From the Writing Desk: editing “Campus”, missing a chance

Remember that deadline I had to file excerpts of both “Campus” and “Small Steps” with an agent?

I missed it.

Despite months of looking forward to it and trying to prepare for it, other things took over again in the end, just as they did so many times during the actual writing of the stories. And now I’m mad at myself for missing this chance, but in the end, I had responsibilities to attend to, and so I wrote BA expertises instead of finally filing my fiction work.

The “Small Steps” excerpts were done, simply because they didn’t need that much rewriting and more of a smoothing out, but “Campus” is something else. Not only is it much longer, it’s also more complex, which a much bigger cast, more different perspectives and more subplots.

I don’t really want to change anything about the content because I don’t want to take anything away from the “Campus” feeling. It’s more a matter of rewriting some parts – especially the early chapters – to have the whole novel on the same stylistic level. And then there are plot lines that could read as long-winded and repetitive when published as one book instead if a series of installments over several years, so I may have to gently tweak a little here and there to adjust to book format.

I still don’t know what will happen to the sheer length of the script and whether it will be at all possible to sell it at the length it has at the moment. Again, the question would be what and how could be shortened without taking anything away from the story. If the same two characters talk about the same third character for the 8th time without really saying anything new, could I cut out a scene? I still don’t know, it will very much depend on the flow of the chapter and the character development at that given point.

But it’s not just style questions and possible repetitive lengths.

Much of it is details in the background. When I plotted “Campus”, it was the year 2000. The internet wasn’t the same back then, we had 56k modems and downloading a 4MB video clip from “Voyager” took all night. That, and you had to unplug the phone to dial up to the internet. I didn’t have the resources I have today, not for naming and not for scenery. There was no G**gle Maps and no automatic translator.

As a result, I ended up making mistakes and I’m not sure what I should change about it or not. I don’t want to change any names, but it is a fact that I invented the name “Darhayne”, thinking back then that it had to exist. Well, at least it will make her easier recognizable. (for a moment, I thought I might have to rename her to something “real”, like Haynes, but my gut reaction was “No way!”) Darhayne will continue to be Darhayne.

In further name troubles: Joanna’s actual last name, van de Kreek, should be “van der Kreek” to be a bit more correct. Adding one little “r”? Perhaps. At least I don’t think it changes the feel of the name.

Another pair of troublemakers (it figures they would be) are Brett and Agniesza – I chose the names because I think they fit their personalities and because I like their sound for these characters, but fact is that Brett is not a German name at all (also, there incidentally is a literary lesbian called Brett already – Brett Lynch in Donna Leon’s Brunetti mysteries Vol. 1 and 5). Britt would be German, but I don’t want to change the name. Agniesza (more commonly Agnieszka) isn’t Hungarian, but Polish – something that I need to at least address within the novel, but I think that can be cleared in two phrases on the side. Besides, when did Agniesza ever do anything the ordinary way?

Then there are some things concerning side characters – e.g. the first names of Joanna’s parents not being prissy enough, or the fact that Gustav Freytag is not just the Dean of Philological Studies, but also and foremost a German 19th century writer, so he may need another first name.

I have a long list of little things that I noticed while I reread the script. Rereading and writing up an exact scene overview (people, location, content, critique) alone took me a week and even though I’m the one who wrote this thing, it sucked me right back in and I was definitely walking another planet for that week.

Another question is the timeline. “Campus” takes place in 2000, which means a different availability regarding cell phones and internet – a minor, but not unimportant plot when it comes to Joanna and Eliane connecting. Today, it wouldn’t be as easily plausible that Eliane could simply disappear for a week without being reachable. In 2000, it might still be possible that Eliane’s mother doesn’t have an internet connection at home. Heck, in 2000, people still had landlines and “flatrates” weren’t invented yet.

So I don’t want to change the year, but can you sell a book that takes place a decade ago? It’s not far enough away to be a “historical setting” yet, but it’s not close enough to cover the gaps that are palpable because of the changes we’ve seen since 2000. On the other hand, some thigns that have disappeared since the year 2000 are vital to “Campus.” The location is not the same today as it was in 2000: The whole central building of Leipzig university has been torn down and rebuilt (no more paternoster! Gasp!!) since then. Even Joanna’s favorite coffee place – recently opened in 2000 – has disappeared after a decade, caving in to a Starb*cks set up right across the street. Ever since that day, I am boycotting Starb*cks.

I also have to admit that when I started writing “Campus”, I was a BA student who just wanted to get back into opera work. I had never worked in an academic setting (just studied) and I certainly had no plans of ever getting a Ph.D. With a few years of teaching and institute work under my belt in the meantime, I know that there are also a a few things I’d have to correct when it comes to faculty organization and committee (not many, though. Things really are that slow and bureaucratic).

