by Toni Gallagher
Welcome back to our third and final “episode”! In my earlier articles, I shared how the wild and wonderful world of reality TV can help authors improve their stories, but now it’s time to face two of the toughest challenges of all: editing, and accepting notes.
You know when you watch a TV show and you feel like a certain point has already been made? Or they over-explain something that is obvious? Or a scene just goes on and on? That’s where judicious editing comes in, and reality TV story producers and editors are the best at it. We watch hours and hours of footage, and it’s not all delicious drama. Once you’ve watched people talk about nothing for what feels like forever, you get a great sense of what’s important to the story.
Things can be tough to cut; I understand! While working on my first Twist My Charm book, there was originally a subplot in which a person (who my main character discovered online) turned out to be a mysterious uncle of hers. I really liked this story, but—thanks to years of cutting superfluous material from reality shows—I was able to grit my teeth and lose it.
When scenes—or even entire subplots—are too long, overstate the obvious, or are just plain unnecessary, that’s when you have to trim… or (painful as it can be) cut material entirely. When you re-read your book, you might feel a brief pang of regret, but eventually you’ll come to the realization that your story works without the cut you made. My “mysterious uncle” was a fun twist, but not necessary to the growth of my character. My book didn’t suffer from the loss. It was actually clearer and more streamlined. That’s when you know that you made the right choice.
Honing this editorial skill is difficult, but essential—especially when you’re getting notes from a friend, critique group, agent, or editor.
Notes are the bane of a reality TV producer’s existence… but they’ve also been an incredible help in my creative writing.
When a reality show is in its early stages, it gets notes—from the immediate bosses, and then from the network. These notes arrive multiple times over multiple versions of each episode. Sometimes they’re simple… and sometimes they necessitate a complete overhaul of the story you thought you were telling.
You can push back occasionally, but you need to decide which battles are worth fighting. More often you just have to bite the bullet, think creatively, and address those notes. Yes, this means that you might have to get rid of something you’ve loved for a very long time. But your openness to notes could be the difference between an agent or an editor wanting to work with you… or passing on your book.
When Random House was considering publishing Twist My Charm, I had a conversation with the woman who would become my editor. I told her that I’d spent my career finding ways to address notes, and even offered potential answers to her questions right on the spot. One note was that my character’s voice sounded too young. No problem! I could make her the youngest kid in her class, or target places to “age up” her dialogue.
My willingness to make changes was one of the reasons the editor wanted to work with me. So, by all means, fight for what you really believe in—but also be as open-minded as you possibly can.
Notes from your critique group, agent, or editor can feel tough (or even impossible). But as challenging as they may be, they might not only improve your book, but could take it to a level you never realized it could reach.
So the next time you hit a wall with your writing, think about taking a quick look at a reality TV show and considering its lessons. Just don’t watch for too long. There’s writing to be done!
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Toni Gallagher is the author of the Random House middle grade series Twist My Charm. In her long television career, she has produced shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, MTV’s The Real World, and Bug Juice, on the Disney Channel. She is currently an Executive Producer on the Lifetime hit Married at First Sight. Learn more at www.tonigallagherink.com.