May 25, 2007

Sculpting a Novel

A couple of weeks ago, I finished the rough cut of my novel rewrite.

I'll assume that most readers of my blog haven't followed along with the trials and tribulations I've experienced with this project, so let me give you a quick recap. I wrote the original first draft in the year 2000. It was 519,100 words (roughly the size of Stephen King's unabridged The Stand). When I look back at that original, I judge the story to be good, but the writing to be amateur and bloated. I went through a long learning process. I split the book into three books to make it more palatable to editors. I reduced the total word count to 475,600 words. I let strangers read it and give me their honest reactions. I edited and polished it frequently. I submitted it to literary agents and publishers, and got one excited manuscript request (without a follow up) from a well-known agent, and one rewrite request from Baen Books.

As I became a better writer and learned the ways of the genre book industry, I realized (around 2004-2005) that my masterpiece needed a complete overhaul. So I set out to restructure it, to tighten the pacing and get rid of the bloat.

In order to focus on this huge task, I shoved aside my other writing goals and projects, many of them ideas which I was (and still am) excited about. I immersed myself in Thomas's and Alex's journey until I got sick of it. I reread my original epic in bits and pieces, then sliced it up and pasted the paragraphs into new places, and reread them, and slimmed them down, and changed details, and reread them again. I took notes on my own writing so I wouldn't forgot what I'd put where. I applied techniques I'd learned at the Odyssey Writing Workshop and since to my reborn novel. I gained more of a social life while I procrastinated facing this huge project every night. I gained a sense of the work involved in being a professional writer.

After all that, I won't know if my hard work paid off until years from now. I have a feeling that it will, but I've never trusted hunches or feelings. I only know that this confidence is highly unusual for me. Even though I'm sick of the project, I still look back and think it's good. I still get excited about it. I hear opinions from people who've read the first three chapters or more, and I hear good news. I don't think this is wishful thinking, since I've heard and given my share of harsh critiques. I can tell when readers genuinely like something.

But there's no immediate payoff. By now, everyone around me must think I'm a jack-off, just someone who creates endless busywork for herself and talks big. I know I'm not this person. When I started this rewrite, I knew I'd be in for a difficult journey, with a gamble for a payoff. I took the journey, gamble and all, because I believe in the power of my words. I'll market this book any way I can, because I see a fan following in its future. I'm fully aware that I may be self-deluded here, but I can't ignore the possibility that I'm right. Had I decided not to do the rewrite, I'd be second-guessing myself for the rest of my life, always wondering if it could have been the next major best-seller. What's the point of living if you don't take risks like this?

I combined the first two sections of my original and reduced the word count from 278,300 to 127,400 words. That's amazing. That means my total word count (including the original, unrewritten third section) is down to 324,700 ... and I'm positive that I can cut out another 100,000 words from that third section (it will be book 2 instead of book 3, now). The story didn't change. The characters are the same. Most of what I removed was excess description and wordage.

Is this new version much stronger than the original? I'm not sure. I wish I was. Parts of it are definitely improved. The whole is lighter and faster, with tons of excess wordage deleted, but I'm afraid I may have accidentally deleted crucial bits of character development and story pacing. I might have taken out the spice that gave it its bite. If it turns out that test readers respond with less enthusiasm than they did for the original, I'll try to fit the missing character development back in there without overinflating the word count.

But these are worries for later. Right now, I'm working on new material for the first time in two years. It's a short story!


I absolutely needed the break. I needed to write something fresh before I forgot how a first draft feels. It's pure joy. And I also need a couple of months when I'm not thinking about slavery, snobby mind readers, and berserk giants who kill people.

In July, I'll return to the Yeresunsa universe and polish my rewrite. My goal is to have it readable by September 1st. Would you care to be a test reader this winter? Here's the synopsis!

Thanks for reading my blog.