Story Telling vs. Story Trapping, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

12 August, 2013

JENNIFER ALVAREZ-headshotThe process of writing the first draft of book one of The Guardian Herd Series was magical for me. The story leapt from my head, fully formed, like Venus. There is something sacred about that, right? You don’t mess with a story straight from the muse, do you? I thought you didn’t. I thought a story’s first shape and form must be its best shape and form.

And then I met my editors.

Rosemary Brosnan and Karen Chaplin at HarperCollins Childrens Books know a thing or two about stories (and the muses they ride in on). When I received my first suggested edits for book one, I was perplexed and empowered. They unleashed my plot and revealed my characters without changing them. How could such significant revisions result in the exact same story—only better?

It was my librarian mother who explained it to me. “They are the advocates for the reader,” she said.

Oh yeah, the reader.Author Photo - Jennifer and horse

A first draft for me is not about story telling, it’s about story trapping. I am flying in the clouds with my pegasi, or galloping across the grasslands, or hiding in a tree while they battle with sharpened hooves and flared wings. I record what I see and try to stay out of their way. I am either covered in blood, or dripping cloud sweat, or crying over a fallen hero at the end of each writing session. The one thing I am not doing is thinking about the reader.

Not yet anyway.

Once the story is trapped, I’ve corrected all my misspelled words, and put away my thesaurus (yes I use one and I’m not afraid to admit it), I am at the end of my abilities to improve the story because I was there. I lived it. I know more than what I’ve written on the page. I can’t know what it’s like to view the manuscript without carnal knowledge of it.

This is when my editors come into play according to my wise mother, not to tame the story, but to frame it. Not to create a better draft, but to create a better read. My editors are doing this for The Guardian Herd Series as we continue to work on the first manuscript together.

My relationship with my muse remains intact. I’ve written the second book and a prequel to the series with the same gusto that infused book one. Knowing I have editors to help me wrangle my stories once I trap them has freed me to go hunting for more.

So the answer for me is, no. I don’t mess with the stories I receive straight from the muse, my editors do. And my books are gratefully better for it.