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On “Downton Abbey” and the Perils of Rewriting March 13, 2014

It’s a windy day today and, while I’d like to be reading a book on economic theory, I’m not. Instead, I find myself replaying last night’s episode of “Downton Abbey” in vivid detail. It’s a show that I’m shocked to discover most of my friends don’t watch and which most of my friends may be shocked to hear that I do. I’d be quick to point out, of course, that there is no need for them to feel quite so stunned. The series appears on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater” and all of the actors have British accents. This strange confluence of “posh” factors contributes to the show’s reputation as a drama rather than a soap opera and allows me to watch it with unrestrained delight while at the same time retaining my sophisticated self-image.

It will, of course, be another two months before this post appears on my blog and by then, most of my questions will have been answered. (With the exception of the one that was so pressing that I felt forced to investigate via a series of spoiler sites. If you’re interested, the answer is “no”.) By then, I’ll know whether Carson and Mrs. Hughes finally become “an item” and whether the drama with Mary will ever end. (My guess is that it won’t). It will have been revealed whether Mr. Gregson actually does become a German citizen and, if so, whether Lord Grantham will find the act entirely deplorable. (My guess is that he will.) And we’ll know whether Molesley ends up as the Dowager’s butler… but what kind of question is that?

Sadly, this is where my problem begins. I’ve been re-writing stories far longer than I’ve been writing them. Taking pieces of plot lines and projecting them forward to create dramas and adventures of which the original writers never conceived. From Big Bird and Super Grover to Han Solo, Princess Leia, Captain Piccard, and Mr. Spock, fictional characters seem to jump off the screen and into my life, leaving themselves open to my creative reworking of their stories. Like imaginary friends, they accompany me on my journeys and I accompany them on theirs. And, in recent years, a few of the characters from other shows like “Sherlock” and “Downton Abbey” have joined them.

So here I sit, imagining grand story arcs when I ought to be studying. Yes, in my world, Violet feels such sorrow for Molesley’s condition that she takes him on as her butler and elevates him far above his previous heights. Mr. Carson does confess that he loves Mrs. Hughes. (Like viewers haven’t speculated about that for the last two seasons!) And Mr. Bates slugs Mr. Green… in the library… in front of everyone. (Mr. Carson and Lord Grantham will, of course, prevent him from doing anything which might result in further prison time.) So there you have it, a brief introduction to “Downton Abbey” season four as rewritten by me. Time will tell whether it lives up to expectations!


A Writer’s Tale: In Which I Demonstrate the Follies of Pompousness and Learn My Lesson January 16, 2014

Filed under: Editing,Writing — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

Truth be told, there are nearly as many people eager to help professional writers as to learn from them. Sometimes, this excited volunteerism is spurred by a desire to “see what’s coming next”. Other times, it comes from those who feel that they genuinely have something to contribute. Of the latter, there are two subtypes: those who do and those who don’t. Over the course of my writing career, I’ve met plenty of both.

The most difficult encounters are with those who have overestimated their literary skill. These are people who fancy that they have a broad enough knowledge of a field to render useful advice concerning the writer’s intended audience or a possess deep understanding of grammar… but don’t. They volunteer their help freely and, if a writer (professional or otherwise) should accidentally fall into their hands, they are likely to rewrite their work in its entirety. Having dealt with such “editors” in the past, I tend to be very cautious about allowing others to see my work before it enters the hands of one of the professional editors with whom I work.

It is for this reason that, when one of my professors required that each student visit the tutoring center for assistance with their research papers, a knot began to form in my stomach. This was, after all, a community college. I couldn’t be quite certain that the people “tutoring” others in writing weren’t going to waste my time by turning my “masterpiece” into a worthless reflection of their own literary tastes. (I confess that pompousness has never been far beyond my grasp and requiring me to receive tutoring on something I did professionally was merely adding insult to injury.) Since my grade depended on it, however, I begrudgingly made the appointment.

The day arrived and I marched across campus, my teeth gritted as I anticipated the worst. I had already determined that the best approach would be to “grin and bear it”. I would allow the tutor to make whatever “corrections” she desired. Then I would carefully weigh each one and keep those which I liked. (No sense in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.)

I entered the center with my fifty pounds of school books on my back and introduced myself to the woman at the desk. She would, it turned out, be the one helping me on this dreary afternoon.

Sitting down at a table, we took a moment to discuss the paper. Then, she set to work. To my surprise, she was not at all interested in rewriting my paper. Unlike me, she hadn’t approached the situation with any preconceptions about who I was or what my skill level might be. Instead, she let my writing speak for itself.

It wasn’t long before I was actually having fun. This “tutor” was far more like the professional editors I’d worked with than I’d anticipated. Her corrections made sense and, instead of destroying my work, actually improved it! By the time our session ended, we were even completing each other’s thoughts. (Something that we both agreed was a bit creepy.) I left with a certainty that required or not, I would be using her expert eye again on future papers.

The real lesson learned, of course, has nothing to do with writing or grammar at all. Instead, it’s about our preconceptions and their failure to reflect reality. It’s about approaching others with an attitude of humility and a willingness to learn – even when we don’t know what they have to teach us. I think I’ll be putting my “pompous” hat away for a while (at least for a few days) and trying to focus more on what I have to learn about what I already “know”. A little humility never hurt anyone.


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