Then, there are also two substantial style questions.

The first one is whether to leave or to translate the “foreign language” bits. Using all the different idioms was a lot of fun back then, but I might have to tone it down for readability. Or add footnotes with translations. Would anyone print a novel with footnotes that is not a “Classics for High School reading” edition? Some bits have to stay, because of the “feel”, like Eleonora’s calling Darhayne “Professoressa” or Agniesza’s trademark “Iszteney” – which causes the next problem, because the actual expression is “Iszten ném” and I accidentally misspelled it back then.

The second style issue is what to do with the “head voices” in Italics that Joanna and Eliane have at times. From a stylistic viewpoint, it’s bad writing, plain and simple, and I could easily paraphrase  it (thankfully, my use of English has advanced a bit since those first chapters). From a setting viewpoint, however, those “head voices” make up part of the “feel”, so I still torn on the issue.

So there’s a lot more to take into consideration than just the ton of typos and awkward expressions (I’d need a native speaker beta to go over that aspect again).

So, what’s the plan now?

The contact person for the agent asked me what I would do if the agent liked the excerpts. And I realized that I would have to have the entire scripts ready to send in, in case that happened. And I don’t have the entire scripts ready yet. Just from the issues detailed above, it’s clear that it will still take a while.

So I decided to do what I did with the Ph.D. and what I did while writing the novels in the first place: Since it’s impossible to edit everything apiece, I’ll do a bit every day, even if it’s just an hour or two. After a few weeks, I’ll be able to see at what speed I progress and can perhaps make a better estimate. Either way, I’m not giving up yet (even if this particular agent may not be interested in me any longer). If things don’t work out in the long run, the scripts will go back online. And if it works out, it might just buy me the freedom to write another novel instead of another set of BA expertises on an aid contract.

Oh, and if you have any thoughts on the issues detailed above, feel free to share and discuss in the comments. I would love some input.

13 thoughts on “From the Writing Desk: editing “Campus”, missing a chance”

  1. Whoa, sounds like you have your hands full, Anik! 🙂 Sorry you didn’t make the deadline. Can you resubmit later?

    Gotta say I’m glad that Darhayne is staying Darhayne and not turning into Haynes… Here in the States when you hear ‘Hanes’ (or something sounding like it) you think ‘Hanes her way,’ the ads slogan for an underwear brand. 😛

    I don’t think that misspelled names (or names that don’t sound like the character’s nationality) would matter that much nowadays. After all there was a German boy named John in one of my college class. I kept calling him Hans or Jans and even sometimes Johann just to bug him. 😀 But he insisted that he was a ‘John’ and a true German! Here in the US misspelled names are very much in fashion (especially if you are black or from the South). Don’t know how that is in Europe, though.

    Have fun editing! Your English is fabulous. I’m telling you… you write it better than many who speak it everyday since they were born! 🙂

    Hey, and I’m joining your boycott of Starb*ck! It swallowed my favorite downtown java joint a couple of years ago and I haven’t had any flappuccino since. >:D

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  2. Regarding the availability of internet — I know plenty of people, even in 2011, who do not have internet at home. I think in a rural area, and for older, not-highly-educated or not-professional people in the US this is a reasonable situation. I also know academics (both in the US and in Germany) who disappear and cannot be contacted during vacations. I think these particular plot points are timeless.

    I also wanted to say, I really like the German phrasing and inflections that occasionally pop-up in Campus. They give a verisimilitude to the German setting of the novel, and make it feel a bit exotic (to the American ear).

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  3. I’m sorry to missed your deadline.

    Your new editing plan sounds feasible. Let’s hope you’ll have a new chance with this editor [or any other editor], your excellent novel deserves it!

    I read Campus not in “installments” but when wholy finished. IMHO, I don’t think length in itself is the question, but re-ordering last chapters which do not follow the rhythm of the very first ones [length of chapters, I guess they need some subdividing into several chapters]. And of course, what you point out, take off repetitions about third parties references.

    On the background details, things have changed a lot on communication grounds, but I think you can make some minor changes and it will be OK [of course, those “minor changes” will take a lot of time, to see they are coherent enough with plot-scenes-situation and at the same time, to change them “everywhere”]

    On names changes: I would suggest you don´ t change names because even if mispelled or not accurate [with reference to certain nationalities] they have their own affective load on the writer [as you point out] and will new names mean the same to the writer? As a “hobby” writer myself, I find changing names too difficult, maybe because I become “in love” with them, they almost “are” the characters themselves. 😆

    No more paternoster? OMG! But you can keep it! Remember we readers are not living there, most of us do not “know” the place, and so… what’s the problem? You may point out in the preface-introduction when the book was written and some changes there have been in location-usage-etc but that you keep the “essentials” because they give the original “atmosphere” .

