Hitting the Wall

Last week I had a bit of a crisis on my hands that caught me off guard. As you know, I’ve been working on TLM edits, following a trail of red ink left by my wonderful editor, Amelia. My goal last week was to get through Chapter Two, a chapter which is way longer than I remember it being, and I was moving along at a steady pace until I realized something wasn’t quite right.

See, when I sent the manuscript to Amelia earlier this summer, I stipulated that I wanted to trim its 116k words down to as close to 100k as possible. I had a couple of reasons for this: 1) I tend to overwrite and make things incredibly complex when they can be said in simpler ways; 2) Fewer words = fewer pages = lower production costs = lower retail price.

Going into the edits, I had these two things in mind. However, when I reached the second chapter, the trap I’d unwittingly set for myself became more apparent. A lot happens in chapter two. It’s a “thick” chapter, with a lot of unnecessary description and dialogue. I’ve done my best to trim the unnecessary parts, whittling it down from 8.3k words to about 7k. That’s not too shabby. The problem is, when I stepped back to examine the story, the whole picture was lacking something. It was too slow. Too bogged down.

A while back I mentioned that TLM was a more deliberate story. I put a lot more thought and planning into it than I did with ALT, and as a result, the pacing isn’t nearly as quick. It’s a “slow burn” of sorts, gaining momentum as it goes along. It’s the nature of story exposition. The “rise” in “rising action,” so to speak. Unfortunately, rather than continue rising, the action hits little plateaus before continuing its climb to the climax. This is a problem for me, and it’s most certainly a problem for the story.

When I realized this, I had a bit of a panic attack. I couldn’t decide what to do–after all, what remained in chapter two after our cuts was good, solid content. It still set the foundation that I’d planned, but it was still so goddamn long. I thought about moving sections around, introducing some characters earlier, and that would be fine for the pacing, but it wouldn’t fix the length issue.

By this point it was Friday, and I decided to step away from the book for a few days to collect my thoughts. On Sunday I went to do laundry, and I spent most of that time pacing in a circle around the Laundromat, lost in thought, trying to sort out my problem. In the end I decided to continue as-is while Amelia finished the last chapter of Part One. We decided to have a conference call next weekend, during which we would discuss any potential changes and/or rewrites.

Then an epiphany happened today while I was at work. It was so simple, really. There’s a character in the book who serves as a catalyst for Donovan’s frame of mind, setting up his mental state for the first third of the book. However, this character’s importance is overshadowed by more immediate events. Despite this fact, there is a lot of space devoted to the ramifications of this character’s demise. Removing all traces of this character would not only shift focus and bring more of an immediacy to the story (thereby improving that pacing aspect and removing those plateaus), but it would also significantly reduce the word count.

The downside is that rewrites and restructuring of chapters one through three will be necessary to make this happen. The upside is that most of these changes will be contained within those first few chapters. The rest of the plot can continue as it is. I pitched this to Amelia earlier today, and she gave the thumbs up. I spent this evening working on a new outline for the first five chapters, breaking it down section by section. Here’s an example . . . with minor adjustments to prevent spoilers:

While this is a setback in the editing schedule, it will greatly improve the story and make it a more enjoyable experience. I think so, anyway. I hope so.

I know I said TLM would be in print by early summer of next year, but for now I’m going to take that back. It’s going to be done when it’s done. The book will be better for it.

For now, thanks for reading, and thanks for your patience.

Until next time,

TK

P.S. ALT was reviewed by the book blog ParaYourNormal. I think they liked it.