Hello, writers. So I just finished the first real draft (as opposed to the loose draft) of the second book in my fantasy trilogy. It’s 84,000 words long. Since it’s middle grade, that’s about 10,000 words too long.
(Some people would say it’s about 35,000 words too long. But those people would be what we in the business technically call “wrong”. 70-75k is a good length for a middle grade fantasy.)
So now I’m cutting. Slashing. Slicing and dicing. Removing whole scenes that, while cute, didn’t actually serve the story. Removing vignettes that existed just to contain a line I was particularly fond of. (The lines get saved in a file called “lines worth keeping” for possible recycling.)
It’s painful, but experience shows that when you cut enough, you eventually end up with text that reads not unlike the text in books you see for sale. Clean. Clutter-free. The good lines that you kept stand out because there aren’t a lot of so-so lines obscuring them.
So I divided this 84k manuscript into 45 scenes which in turn got sorted into 17 sections. (Still no chapters. As I mentioned in an earlier diary, scene endings aren’t necessarily the right place to end chapters.) So far I’ve revised three sections and managed to cut 500-600 words from each section. On to section 4.
There are other things I need to do with each scene besides cutting. For each scene, I’ll ask:
1. What is this scene trying to do?
2. Does it do that?
3. What could make this scene better?
The manuscript is due in October, so hopefully I have time for several more revisions before then. In those revisions I’ll focus on more global issues, like throughlines and themes. And I’ll finally divide the thing into chapters.
(Throughlines are individual story threads that need to build appropriately. For example, if two characters feel very differently about each other at the end of the novel than they did at the beginning, then their encounters throughout the story have to have built toward that change. I might color all their encounters purple so that I can go through, read them in sequence as if they were a separate little story, and change anything that needs changing.)
Tonight’s challenge is to revise a scene, with regard to the third question, above.
What could make this scene better?"I have in my pocket a manuscript," said Dr. James Mortimer.Possible answers:
"I observed it as you entered the room," said Holmes.
"It is an old manuscript."
"Early eighteenth century, unless it is a forgery."
"How can you say that, sir?"
"You have presented an inch or two of it to my examination all the time that you have been talking. It would be a poor expert who could not give the date of a document within a decade or so. You may possibly have read my little monograph upon the subject. I put that at 1730."
"The exact date is 1742." Dr. Mortimer drew it from his breast-pocket. "This family paper was committed to my care by Sir Charles Baskerville, whose sudden and tragic death some three months ago created so much excitement in Devonshire. I may say that I was his personal friend as well as his medical attendant. He was a strong-minded man, sir, shrewd, practical, and as unimaginative as I am myself. Yet he took this document very seriously, and his mind was prepared for just such an end as did eventually overtake him."
Holmes stretched out his hand for the manuscript and flattened it upon his knee.
"You will observe, Watson, the alternative use of the long s and the short. It is one of several indications which enabled me to fix the date."
I looked over his shoulder at the yellow paper and the faded script. At the head was written: "Baskerville Hall," and below in large, scrawling figures: "1742."
"It appears to be a statement of some sort."
"Yes, it is a statement of a certain legend which runs in the Baskerville family."
"But I understand that it is something more modern and practical upon which you wish to consult me?"
"Most modern. A most practical, pressing matter, which must be decided within twenty-four hours. But the manuscript is short and is intimately connected with the affair. With your permission I will read it to you."
- a bit of conflict
- a bit of romance
- giant cockroaches
- setting it in Togwogmagog
- rewriting it as steampunk
- having a least grebe fall over the transom
- something else
Whichever, rewrite the scene.
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