Rebecca Day

Editing and Revising and the HEA

Posted by rwday on February 26, 2009

I’m trying to post here more frequently in hopes it will spur me to do more writing.  Hard to blog about my writing when I’m not doing any.

I am a fairly good editor.  I can tighten up a sentence, eliminate paragraphs here and there that don’t really contribute to the forward flow of the story, but I find true editing (in the sense of revision) very difficult.  When it comes to moving scenes around or completely rewriting sections of a text, I just sit in front of the screen, staring blankly.

Part of it is the way I conceptualize my stories – in my mind, they’re real.  Things happen the way they happen, and especially once they’re down on paper, changing them feels a bit like Winston Smith in the Ministry of Truth. I have to keep telling myself that I AM in control.  Whatever I say, goes.  If I want David to get on a tramp steamer to Argentina so he can become a flamenco dancer, I can do it.  (I won’t, but I could.) 

Being a bit more serious… (and there may be subtle spoilers for Ashes below the line)

Thaw was not intended to be a romance, though it certainly has romantic elements and some of my readers have been romance fans.  That worries me in a way, as I don’t want those folks to be disappointed in the sequel.  Ashes is definitely NOT a romance, not in the sense that the word has come to be used by the publishing industry.  When I wrote Ashes, the last “romance novel” I read was some Rosemary Rogers thing published in the late 70’s/early 80’s.  I had no idea, until quite recently, how much the genre has changed.

I didn’t realize, for example, that now it’s considered bad form for the hero and heroine (or hero and hero in my case) to have relationships  with other people after they’ve met each other.  In the bad old days of romance, you’d see heroines jumping in and out of bed, sometimes to make the hero jealous, sometimes because circumstances had forced them apart, etc. Sometimes they would even fall in love with these secondary partners.

That, in my opinion, is realism.  Human beings are not swans.  While we can mate for life, we don’t have to, and it’s perfectly possible for someone to love more than one person with the same intensity and desire at the same time.  We have unlimited capability for love – ask any parent, if you doubt it. 

It makes no sense to me that if two healthy young people are forced apart by circumstances, that they wouldn’t become involved with other people.  They may not intend for it to happen, but jeez, men have needs.  (women, too, but that’s not the focus here).  Not just the need for sexual release, either.  The need to connect to other human beings for comfort, for fun, to confide in, is a very real need and it’s stupid to have some idiotic writing convention that says otherwise.

Am I saying that there’s no Happily Ever After in Ashes?  No.  I’m saying there’s no HEA in life, because as long as you’re alive, there is no such thing as ‘ever after.’  I’m saying that being involved in other relationships does not preclude a happy ending, that in fact, through exploration of oneself  and the world, through exposure to new people and situations, characters will grow and change, and the core relationship will also change. 

I hope that I can promise my readers that the progress and eventual ending of the romance portion of this story will make sense and will suit the characters as they’ve developed. That’s about the best I can do, and it’s what I’m working for as I revise this book.


12 Responses to “Editing and Revising and the HEA”

  1. gynocrat said

    I feel your pain, there’s nothing remotely erotic about the sequel to OW; it’s more just historic drama. I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I’ve lost touch with the current state of ‘GloBL’ graphic novels. 😦

    I have a question though, on the HEA front: do you find that trying times in your RL just make it impossible for you to write HEA? Does the stress and/or pessimism of life just kill your ‘HEA’ aspirations. I spoke about this recently with an editor friend who brought up Hollywood production during the depression–it was always larger than life and exciting [though I contend that underneath all Buzby Berkleys shine the message was pretty grim]and she wondered if creators and pubs should make that sort of material in times like these.

    I recently wrote a GN for a publisher that was ‘romantic-comedy with happy ending’ and it took everything I had. What does that say about me, I don’t know. But I’m curious to know how others find their way to HEA without trying. 🙂

  2. rwday said

    It’s really funny that you should mention the Busby Berkely/1930’s film thing as I was reading an article about Watchmen this morning and got to wondering if it might tank because what people want from their movies right now is happy escapism, not dark stories with flawed (i.e. realistic) characters. I don’t know if creators should be making those kinds of movies/books, but I think that they’d make more money if they did.

    I don’t think my RL problems have an impact on my ability to write a HEA, I think it’s more that my overall perspective on life negates the possibility that I can write anything more than a “HEA for now” type ending. Maybe that’s good enough.

    Maybe I just have a different idea of what HEA means than traditional romance authors. I’ve been with the same man for 25 years, and I expect that we’ll be together till the death of one of us. We’re happy, but I wouldn’t call it a HEA. To me, the HEA is an unrealistic, Disneyfied version of a relationship where you sail into the sunset to a future unmarred by arguments, flatulence or gray hair.

    My real issue here isn’t so much the HEA itself but the idea that on the road to the ending there has to be absolute fidelity or it somehow spoils the story. When I see comments like that in romance blogs, I feel like we’re going backwards in our view of sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality.

  3. Erastes said

    I’ve finally managed to add your blog as a feed, don’t know what was stopping me doing it before.

    I really agree (as you know) – it’s pretty much impossible to separate your characters for a long period of time and make them celibate and “no no! I must stay twu to my love” – because basic human need will find a way.

    It’s the main reason that – despite the question being raised from many readers of Standish – that I CAN’T do a sequel involving Rafe and Ambrose. You see, I know what Rafe is like, and I’d have to hurt Ambrose all over again. Yes, I think they stayed together, but I know that Ambrose has had a tough time, here and there. It’s better to leave them as they are.

  4. gynocrat said

    This should be the definition of yaoi: Disneyfied version of a relationship where you sail into the sunset to a future unmarred by arguments, flatulence or gray hair.


