The Epiphany That Nearly Made Me Trash My Novel
October 27, 2014 § 6 Comments
The way I structured the first draft, the even-numbered chapters took place in the past and the odd-numbered ones were set in the present. (Keep in mind that this is a space opera, so technically all of it is set in the far future. Ha!)
Once I dove into the rewrite (a.k.a., the second draft), I started feeling like this structure didn’t work. So I reordered the chapters so that everything happened chronologically. But that also didn’t work, so I tried a frame structure: the first third in the present, then all the past at once, then back to the present for the final third. And that still didn’t work.
This morning in the shower, I realized why, and my heart sank. The hard truth is that all of the chapters set in the past need to be cut—nearly half the book. It’s back story. It’s boring. It needs to go.
Half. The. Book.*
I remember Paolo Bacigalupi tweeting about how he had to cut 40,000 words of his book in progress (which was the one he just released, I think—The Doubt Factory). At the time, I thought if I ever had to do that, I’d probably go a bit mad. Maybe more than a bit.
But now I’m looking at cutting about that much, and my first thought was that I should just chuck the entire thing in the bin and call it a day. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt a renewed energy for the book. I started to see how much more compelling the story will be without all that excess baggage. I’ve been dreading/avoiding working on it by telling myself I was too busy/tired/uninspired/whatever. Now I can’t wait to get started again. (And, of course, now I actually won’t have time to sit down to it for probably two days.)
The bonus is that one of the bits being cut—the prologue—is one of the puzzle pieces I had been seeking for the sequel. By saving that bit of character background for the next book, I suddenly have a much better idea of what it will be about, and it will tie back to the first book much better.
Long story short, the epiphany that nearly made me trash my novel ended up reenergizing me for this book and the next one. That’s just the way the novel-writing roller coaster goes, sometimes: big ups, followed by big downs. Just throw your hands in the air, scream into the wind, and remember it’s all a ride. Have fun.
*EDIT: After pulling out the “past” chapters, my word count dropped from 76,000 to 54,000—only a 22,000 word loss. Which, yeah, is a LOT of words to lose, but it’s not quite half. And much of that will get recycled as I fill in the blanks where needed. The rest (and hopefully a bit more) will be made up by new POV characters and additional subplots. Ad astra!