Monday, May 10, 2010

Genetic Potential

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about genetic potential. As a gardener, I'm always hoping to bring my plants to their maximum genetic potential. Basically, this means growing the plant to its perfect form. And it can definitely be done—ask any hyrdoponic gardener about their nutrient schedule and you'll quickly see there's a world of difference between a plant that's carelessly stuck in the ground in bad soil and bad light and one that is pampered on every level.

Plants, I think, are pretty cooperative when it comes to their genetic potential. They WANT to achieve their full potential, and they respond beautifully to the right conditions. People ... not so much. People are frequently self-destructive—they smoke, they eat too much, don't exercise, jump out of perfectly good airplanes, whatever. For people, it seems that the experience of living itself means trading away your genetic potential.

But as far as books go ...

I've been editing and critiquing a lot of novels lately for some reason, and it struck me along the way that my job isn't to make a book better. Not really. My job as an editor is to help the author bring her book to its natural genetic potential, or at least as close as possible. Because better is my opinion. It's subjective. But it's a safe bet that every writer starts off with a vision of their perfect book. They know how it sounds, how it feels, the emotions and themes it conveys. But like a war plan, this book rarely survives contact with reality. So an editor's job is to suss out the spots where the perfect book in your head didn't translate to the page and suggest ways to get it there. The editor's job is NOT to fix plot points, add or delete characters, etc.

I guess the hard part for lots of us is that the genetic potential of any particular book might not be all that great. That's a tough thing to recognize—when even the best version of a story is still missing something. And I think that's when people start getting desperate and adding character quirks or weird plot twists or, in the words of another blogger, throwing a dragon into the story randomly to spice things up.

Anyway, as a side note, I didn't post a Storytellers prompt this month ... I'm taking a little break from the prompts for a while. I know there are a few people who have asked when/if I was going to do another prompt, and I think that's awesome. We had some really good stories here, and I loved the give-and-take between the writers and commenters. So it's not over forever, just for a while ... and thanks if you had ever written anything for a prompt.

4 comments:

Melanie Avila said...

This is a great post, and just what I needed to read as I'm tip-toeing my way back to my wip.

Erica Orloff said...

Jon:
Similar theme on my blog today.

LurkerMonkey said...

Melanie,

I've been doing a bit of tip-toeing back to books myself ...

LurkerMonkey said...

Erica,

It's always interesting when that happens ...