As I was revising a manuscript for the umpteenth time the other day, I realized that I had been watching HGTV WAY too much lately, because I had unexpectedly drawn a lesson for my writing from shows like Designed to Sell and Income Property.
Um ... had I gone completely crazy?
Maybe! But more important, I had stumbled upon a fresh way of looking at a familiar task.
For those who haven't witnessed the spellbinding appeal of Home and Garden Television, let me explain. Designed to Sell shows how to turn a tired house into a showpiece by giving sellers a minimal budget and a team of experts (like the amazing architect/interior designer John Gidding and designer Lisa Laporta) to transform their house into the hottest property on the block. On Income Property, wizardly carpenter Scott McGillivray helps first-time homebuyers turn part of their house into rentals to help with the mortgage. He transforms hideous basement dumps into beautiful living units, and we see the renovations and the incredible reveals.
These successful designers are continually harping on the importance of creating a "harmonious whole" and "unifying the space," "maximizing potential" and creating "curb appeal." They routinely find inventive, inexpensive solutions to a variety of homey shortcomings.
In my editing process, I too want to maximize potential with easy, affordable fixes, and I regularly come across problems that get in the way of a harmonious whole. Characters clash with settings, situations clash with dialog, and the all-important believability of the fictional world suffers, which brings down the property value of the material.
Likening editing to renovating a house has completely inspired me. I realize now that when I take the time to upgrade the kitchen linoleum, I'd better look into upgrading the cabinets and appliances too, and the backsplash and the lighting fixtures. If I spot a bit of mildew on a portion of drywall, I can be sure the frame needs replacing, or if the floor is the problem, the very foundation needs looking at.
I want curb appeal. As the reader approaches the story, I want to create lively interest straight away. Then, when the newly sanded and stained front door is opened and he or she enters the house, er tale, I want to show a space that flows. I want to highlight the view from the beautifully installed windows, which means rearranging the clunky furniture so it's no longer in the way. I want to create a welcoming home that grows warmer and more inviting from room to room. In short, I want a story readers will be happy to live in.
And what gets in the way of that? Too many knickknacks. Too much "personality." Mismatched furniture. Outmoded fixtures. The wrong shade of paint. Among so many other things!
Some changes are cosmetic. Some require drastic demolition and reconstruction. But in the end, there's a house to be proud of, and a story that sells itself!
—by Timothy Power