Saturday, May 2, 2009

First to Third Person

"Hello, editor.  I've completed a series of changes to my 165 page, first-person novel.  I'd like to get your feedback."

"Change it to third person."

"Change what to third person?"

"All of it."

This is my editing challenge.  Remove more than the "he's, she's, and they's" to replace them with "I's."  Transform a manuscript told through the eyes of a young boy to a manuscript told through the eyes of a narrator focused on that young boy.  This means removal of assumptions by the main character, a broadening of the action around that character, and the substitution of more dialogue where inner monologue once ruled.

To give you an example of this task, here is a before and after picture of a portion of the manuscript.


What can I say about Tinkle Troy?  T.T. for short.  Troy has what he calls an “overactive bladder.”  What it really means is he can’t hold his pee.  Every year he flashes his official doctor’s note letting him leave class every twenty minutes or so.  I have a feeling the punches to the kidneys he gets at recess from some of Bridgeton’s perpetual grade-schoolers contribute to his control problem.  Somehow we end up in the same class every year. 

In second grade, Troy peed his pants thirty-two consecutive days in a row, thus his nickname.  The pants-peeing doesn’t happen anymore, but “Tinkle Troy” stuck.  Since we matured, we shortened it to T.T.  Even though Troy and I are classmates each year, I avoided sitting near him—until now.  I decided to keep my feet completely under my desk in case he sprung a leak.

Jackson arrived a few minutes, and we skipped the excited reunion seen between other friends in the room.  We saw each other all summer.  When he passed by, he nuggied my freshly buzzed head.  “I see T.T. will be joining us,” he said as he dropped his bag on his desk.  “Good thing I brought my umbrella.”

Seats filled quickly after that.  Talks of summer trips and sixth-grade hopes began.  We all scanned the room, linking the puzzle pieces of students to uncover what the picture of our class would look like.  Sasha Barnett and Cindy Cohen, Paris Hilton wannabes, both toted purses big enough to nest a Chihuahua.  A couple members of the Two-First-Names Crew, John Michael and Eric Scott.   Two newer Bridgeton students I recognized but never met because they spent every spare moment of their lives playing Yu-Gi-Oh together.  The forming picture looked more like a Picasso than a Van Gogh.


Jackson strode in with the sound of the morning bell and nuggied Drew’s buzzed head.  “I see T.T. will be joining us,” he said as he dropped his bag on the floor.  “Feet under desks at all times, in case he springs a leak.”

Drew swung his feet beneath his desk and smiled.  “Yeah, remember back in second grade when Troy peed his pants thirty-two days in a row?” he asked.

“The punches in the kidneys all these years on the playground can’t be helping T.T.’s bladder issues,” Jackson said.

Troy stood behind Jackson, an uneasy smile on his face.  “No more Tinkle Troy?” he asked. 

“What can I say?  We’ve matured,” Jackson said.

Troy unpacked in silence while Drew and Jackson continued their conversation.  “Did you see Sasha and Cindy are in the class, too?” Drew asked.

 “Purse-toting snobs,” Jackson said.  He followed them with his eyes.  After snapping out of it, he said, “Sitting next to Kim I see,” and motioned to Kim’s empty desk.

“Yeah, but she’s cool.  At least she doesn’t rub her popularity in your face like those two,” Drew said.

“Speak of the Devil,” Jackson said watching Kim approach the group.

Drew turned to look.  Kim smiled. “Hi, Drew.  Hey, Jackson.”

“You’re stuck with us,” Jackson said.

“Hey, Kim.”  Drew looked Kim up and down.  “Boy, you’re really tan.  Your skin’s nearly as dark as your hair,” he said.

Kim glanced down at her bare arm.  “Yeah, I just got back from vacation in the Bahamas.”

“Bahamas to Bridgeton.  Your dream, huh?” Jackson said.

“Doesn’t bother me.”  Kim dropped supplies on her desk and walked to her locker. 

John Michael and Eric Scott, a pair from the two-first-names crew walked by Jackson’s desk.  “Scott,” Jackson said, nodding.

“I’m John!” John Michael said.

“Michael,” Jackson said, nodding at the other.

“I’m Eric!” Eric Scott said.

Jackson cackled and slapped his desktop.  The two walked away in a huff.  “Who are those two?” Jackson asked, pointing to the back corner of the room at a pair of boys trading Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

“Don’t know.  I’ve seen them around, usually joined at the hip doing what they’re doing now, but never caught their names,” Drew said.

“Cute couple,” Jackson said.  “Anyway, can you believe Mr. Cross didn’t split us up?”

And so the editing process continues.  But as Lester Laminack says, "Revision is the journey of the writer."  I've found it an arduous but irreplaceable exercise.  It will all prove worth it when the final product hits the presses.

~Scott Heydt

"Live, Learn, Teach"

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