Thursday 17 November 2011

How do amendments impact the rest of the book?

When making amendments it's easy to forget how they impact the rest of a scene or other parts of the novel. I made this mistake recently when adding in an answerphone message from the heroine's mother.
In the previous scene, the Italian-American hero, Alessandro drove up to Yorkshire to find the heroine, Jessica. When he got to Bluebell farm where Jessica's parents lived, her mother, Mary told him that Jessica was living in London with her fiancé, Sebastian. Mary reluctantly gave Alessandro Jessica's address in London. She disapproved of Alessandro because she worried that Jessica would go and live with him in New York.
The following day Jessica is making Sunday lunch for her future in-laws. Sebastian will be breaking the news to his parents that they're engaged and she's trying to impress them by producing the perfect roast lunch. Sebastian is drinking coffee whilst reading the newspapers on the roof terrace. Jessica's pouring the batter for the Yorkshire pudding into a roasting tin, which is spitting hot fat when the intercom buzzes.  Sebastian doesn't hear it and she tells him to come down from the roof terrace.  It's likely to be his friend, Tarquin who's always dropping in at inconvenient times. The intercom continues to buzz and Jessica becomes flustered as she is trying to focus on getting the timings for the lunch right.  Sebastian tells her that Alessandro is downstairs and that there's no way he is setting foot in Sebastian's flat. Jessica is in shock as she hasn't seen Alessandro for two years.  After the way they'd parted in Siena, she'd never expected to see him again. Jessica goes downstairs to find out the reason for Alessandro's visit.
Here is the amendment I made:
Whilst Jessica is wondering why Alessandro has turned up out of the blue, her mother, Mary rings. The answerphone kicks in and when Jessica realises that it's her mother, Mary she decides not to pick up the telephone.  Mary leaves a message to say that Alessandro has been to Yorkshire and that he's on his way to visit Jessica. (Mary doesn't like leaving answerphone messages.  She tried ringing a few times the previous evening when Jessica and Sebastian were out.)
I decided to make this change because it occurred to me that Mary would want to warn Jessica that Alessandro was on his way to see her. It was one of those moments where a character told me what to do.
When I made this amendment I forgot to change something else a little later in the scene:
When Jessica goes downstairs, her and Alessandro talk outside the entrance to Sebastian's flat on Fulham Road.  The pavement is littered with trodden-on beer cans, a sea of cigarette butts and cartons from the kebab shop over the road. When Alessandro says that he's been up to Yorkshire, Jessica is surprised and asks why he went up there. It wouldn't be in Jessica's character to pretend to be surprised. So I had to adapt the scene accordingly. I did add in a few extra bits whilst I was there.
Before Mary's answerphone message:

            ‘How did you find me?’ Jessica said.
            ‘I got your parents’ address from Isabella,’ Alessandro said.
            ‘But how did that bring you here?’
            ‘I drove up there yesterday.’
            ‘You went to Yorkshire?’ 
            ‘With a stick shift too and on the left hand side of the road.  Your mom and gran weren’t too pleased to see me but they eventually gave me this address,’ he said.
            ‘Why did you want to find me?’
            ‘I need to know if you got my letter,’ he said, folding his arms.
After Mary's answerphone message:
            ‘My mum left a message to say you've been up there.  Where did you get the address from?’ Jessica said.
            ‘Isabella had it,’ Alessandro said.
            The morning Jessica left Siena, she'd pinned her parents' address to the noticeboard in the hall, asking Isabella to forward her post.   It had never occurred to her that Alessandro would track her down using information from that scrap of paper.
            ‘I drove up there in a rental car with a stick shift on the left-hand side of the road.  Your mom and gran weren't exactly pleased to see me,' he said.
            Jessica imagined that they'd been unfriendly. Mum disapproved of how he'd hurt her, despite it having been a difficult decision for him.
            ‘Why are you here?
            ‘I need to know if you got my letter,’ he said, folding his arms.
I'd be interested to read your comments. Do you find it easy to forget how making an amendment can impact the rest of the novel? Is it something you notice when returning to a scene a few weeks later like I did?


  1. I'll have to reserve comment until I've finished editing all 36 chapters of my novel I'm just starting to re-write!

    Just wanted to say, wonderful to meet you properly. And I forgot to say I went to see The Help last Monday and whilst I agreed with some of your points, I thought the film was wonderful and appropriately edited for cinematic purposes. I was still crying an hour after I got home! lol.

    Catch you soon, my new writer friend


  2. Thank you for leaving the comment Debbie. It was lovely to meet you. Good luck with your editing! Anita X

  3. Lovely to meet you in person!

    Oh, ugh, I hate the domino effect. Sometimes if you change a month, for example, it throws things throughout the whole novel into disarray.

  4. "Just a few tweaks" says my editor. And of course she's right and it will be greatly improved as a result... and a day later it feels as though I'm rewriting half the book because of a few small tweaks and their knock-on effects

  5. Hi Anita - I changed a scene in my novel during editing and it was only when I was doing the final read before sending it to the RNA/nws that I realised those ten lines totally changed the relevance of something in the following chapter! I had to do a bit of hasty rewriting but it worked better for it.
    I like your rewritten scene. Good luck with the rest of your editing. Emily x

  6. Happens to me all the time. I think a quick conversation between two characters will enlighten a small point and the next thing I know I'm having to rewrite the entire end of the book. Sigh. It does, as you have pointed out, usually change for the better, though.

  7. Yes, it's a minefield, especially because by the time you do the amendments, you're usually deep into another book and have let go of the detail you hold in your head while writing. It's like you have a complete layout plan in your head, but once the book is finished, it disappears. Then amendments come in and you flounder around, trying to remember what the heck you wrote and where.

  8. I agree with Talli about the domino effect. It does seem like it's changes to timings and dates that knock onto everything else. My first novel was supposed to happen between January and the end of the school summer term, and I seemed to spend my whole time in a constant flux, of "Well if it's snowing when x happens then it can't be later than March, but then y has to happen before Easter so..." Ugh!

    Even on the "final" read through I was still finding passing references to my main character being a teacher - and I changed her job from teacher to librarian about 1/3 of the way through the 1st draft. Ooops!

  9. An interesting posting, Anita.

    You're right about how easy it is to overlook something that needs to be changed as a result of an amendment. I've done so on several occasions. I now edit and edit, and edit again - it's amazing what you pick up each time.

    Happily, too, I have a really good friend, and she goes through the 'completed' text, which, I invariably learn, isn't as completed as I thought. Having such a friend is a real bonus.

    Liz X

  10. Oh Anita I can certainly relate to this as I'm doing the hopefully final rewrite before sending my novel out. Mine alternates between the two main characters' viewpoints by chapter, so when a storyline crept in for one of them halfway through the book I thought I could introduce it further back (where it belonged) by writing an extra chapter for each one of them. When I read the whole thing through first, I realised that wasn't an option because it would throw out the sequencing/pacing of the whole thing, so I had to find another way to do it. In January the whole MS is being read by group of people who haven't seen it before (not agents) and I think that will really help throw up any glitches I can't see for looking. Good luck !