This post is approximately 550 words. It had been longer, but…difficult choices were made.
Phew. It’s been more than four months since I posted Tighten Up Your Writing #6. The final draft editing continues apace, which is the primary reason I haven’t been blogging.
Well, that and the Gears 5 Tech Test over two weekends in July.
Anyway, today’s update is about a choice I’d been debating a few months. Jack, aka Trusted Reader 16 and one of my most enthusiastic contributors, had given me the same feedback each time I provided new chapters: Some were too long.
He was right every time and I followed his suggestions.
After his latest round of feedback, I literally tallied up the word counts of every chapter and put them in a spreadsheet (hey, I’m a data guy). A few hit 6,000 and two were on their way to 8,000. In most cases, every scene within a chapter was connected and followed a theme. I did my job well enough that the chapter titles fit all the pieces within.
And yet, those were some long chapters. I’d recently set a target of 3,000 to 4,000 words to keep the reading effort light, while also making it feel like the story kept moving. I was missing the mark. It reminded me of reading when I just want to get to the end of a chapter so I can take a break. Fortunately, I’ve yet to receive that criticism from my Trusted Readers.
I had a difficult choice to make. Do I break up the big chapters?
If you said, “yes”, you guessed correctly.
The biggest sacrifice was renaming chapter titles. Some dated back to my original outline and they inspired new ideas simply by being there. They’d become old friends over the last three and a half years; a shorthand to remind myself of their content. But if they no longer fit, they had to go. “Murder your darlings,” as the quote above instructs, or as Alfred Bester said, “The book is the boss.”
In most cases, I found natural breaks – usually the transition of a scene. Sometimes, I had to rewrite a bit. And once or twice, I made major changes that spanned chapters.
I watched the chapter count slowly creep up over the course of the day. When I printed out my mid-draft in January to redline it, I had 39 chapters. Now I’m at 51, though my total word count has hardly changed. I created 16 new chapter titles today, as well.
I’m pleased with the results. The change allowed me to spotlight passages that were overshadowed because of their connection to something else. Character introductions are now handled better. Key events, too. At the end of a long day, I was reflective and happy. It was a particularly productive day, and that’s something. The book feels better – the structure and organization are stronger – and that’s something else.
In hindsight, it wasn’t that difficult. It had to be done. It was challenging in that it would be time-consuming. Fortunately, it was just Atticus the dog and me at home Sunday.
Once you’ve made that agreement with yourself – the one where you’ll cut things without mercy – the difficult choices get easier. Remember: you’re delivering a book. Not a scene, not a character. A cohesive story.
The book is the boss.
Good luck with your writing!
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© Michael Wallevand, August 2019
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