also allowed me to add more weight to book 3, where McNee's mentor (Susan's father) is killed at the very start of the book.
Without an editor, I would have kept things as they were. And the books would not have felt so complete. They wouldn't have been so honest. And when I looked back on them, I don't think I'd have been as proud of them as I am, now. A good editor is not just a reader. A good editor is not replaced by a friend reading through your book. A good editor is someone close enough to the book to want to love it, but removed enough to tell you when you're missing the mark.
An author is the ultimate voice of a book. But I truly believe that collaboration with a good editor - even if it only makes a difference to a few scenes - is essential to any good writing. A good writer creates a great book. A good editor finesses the work of a good writer. Often subtly, and in service of the artist's vision. But they do it in a way I believe can be indispensable when done properly.
So this post is dedicated to all the editor's I've worked with. For catching things big and small. For making me question my own convictions and for helping me create better books.