Something I’ve come to realize over the course of my journey as a writer is that I cannot edit my own work, at least in its late stages. I lack perspective and get so wrapped up in the details that I lose the big picture. We’re always learning as writers, and I have learned that I need editors.
It can be expensive to hire a developmental editor, but it’s an investment in your manuscript and your career. If it weren’t for Maria Tureaud’s intervention, I would have queried my current full manuscript without realizing I’d completely drifted off-genre in the second act, and my main character had a static (read: boring) character progression. The importance of having objective eyes on your work can’t be overstated. An editor takes the art of critique a step further, bringing industry expertise and the (sometimes) hard truths you need to hear in order to improve as a writer.
I was so excited when I found out that the amazing and talented Jeni Chappelle was my assigned editor for Writer In Motion. Jeni and Maria were my top choice editors for RevPit, and it’s a dream come true having worked with both of them.
With my tracked changes in place for draft three, I sent Jeni my manuscript and eagerly anticipated her feedback. When I received her markup, I read through it a couple times without changing a word of the manuscript, then went back in after I’d had time to think about my revisions.
Here’s what she sent to me (The orange words are my previous tracked changes, the yellow-green words are Jeni’s correctional marks and notes)
Jeni was very encouraging and had some wonderful suggestions to help strengthen the story. She also pointed out my redundancy in the sentence describing Adeline’s figure. For me, redundancy happens when I’m trying overly hard to be poetic, and I need that kind of calling out. I set to work on implementing her suggestions, and this is the final result.
(Trigger Warning: I touch on Adeline’s trauma — physical abuse — in this edit and in the notes following the story)
June 10th, 1923
A killer walked the streets of Marseille, but all Adeline cared about was having a smoke.
She lit a cigarette and took a long draw, resting her elbows on the window frame and leaning out. Air channeled down the Rue du Panier, pushing strands of Adeline’s cropped brown hair into her kohl-smudged eyes. The moon hung low in the sliver of sky between buildings, dipping into the distant waves as the darkness lifted from indigo to violet. Below, women laughed as they strung their laundry, their banter easy against the slap of wet fabric. Dawn was the only time an open window didn’t bring the scent of fish, petrol, and trash.
Adeline took another drag on her cigarette, the nicotine calming the tremor in her hands even as it burned her lungs. Down the hill, La Major rang the Angelus. How many years had it been since she’d gone to Mass? Three, or was it four?
She arched her back and pushed her narrow hips from side to side, looking over her shoulder at her lover. Serge lay prone on the mattress, his arms stretched over the pillows. They’d met the night before in a café off La Canebière. He was shy at first, glancing in her direction once or twice before growing bold enough to meet her eyes.
She beckoned him to her table with a smile. “Would you like a Pernod?”
He talked about his family — his older sister in Cannes and his little nieces. She turned the conversation and grazed his arm with her fingertips, complimenting his fine-boned hands and the dimple in his chin.
An hour later, they were walking hand-in-hand along the waterfront, past the moored trawlers bobbing in the old port. The waning moon cut the darkness like a scythe, allowing the stars their beauty. Adeline pulled Serge to her and kissed him, tasting anise on his tongue.
“Take me to your bed,” she whispered.
His garret was claustrophobic, with clothes strewn about. The only spot of neatness was his desk, which held a typewriter and a hopeful sheaf of paper. His rumpled bed smelled of sweat, but his enthusiasm for her was disarming. Unlike the others, he was innocent. If he’d ever beaten, raped, or killed, it didn’t show in the tender way he’d touched her. She’d almost regretted what followed, but regret wasn’t in her nature. Regret implied mistakes.
Adeline stubbed out her cigarette and turned back to the bed. She leaned over Serge, pushing his blond curls back from his forehead.
Gray eyes stared back at her, unblinking. She kissed his purpling cheek, her breath hitching as she pulled the pearl-handled scalpel from her garter. Between Serge’s brows, she carved a crescent to match the moon they’d walked beneath. Blood welled, thick and darkly scarlet, but did not run.
“La Lune de Sang” — that’s what they were calling her in the papers — for the mark she gave her victims. She’d poisoned a new lover for each waning phase of the moon, and Serge was the seventh. The police kept looking for a man. No one suspected a sylph of a woman in her late thirties.
Adeline washed her hands and tidied her hair, pulling her fringe over the crescent-shaped scar on her brow — a mark carved by a signet ring belonging to a man who’d deserved to die a thousand painful deaths, but hadn’t. She cast a lingering gaze toward Serge and closed the door. “I don’t make mistakes,” she said, and a curtain fell over her heart.
She’d gotten halfway down the block when a scream came from the open garret window. A girlfriend? The landlady? Adeline smiled. Neither her heartbeat nor her pace quickened. She’d take one more night of pleasure before allowing the men of Marseilles rest beneath a moonless sky. Perhaps she’d let her next lover live. Perhaps.
This manuscript is now at 649 words. So what changed?
Even though it wasn’t written into the manuscript before this draft, I’d figured out what Adeline’s trauma was — an abusive relationship with a powerful, wealthy man who had treated her poorly when she was young and created a legacy of resentment and vengeance. She kills to address her primary wound in an unhealthy, but sympathetic way — taking as her lovers men who have harmed other women. She doles out her vengeance in their beds, using poison as a weapon, because she never had the chance to confront the man who hurt her.
With Serge, she makes a mistake and impulsively chooses an innocent for a mark. Alas, for poor Serge, killing has become an addiction for Adeline at this point — the power, the thrill, the agency she feels when she takes a life is intoxicating. She compartmentalizes her regret and moves on, or at least she convinces herself she has. Is Serge the beginning of her redemption? Perhaps. We can hope, can’t we?
I added the extra descriptive words Jeni suggested for world-building poignancy and to bring Adeline’s characterization full circle. That’s why I settled on creating the scar on her forehead, to pull in the meaning behind the moon and link it to Adeline’s trauma. It goes to show that even if you know your character, your reader can’t read your mind, so backstory needs to come out on the page in a way that doesn’t resort to heavy exposition and telling. So tricky, especially in so few words!
I rearranged the words in the first two paragraphs a bit, and re-added the sentence about the smells of Marseille, because scent is such a powerful grounding force for me in world-building. I researched the moon phases for June 1923 and discovered the moon was already a new moon on the night of my last draft, so I changed the date to June 10th. This is the kind of thing that savvy historical fiction readers will notice, so it’s important.
I’ll be interested to see what you think! Let me know in the comments.
In the meantime, check out the other Writers in Motion below:
JM Jinks / Thuy Nguyen / HM Braverman / Ari Augustine / Ellen Mulholland / S Kaeth / KJ Harrowick / Sheri MacIntyre / Jessica Lewis / Jen Karner / M Dalto / Dawn Currie / Fariha Khayyam / Megan van Dyke / Belinda Grant / Kristen Howe / Melissa Bergum / Stephanie Whitaker / Sher / Sean Willson / Kathryn Hewitt / Susan Berdorf / Coffee Quills