Avi WordCraft blog

Manuscript ghosts

ghostsIn the process of rewriting and revision, there is a myriad of line and word changes. That goes without saying. But quite often there are much bigger alterations. When you are writing, there is the road not taken. But when you write, you can go back and say, I think I will take that road. Sometimes it is not a road, but, so to speak, a highway. Or more.

In a recent book, I had the main character cook a meal. It was meant to show an aspect of the person I had not shown before. It would also interject some humor, in an otherwise humorless tale.

But when I was revising I decided that chapter was not working. So, while the meal was cooked, it was not, if you will, served.

I often change the names of my characters. I have even, usually when in the starting phase of a book, decided to switch a character from male to female, or the other way.

(That’s probably been outlawed by Texas state legislators.)

And once I went to a meeting with my agent to discuss a new book I had written, a rather somber tale.

My agent said, “I must tell you I found a lot of the book funny. Why don’t you make the book intentionally funny?”

You may be sure it took a while for me to think that one over, but in the end, I decided she was right. I rewrote the book to make it a humorous one.

As for the endings of books, I have changed those many a time.

These wholly deleted scenes are what I think of as manuscript ghosts. The reader never knows about them. I suspect the writer (I know I do) has them tucked away in mind and memory somewhere. In an odd way, I think they unconsciously inform (haunt?) the writer about some aspect of the story, or character.

You can find different versions of The Red Badge of Courage.

There is a famous example in which such a manuscript ghost comes to life. When Charles Dickens first published (in serial form) Great Expectations, Pip and Estella are forever estranged. A writer friend urged him to write a happy ending, in which the two star-crossed lovers are reconciled. That’s what Dickens did when the book—as a whole—was published. Thus, when you pick up the book today it sometimes has one ending, sometimes the other. Sometimes it has both endings!

Now that’s a haunted book.

2 thoughts on “Manuscript ghosts”

  1. Ah, yes, manuscript ghosts. I have old drafts of some mss where ghosts are still there, like Casper, but there’s something to say about them just existing in mind and memory…


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