Over the last year, a consistent comment I’ve gotten is that the third book of my sci-fi trilogy, Oyu’s Trident, seemed rushed. At the time, I thought, “OK. I’ll be more conscious of my pacing that next time.” But lately I’ve had the thought of fixing it — not changing the story, but just describing what happens at the conclusion in greater detail. I think another 20-40 pages would do it. (This would also be something to occupy my mind with while my next book goes through pre-publishing reviews.)
For some reason, at the time I finished Oyu’s Trident, I found the suggestion that it was too short to be irritating. Now I can see their point. It’s practically Japanese in its ending.
I know what I intended — war is bad, it’s not as neat as movies, and (I suspect) there’s less a feeling of victory than survival. But I recognize that I was clumsy in my execution. You can have a modern ending (you survived, yay!) without feeling like someone just unplugged the TV set.
Using reader feedback to edit a narrative is nothing new. The Iliad and Odyssey were probably tweaked over a period of centuries, as the orators responded to their audiences. “Oh, you like that fight scene? OK, I can add a stanza. The romance is dragging a bit? OK, I can talk about that like it already happened.”
Even Shakespeare tweaked his plays, based on audience response. Depending on which quarto you look at, Hamlet says either:
‘To be, or not to be, I there’s the point’ (1603)
‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’ (1605)
This was fine, because the quartos were short and not mass-produced. They were for actors and directors, not a general audience.
It’s only in the age of the modern novel — say, Don Quixote (1605) onward — that we’ve had to nail things down. The printing process was just too costly to screw around with it.
That paper-is-expensive tradition helped forge writers like Kurt Vonnegut, who worked on each page until it was perfect, then didn’t change it again. What if the story went in a crazy direction? Well, anyone who’s read Vonnegut knows the response to that: “So it goes.”
Would it irritate you, as a reader, if an author changed the book after you read it? How about after you reviewed it?