The big writing takeaway from last week is that I structured my novel!
No, seriously. Super big deal. I write entirely in scenes and the whole notion of knowing how the scenes will be grouped into chapters is something I leave to the end-stages and, prior to the current work, I’ve only actually done once before. It’s a big picture decision, and when I’m writing I can only think and write from scene to scene to scene. If I try to think in terms of chapters instead of scenes, my brain goes clunk. (I did write one early and very-very-trunked novel out of sequence and let me tell you it was a mess and it was very hard to kill the darlings, as they were. Perhaps it would be less hard now, but I suspect not.)
After re-writing the middle section of the WIP, I decided against further major rewrites. I ended up added 10K to the word count which was not the direction I wanted. I decided that the other story problems are small enough that they can be tackled in situ. What was still eluding me, until last Monday, was the structure that would help me make those decisions.
It’s obvious, I know, but not all parts of the writing process are obvious to the newbie when in the midst of all that laboring. I can’t make the hard choices if I don’t have criteria to help make the decision. So, duh, figure out your criteria.
So I opened a spreadsheet. I listed every scene by name, POV character, and word count, made the briefest of summaries, and numbered them in the order they appeared in Scrivener. I highlighted the ones from the major POV and from the minor POV, totaled them. Then I started experimenting, grouping together nearby scenes with the goal for a wallop to end the chapter on. After a few chapters, a pattern emerged, which made further decisions simpler. I moved up several of the minor POV characters scenes that had been unbalanced after the rewrite, and even got to play around with a chapter at the 3/4 mark that reverses the pattern that had been established. After a good think and a great deal of messing around, I was staring at the whole of my novel for the first time ever.
I reordered the scenes in Scrivener to match the new order I’d decided on and then compared the numbers. I appear to have a sweet spot of around 5,000-6,000 words per chapter, with scenes checking in at their lowest 1,000 words and highest generally around 3,000. So when the whopper scene at 5,000 words pops out at me, I knew I wanted to go back and cut. (It’s also one of the new scenes, so I am betting it’s pretty inflated.) Out of my 14 chapters, two are well into the double digits and two are past that chapter sweet spot by an uncomfortable margin. These are the ones I’m gunning for first. Looking to cut out stage directions, clarify, all that good stuff, but also to take out non-essential action that is decorative or is clearly me thinking out loud what the logical steps are to get from A to B. Those can go, either be transformed into quirky and very brief exposition or removed whole cloth. If the latter, they go into new sub-documents — one for every chapter — that can be plundered as necessary for the coolest bits which might find a home in saggy parts, which are really evident now after trying to come up with the one sentence to summarize it. If I can’t do it, it means the scene either has to go or get some juice added to it to make it worth keeping.
I have never come to the editing process in as mercenary a way as I do now. Or with as strong a sense of delight.
I like it. Better, it’s working.
Beyond that, Ad Astra happened! I bought books! I wall-flowered!
Shocker! But not entirely! Double shocker! Bloggity bits about that forthcoming.