word craft


Manuscript ghosts

ghostsIn the process of rewrit­ing and revi­sion, there is a myr­i­ad of line and word changes. That goes with­out say­ing. But quite often there are much big­ger alter­ations. When you are writ­ing, there is the road not tak­en. But when you write, you can go back and say, I think I will take that road. Some­times it is not a road, but, so to speak, a high­way. Or more.

In a recent book, I had the main char­ac­ter cook a meal. It was meant to show an aspect of the per­son I had not shown before. It would also inter­ject some humor, in an oth­er­wise humor­less tale.

But when I was revis­ing I decid­ed that chap­ter was not work­ing. So, while the meal was cooked, it was not, if you will, served.

I often change the names of my char­ac­ters. I have even, usu­al­ly when in the start­ing phase of a book, decid­ed to switch a char­ac­ter from male to female, or the oth­er way.

(That’s prob­a­bly been out­lawed by Texas state legislators.)

And once I went to a meet­ing with my agent to dis­cuss a new book I had writ­ten, a rather somber tale.

My agent said, “I must tell you I found a lot of the book fun­ny. Why don’t you make the book inten­tion­al­ly funny?”

You may be sure it took a while for me to think that one over, but in the end, I decid­ed she was right. I rewrote the book to make it a humor­ous one.

As for the end­ings of books, I have changed those many a time.

These whol­ly delet­ed scenes are what I think of as man­u­script ghosts. The read­er nev­er knows about them. I sus­pect the writer (I know I do) has them tucked away in mind and mem­o­ry some­where. In an odd way, I think they uncon­scious­ly inform (haunt?) the writer about some aspect of the sto­ry, or character.

You can find dif­fer­ent ver­sions of The Red Badge of Courage.

There is a famous exam­ple in which such a man­u­script ghost comes to life. When Charles Dick­ens first pub­lished (in ser­i­al form) Great Expec­ta­tions, Pip and Estel­la are for­ev­er estranged. A writer friend urged him to write a hap­py end­ing, in which the two star-crossed lovers are rec­on­ciled. That’s what Dick­ens did when the book—as a whole—was pub­lished. Thus, when you pick up the book today it some­times has one end­ing, some­times the oth­er. Some­times it has both endings!

Now that’s a haunt­ed book.

2 thoughts on “Manuscript ghosts”

  1. Ah, yes, man­u­script ghosts. I have old drafts of some mss where ghosts are still there, like Casper, but there’s some­thing to say about them just exist­ing in mind and memory…


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