All The Untold Stories

In On Writing, On Writing-General by Louisa Leontiades

Everyone has a magnum opus in them, so they say. But mine was 30.000 words too long, in the wrong order and in mismatched tenses.

Halfway through I’d decided to write in the present tense – for the vibrancy of the moment. And then I forgot to switch back.

Later I remembered an event that I needed to include so I thought, ah, time for a flashback… all the best authors do them right? But that only ended up being as confusing as hell. I wrote the conversation hearing it ring in my head quite forgetting that after a page or so it was impossible to remember who was speaking (‘she said nervously’) – yes, the ‘he said, she said’ is important. They’re called speech tags.

Then the story of The Husband Swap ended. Two years later I decided it wasn’t ended and wrote some more. Then really, I thought, it needed an epilogue. To cut a long story short, wasn’t my forte… and so eventually I dumped the whole thing in an editor’s lap.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never looked closely at the editor’s name on a book. But if the writer has the idea and the emotive language to portray it, its the editor who frames it, tightens it and in my case transforms it from a manuscript to a living, breathing story. Something that people actually want to read as opposed to a brain dump of patchy relevance in a nicely formatted document.

My books are like my babies. Cutting out passages is like ripping out it’s innards. I can’t do it. Someone else has to force me with their weapon of red highlighter and a brutally short comment in the margin.

‘Cut this.’

No explanation, no justification. Just ‘cut this.’

And so I carefully cut it – that beautifully crafted dialogue – noting where it came from, thinking that she might change her mind and realise her mistake when she saw how drab and empty the chapter had become. How that missing text added to the understanding of the characters, how it set the scene for the events to come. I pasted it into another word document spitefully named, ‘what she made me cut out’.

And then I read through the chapter again and sighed. My untold story was from my soul. And I’d lost part of it. But only the part that was self-indulgent, preachy and rambled on and on and oh, where was I…

I know that my book The Husband Swap is better, far better than it was.

Events have been recreated, characters seem more angular and in focus. New conversations give strength to the context. The story flows and each chapter is rounded with a sharp opener, and an emotive ending. Other passages have been cut and inserted into different chapters. My editor did this. She saw the story I was trying to tell inside the chaos that tumbled through my fingers onto my keyboard. She was the conductor in a symphony orchestra, or a ballet teacher correcting a students footing time and again. She breathed life into the marble statue I chipped away at for years. She gave her all and for what? A small paycheck? A mention on the inside cover? No.

There can only be one reason why my editor does what she does. Because her burning desire is to help others share stories with the world. And for a minute I feel ashamed, because I thought it was my desire… but to be frank, I also want my name on the cover. And yet after my experience I want hers there too. Without me there would be no story, but without her, my story would be like so many others.

Unseen. Unheard. Untold.