    I’ve always struggled with this because I enjoy angst and misery and so I write it. I recall being told ‘why can’t they be happy–you can write happy’ and I sort of resented it. Happiness of course being monogamy, or the result of the story being monogamy. When I was rejected by Yaoi Gen over Loud Snow, I was asked ‘is there a reason they don’t end up together?’ They were together for a time, they were happy, it was fun story [no one died!] but it was time for the main character to move back with his family–and he had to leave. It wasn’t a sad ending, it just ended–but because I feel that because I didn’t write it to at least appear that the two were together at the end, it was sent back to me.

    [going off…] Remember that movie with Goldie Hawn called ‘There’s a Girl in My Soup’. Peter Sellers was the man in that movie– this hippie American girl comes into his middle-aged life, revitalizes him, and then moves on. She didn’t leave on a bad note, it was just time for her to move on–and he was a better man for having been involved with her– but I recall, as a viewer [and a kid] being so profoundly sad for his character because she left him and I he was devastated.

    Will our readership these days want HEA, or will they settle for just happy?

  5. gynocrat said

    and I he was devastated.

    Not used to your markup yet. 🙂

  6. Oh dear! Well, in that case False Colors isn’t romance either, since I do exactly that in the middle of it – the heroes are separated, they don’t intend to ever see each other again, and one falls for someone else. I think it’s realistic as well. Possibly what people mean by that is just that they object to a character cheating on his partner when they are supposed to be together, without the partner’s knowledge or consent, and knowing his partner would be devastated if they found out. I’d have a hard time liking a character who did that.

  7. rwday said

    Alex, if False Colors isn’t romance, I think there’s a publisher out there who is very confused.

    I can understand not liking a character who cheats, but what I’m looking for is consistency and growth. If a character cheats because he’s uncertain of his feelings, or because he finds himself afraid of commitment or for some other reason that makes sense in context, I have no problem with that. If he’s a cheating rogue who changes over the course of the novel, that’s cool too if it’s handled right. A good writer can make me accept almost anything.

    Tina, I think our culture supports the HEA as an ideal, and some readers want nothing more than to wallow in the ideal, possibly because it’s where they’d like to be in their own lives. I’d like to think our readership would be okay with just plain happy, but there’s a segment of the population who wants every book they read to be basically identical, and we’re just not going to reach them.

    Erastes, I think you’re right about Standish – though I’m still holding out for the Adventures of Fleury.

  8. *g* I agree with you totally. I think there’s romance in the sense of a love story – where the rules are that you do what’s right for and with the particular characters you’re working with. Then there’s Romance in the sense of the formula novel where all kinds of rules apply. But I think unless you’re writing for someone like Mills and Boon/Harlequin there’s no real reason to stick to the formula unless it happens to be a formula you enjoy yourself.

  9. Lee Rowan said

    Alex, it says right on the cover it’s a romance, doesn’t it?

    Seriously – in the Age of Sail, the unwritten rule for *het* married men was “everyone’s single 50 miles out of port.” And what if one man was transferred to another ship? A pledge of fidelity might mean that neither would have sex for years. When my characters are separated by duty in Winds of Change, Davy tells Will to love again–he’s being realistic, though they’re both miserable.

    Some folks are monagamous. Some aren’t. I think it’s silly to disqualify a story as a ‘romance’ because it doesn’t meet a rigid formula that readers have been trained to accept, but I would be dissatisfied if a romance could not end with a commitment.

    For me, HEA doesn’t mean no grey hair, farts, or occasionally annoying habits–it means that the two characters are content with one another and would rather be together than in any other circumstance. Hell, if we’re going to be bleak, *all* love stories are ultimately tragedies because one partner will usually die before the other. My father-in-law died just 3 months short of their 65th anniversary. But I’d call that as happy an ever after as most of us can expect.

  10. steve cova said

    In answer to your LJ entry I did start following you for the writing but find your LJ entries a lot of fun. It is also nice to see that the we are not the only ones in a mess and that the PTB seem to have as little idea there as here. I had a look at your particular part of the world and it seems a lovely place to live. My Father lives in MA and I visit regularly (fairhaven – sort of off the Cape a bit). More so until the airlines started going belly up. Hope your hubby gets sorted eventually and apologies for answering one blog in another but I cannot log in to the other through work. Take care Steve (manchester uk)

  11. rwday said

    Hi Steve,

    I always appreciate comments and conversation, no matter where they are. Massachusetts is one of those places I’ve always wanted to go. My husband went to Boston for a training class about 15 years ago, but our kids were little and I couldn’t go with him. 😦

    Of course, the UK is another one of those places I really want to go. My best online friend lives in Norfolk and I’d really like to meet her in person, though air fare is so outrageous these days that I’m not sure when I’ll be able to do it.

  12. Alex, it says right on the cover it’s a romance, doesn’t it?

    Seriously – in the Age of Sail, the unwritten rule for *het* married men was “everyone’s single 50 miles out of port.” And what if one man was transferred to another ship? A pledge of fidelity might mean that neither would have sex for years.

    Yes, I think it’s unnecessarily restricting to have such strict rules for what you can and can’t write when it comes to a genre. It’s good to have guidelines, but it’s also good to break them sometimes. I imagine that you can get away with quite a few things if you set them up right, though. It’s a matter of trying to retain the reader’s sympathy even though you’re using an element they might not like.

    For me, HEA doesn’t mean no grey hair, farts, or occasionally annoying habits–it means that the two characters are content with one another and would rather be together than in any other circumstance.

    Me too. HEA for me means the kind of relationship I have with my SO – it’s not all automatically roses, and there will be fights and downs and times when you’re furious with each other and times when you’re bored and restless, but still, life would not be worth living without them. I don’t believe in the HEA where there’s never another cloud in the sky – that’s not what life is like. So I wouldn’t want to write it. It would feel too much like lying.

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