There are several goals I have for the series rewrites:
- Decrease the size of each novel from over 200,000 words (each) to not more than 120,000. The original size lends itself to quite a bit of maundering about.
- Get in the Generally Accepted Writing Principles (GAWP) which I learned about well after I was almost done with the fourth novel.
- Increase the overt conflicts. Currently, the conflicts are based on the group learning about the nature of spirits, organization, and ability of the human race to survive. I’ll be adding specific external conflicts a group of this nature might easily encounter.
Note: If you invest in the series, I will offer a no-cost upgrade to the latest electronic editions as they become available. Save your receipts.
Kill Your Darlings
Sir Quller-Couch somewhere said,
Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’
In the writing community it is often expressed as “kill your darlings.” It means you should get rid of the scenes and words that are there only because you like them, not because they have earned their place in the story. This also applies to writing whose only purpose was that you (the writer) put it down in the first draft. Might have thought it was great, that the reader would love it, and it would show how nasty the Billy Bad-Ass was or how good Dudley DoRight was.
One of the key things about a scene is that it must have a single mission. That mission must contribute specifically to the real story.
So, if for no other reason than to decrease the size by almost 50%, I had to cut, cut, and cut amid breast-beating, wailing, and cries of grief. Tough Darts.
Getting out the axe
Reducing the size first of all meant cutting out almost all the secondary character scenes. That was not so fun, but fruitful. The characters are neither gone nor forgotten; they are still around doing what they do best (usually getting into mischief of some sort).
Doing the deed
While I made scene lists of the entire series, I made an Excel sheet for the actual beat sheet. This currently has the following columns:
- Story date
- Scene Summary (description)
- Scene Mission (what it is to accomplish)
- Point of View
- Pace (will be a numeric value for how fast the scene is to go)
- Notes (stuff to go in and reminders of things to foreshadow)
- Estimated word count for the scene. As I actually write, I’ll update this with the actual word count.
There are six lines of subtotals based on Larry Brooks’ structure layout:
- Section Words (number of words in the section. There are four sections, so with a 120,000 word target, each section should have 30,000 words. This is a subtotal.)
- Pages (Pages in the section. I’m estimating about 300 words per page. This is a subtotal).
- Percent complete (Percentage of the section words to total words. Each section should end up at 25%. Subtotal)
- There is a subtotal line for each Pinch Point in Section 1 and Section 3 at 33% and 66%.
With this I can lay out the scenes and get the main structure in.
The Axe Cuts Deep
I think only one or two secondary-character scenes (in which the character had the POV) have remained in so far. I chose them to remain because I wanted to show the reactions of a main character as seen by an “objective” viewer.
Where before, the secondary scenes might have contained “vital” information about the story, I made a note in the beat sheet for a primary-character scene to ensure the action got at least summarized and showed the effects of their actions.
Well, when I laid out the surviving scenes and chose the Plot Points and Mid Point, the Plot Point 1 (at 25%) to Mid Point (at 50%) was almost 60,000 words; twice too large.
This meant a lot of the words had to go. Many primary-character scenes felt the axe and any really-need data got pushed into another scene.
There were still about 20,000 words which still had to die. Since each scene in the beat sheet shows the estimated word count, I started through each remaining scene and said to myself, “Self, can I show the scene mission in 600 words rather than 1,000?” On the spot, I could see a way, so that scene got trimmed to 600.
Since Excel was continuously updated the section’s word count, I could immediately see the results. Trim and trim again. Those 600 words might shrink to 300 (about the minimum scene size I set). Other scenes felt the axe until the second section is now right at 30,000 words. Lots of tears on my pillow, you betcha.
Since the existing words had been cut, there still remained the scenes about the overt conflicts to get in. There are actually two concurrent conflicts, both of which come together just before Plot Point 2 (at 75%) and show that “all is lost.”
The beat sheet got lots of tentative scenes sketched in, with their missions and notes on what was to occur. These would be completely new writing during the draft. Now comes more sweat and creativity to deliver the desired results.