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As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I’m working on a story idea I’m calling A Little Bit Broken. Well, last night I seriously considered changing that title to A Lotta Bit Broken. Here’s what happened.
I first started plotting out this story back in August and actually started writing it on September 1st. I got 105 pages in when I realized that it was all jumbled and too long. Like, I hadn’t even gotten to the halfway point, which was supposed to be around page 80. Frustrated, I shoved it to the back-burner and decided to play with another story idea I’d been cultivating in the back of my mind instead. A shiny, new one that hadn’t done anything to hurt me or wasted any of my time in malicious and vindictive ways. It had pretty new characters with titillating new problems needing to be solved. I had every intention of starting an outline for it and make it my primary project.
<Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the title of this post. I’m just taking a circuitous route to the point. Which, you’ll see, kind of is the point.>
As it turns out, ALBB is a bit of a psycho stalker, because even when I tried to devote all my attention to the newer, shinier project, ALBB kept busting in where it was not invited. Instead of falling asleep thinking about shiny/new, I was still falling asleep worrying about why the hell Charlotte would do something so complicated like agree to simultaneously date two best friends when all she wanted was to keep her life simple and on track.
So I gave in and went back to the drawing board. Here is where I will be dropping the stalker metaphor because, seriously, don’t ever give into the crazies.
I re-outlined. Like, started from scratch and analyzed every scene, keeping in mind the criteria K.M. Weiland talked about in a blog entry of hers I recently read (Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 40: Unnecessary Scenes). By the way, if you want to be a writer and you haven’t checked out this site, I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough. Also, her books on Outlining and Structuring. They improved my writing more in the two weeks it took to read them than anything I’d done in the decade before. Which was basically just write any old idea that popped into my head for as long as I could before I got bored with it. I wasn’t too focused back then.
So, I re-outlined. Then I started writing. Again. From the beginning. Last night I hit page 101. Guess what? Somehow the damn story had gotten longer! I had only just gotten to the first plot point!
This is a confounding problem for me. Before now, I was convinced my primary obstacles in finishing a novel were in the structuring department, because I always started writing without a clear plan about where I was going, and therefore never finished it. Well, I have a plan. It is outlined in detail, with clear notes about where to foreshadow certain upcoming events and what emotions should be most prevalent in certain scenes. I thought for sure, with a clear plan as my guide, the actual writing part would be a piece of cake. And it has been fairly easy to just follow my little guide. But it never occurred to me how off I could be with that guide.
At this rate, my novel will be 400 Word doc pages long. That’s more than 800 in book pages. According to the recommended guidelines of the romance genre, I should be aiming for about 260-325. That is not good. And yes, I know editing is part of the process, but I’m pretty sure that process doesn’t usually entail deleting over half your scenes.
The problem isn’t just in the number of scenes, though. I read over some of what I’d written, then I went and read a chapter in a romance novel I’d recently bought on Amazon Kindle. Right away, it was obvious that I was using fifty words to say what could/should have been said in fifteen. You’d think this realization would come with relief. Oh! I just need to tighten it up a bit. Got it!
Yeah. Not so much.
When I went back to my story, finger hovering over the delete button, poised and ready . . . the hammer never fell. I wanted it to fall. I was dying to let it fall. But I couldn’t. After giving it some thought, I’ve come to blame two, key personality traits of mine.
- I’m detail-oriented. Like, more detail-oriented than 90% of all Americans. I can say this because I work for an HR firm that uses validated assessment tools to measure such things, and I’ve been measured.
- I’m also a control-freak. This means I’m a shitty delegater and don’t trust others to do and see things the way I do and see them. Which is to say, the RIGHT way.
Basically, I need to believe my reader is imagining the scene exactly as I imagine it, which means I need to share all the details I myself perceive.
This makes me a bad writer. I’m not being self-flagellating. It’s just fact. Good writers don’t hand-hold their readers. They choose their adjectives carefully for the greatest impact. They provide clarity, without pulling out a magnifying glass and a spot light, which they then do not use on the entire room and every individual in it.
This is something I need to work on. Because it’s not just a matter of having a book that’s too long (which is not good), it’s a matter of boring readers. No author wants to hear that their readers had to start skimming just to get to the end. If they even stuck with it at all.
So here’s my plan going forward. I’m going to finish out the novel, even if that means writing 400 pages. At this point, I value finishing over it being good. But I’m going to try to keep this in mind and minimize my word count as much as possible. I know myself, so I don’t have extremely high expectations for an over-night change, but at least I can start getting used to the idea. And later, after I finish it and maybe get a little distance from it, I can drop the hammer and make the necessary cuts. It’s not perfect, but I’m trying to prioritize, and right now, finishing is the priority.
I’m not too bummed. I mean, I’m a little bummed, because it’s not fun discovering that one of the things I thought I had down, I didn’t. But it’s okay. No doubt next week I’ll discover a whole new thing I’m doing wrong. That’s just where I am right now. It’ll get better though.