Here we are. The last of the feelers for the initial version of the novel have been sent out and returned. It’s all come full circle in a sense, and I think I have a clean slate from which to push forward. What I’m trying to say is that the publisher rejected the previous version of the novel based on the full manuscript submission (which is cool, I can always at least lay claim to getting that far in the old process). They didn’t tell me why they passed, but that’s okay. I know the reason – lack of emotional engagement.
It’s kind of funny, the email said:
Thank you for sending us your full manuscript. After careful consideration, we have decided not to take your submission to the next stage. I realise that this is not the news you were hoping for, but I hope you will take some comfort from the fact that yours was one of just a handful of novels we requested after reading the initial submission.
Funny because secretly, this was kind of the news I was hoping for. It seems perverse, I know, but as exciting as it would be to have a traditional publisher pick me up (and one that I really respect and enjoy), I understand why they and agents passed on it, and I would have been a little disappointed in the publisher if they decided to pick it up, not to mention the fact that I’ve essentially rewritten it into a completely new work. Agents told me that it was well-written and technically competent, but they were having trouble connecting to it, so it was easy enough to figure out that there was no soul to it. When this publisher requested the full manuscript, I kind of cringed. I’m a few thousand words away from completing the rewrite that addresses all those issues…well, I would have been due for a big rewrite on this one so that I could get it out in November. Frankly, the whole idea of that was getting me down. Well, now what? I thought.
This is what. Oddly enough, while it’s bittersweet, this is for the best. I’m happy that the publishers are still seeing what works and doesn’t work. I know it was a flawed work, and that’s okay. But this does plant the little seed of an idea. Perhaps when I finish the next novel (the thriller), I should go back to the well of traditional publishers and agents. Not necessarily to get it picked up, but to try to get the same feedback and insight. It would work as a kind of litmus test for where I am with the work. I mean, who knows? Maybe I can continue to self-publish the rewritten works based on that feedback. Self-publishing isn’t what it used to be after all.
Ultimately, I think self-publishing the answer to me, but if I can get that level of feedback on what makes my book more marketable while retaining the core of what I want to talk about, why the hell not? Maybe in the process one or two of my books will get picked up by a traditional publisher, which of course does not rule out continuing to self-publish other works. I figure I’m good for at least two books a year for awhile, and maybe a diversified approach would work for me? We shall see.
On to other things. Saw the last Harry Potter movie yesterday and it was…interesting. Given how much analysis I’ve given to why things in stories work and why they don’t, it opened my eyes to some of the very real differences in media forms between books and movies. It’s the age-old conundrum: why is the movie so different from the book? I’ve understood it on an intellectual level for quite some time, but looking at the story from the same perspective that I’ve used on this site, I really got it for the first time yesterday. Some of the things I noticed are most likely questionable choices on the part of the producers and directors, but some are really commentaries on the differences between the forms.
The first thing that really bothered me was the battle at Hogwarts. It was…well, a mess. I know that these massive battles are difficult to handle both in books and on-screen, but this definitely could have been better handled. Not to get too spoileriffic, but some major characters die during the battle (this isn’t too shocking given that it’s Harry Potter). Okay, that happens, but the deaths are given less screentime than Dobby the house elf‘s death. Dobby hadn’t had a role in the movie series since the second movie, nine years ago. Okay, eight when the first part came out, to be fair. In the books it had more gravitas as there was an entire subplot about the liberation of house elves, but in the movie continuity, Dobby just sort of reappears, saves the day, and dies.
It felt a little odd and out of place, but that was nothing compared to how major characters from the last few movies are killed off with so little fanfare. I mean, one character died and I wasn’t even aware of it! I had forgotten that he died in the book, and so when one of the characters is delivering a speech about those who sacrificed their lives (again, tiptoeing around spoilers), I was utterly baffled. That character died? Did I just blink and miss it? Well, no, turns out that I had confused two of the mourning characters because they look so damn similar. That’s a major failure of storytelling right there. I remember in the book that the guy’s death was given quite a bit of treatment, as well, so seeing this pass in less than ten seconds was just breathtaking in its failure.
But I think all of that is a director’s choice, and a questionable one at that. More could have been given to those characters, even in a long movie. I can think of two minutes of footage that could have been trimmed to give them a little more than a perfunctory nod (and no, shoehorning in a ghost doesn’t count).
Where I really saw the difference between the visual form and the written word – and the advantages inherent in the former – is in the climax. Here are some spoilers that I think kind of dance around major stuff, but be on the lookout. It really bothered me that, in the end, Harry Potter wins out over Voldemort because of love. Because he can love and Voldemort can’t. Hm. It seemed cliche and didn’t feel right at all. It bothered me even more than the fanfic coda. But in this movie, with the way Raph Fiennes portrays Voldemort, you get more of a sense of why caring and love can defeat him, or at least exploit the blind spots in his character flows. Fiennes shows us how this guy is not a personification of evil but a stunted, awkward, vulnerable, frightened person.
This was a huge leap over Rowling’s method of telling us that Voldemort is that thing – it was really the difference between intellectually grasping it and really, emotionally, seeing it in play. I think that made the climax a lot more satisfying than in the book. I mean, that was 100% my issue with the climax of the novel in retrospect – not the cliche, that could have worked – but that Rowling tells us that Voldemort is a pathetic being rather than showing us that.
I’m running a little long, but the gist of what I’m saying here is that in the visual form, there are times when you have no choice but to show rather than tell. Anything that comes across as a data dump is going to be a lot more glaring in a movie than in a novel. This is making me think that I need to do another entry on showing rather than telling, with some more concrete examples. After all, it’s easier to talk about this than to really show it. Maybe Wednesday, we’ll see.