Tearing down one of your primary set pieces

This post is approximately 550 words.

I’ve been coming to a realization the last few weeks, which is a poorly-written way of saying, I need to pull another large component from my story. In this instance, it’s about not writing enough words, as opposed to having too many.

This image is a printout of Devils Tower in Wyoming, on which I’ve drawn an encircling wall and shattered pinnacle. The rising smoke resulted from the serendipitous smudge of an eraser that I expanded to add dramatic flair (and hide my error). What started as a concept ended with a new story about the aftermath of a vengeful dragon attack.

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I loved the concept of a massive castle carved from the interior of a mysterious rock formation, isolated amongst desolate hills. When the image came to life, it sparked so many new story ideas, it became the primary location for the final third of the novel. I’ve spent months creating a backstory that guides me as I write scenes for Tildy and her companions.

This brings me back to my realization. If I’m being honest with myself, I haven’t done the location justice. The Last Shard is as large as a city blog and eighty stories tall, which requires far more description than I’ve given it. On top of that, I only have a dozen different rooms that they visit, which feels like far too few in a structure that immense. Consequently, instead of feeling like a fully realized place, my descriptions feel more like set pieces on a stage: they’re superficial and only painted on one side.

Could I flesh it out? Absolutely. I still have unwritten ideas floating about my skull. But I don’t think I will. Adding the necessary description to the last third of the book will unbalance the entire story, not to mention slowing down the reader’s arrival at the book’s climax.

And so, I am contemplating the removal of the Last Shard. Writers dread this kind of decision. Whether it’s remembering the amount of work you’ve spent, understanding that such an interwoven component will be difficult to eliminate, or whether you’re in love with a concept, you always have to make the right decision for your readers (i.e. murder your darlings). In this book I’ve already removed two key characters and another major location, and I’m still happy with those decisions. It helps to remember that deleted scenes can return to life in another book.

If I remove the Last Shard, I still need a location, so it will likely be reduced to a stereotypical castle: familiar in exterior, though the unique elements I’ve created for the interior will likely remain. The Last Shard needs to be a primary character in a story, but this book needs the final setting to play a supporting role. I don’t think I’ll be terribly unhappy with this choice since the mythos of the Last Shard doesn’t add anything to this book. Besides, it’s kind of like putting a Death Star in your first movie: How do you ever top that?

While it might sound like I’ve already made up my mind, I’m going to sleep on this another day or two. The Last Shard and its history are so interwoven into the book, it will take careful review to fully remove it. Precision takes time and work, and I have some larger editing priorities before me right now.

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, October 2017

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