Seeing beyond the pale

I’m in the middle of revision. A picture book revision, which, were it not one of my very favorites that has been set in stone for quite some time, would not be that difficult. But I’ve noticed that it’s really hard for me to see differently something for which I’ve found a format, something that holds together and works as is. Then you get a revision request from two amazing editors, both saying you should change a key part of the story, and you sit up and pay attention. You think, “okay, it means killing many of my darlings, but okay”. And so you gear yourself up to do what you need to do. No emotional attachment.

It’s taken me four months to get up the nerve.

“Beyond the pale” is a term that’s used to describe behavior that is inappropriate or unacceptable. But it originated from the Latin pallus, or stake, or more precisely a fence or border made from these stakes. Behavior that is outside the borders set by society. So while it’s not a perfect term to describe what I’m feeling, I can’t help but think of the term to describe the difficulty I’m having with the revision of this picture book. I can’t see beyond the pale, beyond the borders I originally gave myself. Anything outside of the original focus of the story requires that I step to the other side of the fence and leave some of my darlings behind. And when you know these characters as well as I do, it’s hard to leave one of them behind, to wave goodbye across the fence, bid her a good life and hope her dreams still come true.

Last night I finally did it. I cut out what couldn’t stay and tried to come up with a new framework for the story. It’s going to get much much worse before it gets better. I’m over here on the other side of the fence, beyond the pale, not knowing whether I can make it work, or whether, even if I make it work, I’ll ever be satisfied with the new emotional center.

But will I ever know if I don’t try?


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20 thoughts on “Seeing beyond the pale

    1. I’m alternately sad and exhilirated. To be fair, the character does stay in the story, but her emotional arc, which was such a big part of the original, is now non-existent. And that’s what I was having trouble letting go of. I’ve got hope though. Most of the time.

    1. Here’s the funny thing about this story. I wrote it out in a fever, several years ago. It just came pouring out. Showed it to my crit group. Did very minor revisions. It’s the story that got me an agent. Did a few more minor revisions before we sent it out. Had a few rejections that praised the writing. Then a while later, back to back we got two belated rejections that said much the same thing and asked to see a revision. I wanted to try it. But just couldn’t see my way into it until now.

      So part of my problem is that I never had to work to make the story work before. I hadn’t thought about how it worked and why. So now, when I have to remove the mother and a whole layer of the story, I have to come up with ways to achieve the same, but different, emotional resonance as before. And because I love this story so much, and these characters mean so much to me, I have to try.

      Thanks for commiserating with me, Dori!

      Also, both editors who asked for revision are amazing. So it’s a huge opportunity.

  1. Kristy!!!!

    How wonderful. I have to do a similar thing. It took me a long while to “let go” wanting to be the illustrator because it was such a PERSONAL piece of work. Pat McKissack’s words had gone a long way, as well as dreaming of my DREAM illustrator. I also tell myself if I make the revisions and it doesn’t work for the editor, he’s ABSOLUTELY right, so I can redo the illustrations and make a much stronger sub. I’d actually stopped writing for the season, because of a whole slew or personal things.

    The goal is to get’r done this month, in honor of Black History month. I may end up e-mailing you for tips, or feel free to hand them out for others if you have any.

    I found what you said about something set in stone, spot on. I have to learn to bend with more alacrity and spread of motion. It’s so nice to remember we all have similar struggles, even with dissimilar work!

  2. I have a story like this too, and it’s hard for me to think outside the box I originally created for it. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not set in stone–only clay. It’s more malleable than I realize even though it’s really hard.

    You’ll do it, kd! I know you will.

      1. It is tough to revise in the dark!
        I wish I could send you a flashlight.

        The tunnel is built–right? I hope you don’t have much digging to get to the end.

        I’ve found revision takes me lots of time.
        I hope you are more efficient than I am.

        Your photo and the greenery behind triggers memories.I am thinking about Brazil at the moment. Your climate (and the fresh food) sounds so wonderful! I miss the climate, fresh food-and the juices in particular.

        Next year I’ll be in a temperate climate. 🙂
        Yes–the snow and ice are still here.

  3. Good for you. Picture books are so tight that taking a chunk out of one has got to be like losing jigsaw puzzle pieces.

    Enjoy your journey into uncharted territory. May you discover something as powerful as a dragon, but no monster.

    Kathy Q.

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