    On style questions, I think foreign language bits do create “feeling”. “Head voices” make your characters truly “foreigners” in a “foreign university”, these characters do think-speak to themselves in their own languages! That’s true! And we readers do participe in that special atmosphere they create!

    And last but not least… Good luck with the work! Exhausting indeed but I repeat, your excellent Campus novel deserves publishing! 😀

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  4. Have only recently encountered your blog and am entirely unfamiliar with this “Campus” thing but it sounds (reads?) most compelling. I hope you do get a chance to publish it. In the meantime I’d be very interested in reading such parts as are accessible.

    I take you’re point concerning the rather dramatic technological developments since 2000. At just this time in that year I was going back and forth between Bayreuth and Salzburg (it was right after taking the bar and the accoutrements were echt studenty but most enjoyable in spite or perhaps because of that) and was quite inconvenienced by my inability to communicate more easily. Little could I imagine that even 6 years later I would have paid to be incommunicado for a couple of days. (We tried it last month without success).

    In any case, the best of luck with this project.

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  5. hmmm i must admit i would be a poor arbiter of what “sells” (or what TPTB would think would sell), but i must admit i have a special fondness for that paternoster. i wonder if things that are technologically dated but otherwise inconsequential to setting or character could be updated if you feel it necessary, while things like the paternoster, which so connect to setting and character, could be retained? or am i just being self-serving? 🙂 after all, had i never known about the paternoster, i would never have missed it. but, having it as a touchstone in the setting of the fanfic was a warm spot for me, and i would hate to see it go.

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  6. I have never read “Campus” and I am not one to be able to give adivce on writing seeing that even though I do write it is quite mediocre compared to any book. I just enjoy it. Which I assume is why you do it as well. So for me I would say fix the things that you know truely need fixing and leave the things that mean a lot to you and make the story yours where it is. But whatever you decide to do I am sure it will be just as amazing as all the other things that I have read of yours.
    Of course I wish you the best of luck and hope it all works out. Plus I would love to read it as well.

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  7. As I have told you many times in the past, Campus is my favorite of your fiction. what if you added a new chapter 1, such as Eliane and Joanna are reflecting on how they met and became a couple, then the decade of changes wouldnt be so significant? The story would then be in them telling it as they recall….

    Just a suggestion. Happy Writing.

    Yvonne

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  8. thank you for your input and your interest, Ladies. it’s helping me gauge what to do and how to progress.

    I won’t touch names, at least not of the principal characters. The paternoster will stay and I will keep the whole story set in the year 2000. The dates and events of that year play into the story and I don’t really dare to update to iPhone age. Perhaps in my next novel after all the editing!

    I continue to be undecided on the amount of foreign language bits (though I will correct spelling) and with the direct “head voices”. I may have to “test edit” parts and see how it feels and sounds.

    I’ll keep you updated as the process continues. Thanks again!

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    1. My dear Anik,
      Over the years I have re- read campus and always look forward to it. Somehtime ago I forwarded you a copy of an imagefor a potential cover art. It eas a little off on geography but the gist was there. I hope to see Campus in print someday, i offer my media skills to you for cover art should you need you want them……best regards

      Yvonne Garza,r

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      1. oh yes, I still have that graphic saved away on my laptop. 🙂

        Thank you for your offer. There’s no cover talk for “Campus” yet, but I hope that there will be, eventually. 😉

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  9. I’ve read Campus 3 times now, was halfway through my 4th reading when I decided to finally get the pronunciation of ‘Agniesza’ and the links brought me here…I am so thrilled to see it possibly being published, it is without a doubt one of my top three favorite ubers anywhere on the internet. Being from the US and not really having any foreign language knowledge I can honestly say that the names, and bits of writing not in English only inhanced it for me. I find Dutch to be an especially beautiful language.I never felt that it in any way deterred from understanding the plot, though, footnotes for sure would be a big distraction.And just remember, names can be spelled any way you like and places do not have to always be exactly like reality, you are the author. So much of your novel would be changed just from removing things, like the paternoster or changing Joanna’s coffee shop… leave those to the ‘world’ you’ve created. The large cast or characters are so rich and full I cringe at what might be left on the cutting room floor to get it down to size. I’m going to bookmark your blog, looking forward to one day perhaps owning a copy of Campus. Good luck.

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  10. I am rather late to this party, Anik. But, I do hope that you are able to revise and publish Campus. I loved it when I read it. And if you need a beta reader, I would be more than happy to volunteer. Having lived through several campus environments and a doctoral process, I get the content. If it would help . . . Good luck!

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