The Art of Revision: From Urban Fantasy to Paranormal Romance

Recently, I faced the difficult challenge of revising my beloved Toasty, the result of my toiling efforts during NaNoWriMo of 2010.  From the beginning, I envisioned Toasty as a paranormal romance.  When people asked me what it was about, my answer, without hesitation, was always “It’s a romance between an angel and a demon set during the Apocalypse.”  And that always seemed to get people interested, but I could never quite make the sell.  After all, the main focus of the plot was the angel and demon’s ongoing relationship, without which the rest of the story would have fallen apart.  In my mind, that was the very definition of a romance novel.  However, because I was too close to the project, I failed to see that there was not enough focus on the romance, and too much focus on the other aspects of the Apocalypse.  Much as it pained me to do so, I had to rip my baby apart and put it back together, piece by tiny piece.

Toasty, as it was originally conceived, was about a demon and an angel and how they fall in love against the background of the Apocalypse.  The novel is divided into four portions, each one dealing with a specific Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

During a bitter struggle between Heaven and Hell, an angel and demon discover that love isn’t entirely a human concept.  The Horsemen emerged from their prison and, unknown to most humans, the Apocalypse has begun.  Chris, having spent the last five years atoning for his brother’s death by killing angels, hits the wrong target, a demon going by the name of Eric.  Eric and his partner, Angel, want Chris’ help; they want him to use the tricks he learned killing angels and battle the Horsemen.

However, Angel and Eric know there’s only one way to stop the Apocalypse.  They’ll need the last prophet, Claire, chosen by Gabriel to close the gate to Hell, scheduled to open on December 20th, 2012.  They have less than a year to stop the Horsemen and prepare the prophet, but that’s not their biggest obstacle.  The human host bodies they’re inhabiting are starting to influence their behavior in ways they’re unaccustomed to, and what started as a simple partnership may be evolving.   Things just got a little warmer.

Thanks to Leigh Michaels On Writing Romance, an advice book which I cannot recommend highly enough, I started to pick apart what I could change in Toasty.  I thought I had a reasonably awesome idea to start with, but numerous rejections only after I had sent in sample chapters made me reevaluate my book’s marketability.  The first thing I needed to decide was whether or not it was urban fantasy or paranormal romance.  Romance sells better, there’s no denying that, but what really motivated me to make the change was the fact that without Angel and Eric’s storyline, the rest of the novel would fall apart.  The other bits, (you know, those inconsequential pieces about the Apocalypse?) if removed, would have kept the story intact, albeit shortening it grossly.

The first thing to change was the perspective.  Quite frankly, I had absolutely nothing from Angel’s point of view, and way too much of Chris, Claire, and even John.  Entire chapters were rewritten.  Some were taken out altogether.  But in the end I managed to make it about 80% told from Eric or Angel’s perspective, which is much more than they had previously.  Not to mention, there were some parts that were vital to the story that were absolutely impossible to tell from their perspective.  For one thing, Chris’ encounter with Famine remained in his perspective, because as a human, he would see things quite differently than the others did, and how he viewed Famine was an integral part of how the Horsemen operate.  I suppose he just could have told them about it later, but that would have been even more sloppy on my part.

Another major change was Chris and Claire’s back story.  Instead of laying it all out there in the open, it unfurled slowly, unveiling bits and pieces as necessary to correlate with what is happening with Angel and Eric at the moment.

I like how their imdb profile pictures were both conveniently in black and white.

The biggest change I made in the revision, however, was entirely superficial, and, quite frankly, was the most painful one for me to incorporate.  As I was reading about the romance genre, I discovered that Eric, as I envisioned him, was not the type of hero that a typical romance reader wanted to read about.  According to the census, which I take no stock in except for when it comes to getting published, romance readers want a young, muscular, attractive hero that they can find themselves falling in love with.  Not a middle-aged, soft around the edges, charmer.  Honestly, some women.

The ultimate result of this, however, was that Eric went from someone I could imagine Mark Sheppard playing to someone I could easily imagine Dan Feuerriegel playing.  Hence, the above, distracting picture.  And yes, I do sometimes cast my books as I’m writing them, not because I think my books would actually be made into movies (and even if they were, who cares about the original author’s casting choice?), but because putting a face I can recognize on the character helps me envision them better.    But, seriously, I switched Mark Sheppard out for Dan Feuerriegel.  It was one of the most difficult decisions I made when it came to the revision, but mostly because it helped to destroy some of the original integrity.

I really wanted to write a romance involving a non-conventional couple.  Opposing viewpoints, he’s not necessarily in the most attractive host he could have been, oh, and their gender is irrelevant because technically they have no genders.  That last bit, is almost gone from the latest revision.  What was a prominent feature earlier now takes a backseat to Angel’s newfound human hormones.  For instance, the original prologue had Eric and Angel in their former hosts, both males, fishing on a boat and discussing how they’re going to find each other again since Angel is forced into hiding.  The new prologue involves Angel acclimating to her new host and deciding that Eric’s new host is quite attractive.  The romance plot was supposed to happen without any regards to physical gender or physical attractiveness, but that idea has since been tossed out the window along with so many other things.  There are still references to it, of course, but they are far less pronounced than before.

All in all, I’m glad I took the chance to make this revision.  At first, I was certain I was going to hate what it became, but as I was making the final edits, I actually started to enjoy Eric and Angel’s deeper relationship, even if most of those changes were now revolving around the fact that one was currently a man and one was a woman.  Though it saddened me to make many of the changes, if that was the necessary step to get this story out there, I’m glad I made the effort.

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