Stuck in the middle with 2

I can’t prove it, but my hunch is most people who write a novel series start with book #1, then progress to book #2, book#3, etc. This seems like a sensible way to manage such a project. As I gaze longingly at this sensible method from afar, I can only blame myself for coming at this task ass-backward.

As I mentioned here, I had a long novel I decided to split into two. Here, I documented how the two books propagated themselves into three books. So what now? Four? No. I hope not – not yet anyway.

The good news is that drafts of books #1 and #3 are complete. This took a lot of rewriting, a good deal of new writing, and much careful rearranging. It is an accomplishment and I feel good about it.

Having stretched #1 to the left and #3 to the right, I turned to the middle to see what material was left to form the core of #2. I was shocked to find a total of 30 pages left to work with.

A 30-page manuscript is not a large base to build a novel upon, but that’s not even the daunting part. The paucity of pages is merely a symbol of the bigger issue. I’ve got a miles and miles of ground to cover between #1 and #3. Chronologically, I’ve got a couple of decades to pass. That’s a chore, but not the most difficult one. The task that makes me suck in deep breaths is the chasm I need to bridge in character development. There’s a long road of change between book #1 and book #3.

“See that little gap over there? I’d like you to fit book #2 in there nice and snug.”

Since books #1 and #3 already exist, books #2 is both a sequel and a prequel. It seems to me there are more constraints to writing a prequel than to writing a sequel. You can’t just take the story threads and run with them. They have to come out lined up with a future already in existence. When a story is both prequel and sequel, the threads have to line up at both ends.

Let’s say my characters need to begin book#3 at point Z. If #2 were a simple prequel, I could start them out at the most convenient point Y. But because #2 is also a sequel, I have to start them where they left book#1, point X. I have to show how the characters got from X to Y before they can embark for Z.

They have the better part of 20 years to make the legs of this journey which is more than enough time. The true question is how many scenes it will take. Every new scene eats up more pages, and the whole impetus of this operation was to avoid producing books that suffocate under their own weight.

Which leads us back to the obvious solution: a fourth book. That just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it will seem more right later on, but for now I’m set on wrestling with book#2 as a single entity. Is that daunting? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Will I pull it off? Stay tuned . . .

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The novel series I didn’t know I was writing

Last time, I wrote about dividing my long novel into two novels. Part of the reason that last post was nearly three months ago is because I’ve pushed blogging to the back burner to work on splitting the baby. I’ve been writing new scenes and thinking about future scenes I think would add to the plot. A few months of this has led me to a revelation:

Two books are not enough.

This thing is going to take three.

More books, more paper

“We’re gonna need more paper!”

The story covers the span of several decades. Originally, it was heavy on the latter end of the timeline, so I’ve been adding material to the beginning of the timeline to balance it. I think these are interesting scenes that add to the development of the characters, but beefing up the beginning to match the end has begun to show how lean the middle years are.

It’s not unheard of to skip over a number of years from the ending of a book to the beginning of its sequel. I could do that, and I might be able to get away with it. There are a few reasons why I don’t want to try that.

Continuity of Character

By the end of the saga, one of the major characters develops into someone quite different from the person he was at the beginning. The scenes I’ve added to the early years make this change less subtle than it used to be. There needs to be more middle to show how this change came about. I could tell it as back story at the start of the sequel, but that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. The change needs to be shown in its pieces, rather than explained in a few pages.

Fertile Ground

My research, as well as the detail I’ve already added to the early timeline, has given me lots of ideas about interesting events I think would be entertaining to readers in showing the means of transition from the early to later years. There’s a lot of good story in the history of the era to be told. If I am equal to telling it, it would become more than a necessary transition; it would be a compelling story in its own right.

Bonus book

Two is an awkward number for a series. Is it really a series or merely a sequel? Having a third book would make me more comfortable talking about a series. I could begin imagining series titles without worrying about being a fraud, and I would worry about that; it’s the kind of thing I do. Besides, what author wouldn’t want an extra book to their credit?

housebreaking fun

Splitting books is a lot like splitting houses: if you go crazy with your bulldozer, they just might fall to pieces.

You may wonder if I will come back in three months talking about a fourth book, and so do I. I truly hope that does not happen. At some point, fiction has to stop multiplying conceptually and begin the process that results in actual books.

Number four may come after all this, but now I’ve got to limit the number of books I’m writing inside the book I’ve already written.

My novel outgrew its stretchy pants

Having written a novel too long for its own good is a situation relatable to many writers. The following is not intended as a “how to” essay. It is my plan to solve my own long book problem. I offer it as inspiration to keep chipping away at the good story within.

Diagnosis: Book Obesity

About a decade ago I finished writing a historical novel I thought had potential. Having potential is a characteristic of things that are not yet ready. As much as I liked the book, it was not what I wanted it to be. Something stood in the way of the potential I saw on the horizon, but I couldn’t tell what it was.

I put the book away and moved on to other projects.

A year ago, I got it out again and read through it. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting closer to reaching my potential, or maybe I’d just acquired the necessary distance, but a big problem jumped right out: the book was too long. In short, there were too many words.

A Surfeit of Words

Some books are too long because the plot can’t sustain the length, and some books are just too wordy. My book was an example of the latter.

I still liked the story, so I decided to do some work on it. I cut out unnecessary words, of which there were plenty, and rewrote scenes to streamline them. Instead of over-explaining the history, I let the characters reveal period points through their dialogue and actions.

I cut out about 10% of the words, improving the pacing, and smoothing the flow. Still, at nearly 500 pages, it remained a long book. The modern world does not embrace such behemoths. Some readers won’t touch them and even the publishing process is slanted against them.

Considering the length limitations of POD paperbacks, and the conflict between keeping the finished product’s price attractive to readers and still reaping some sort of royalty on sales, long books can spell trouble for Indie authors.

tree measuring

Measuring a likely tree to determine if it will yield enough paper for the proof copy.

Make a Long Story Longer?

Having rewritten huge portions, I struggled finding ideas to make the book shorter still. At the height of this struggle I was struck by inspiration: why not make the story longer? By making the story longer, I could turn one overweight book into two manageable books.

I realize this is not the answer for every long book, but my novel covers a span of years so it would be easier to divide it in two. This would allow me to turn my lemon of a long book into the lemonade everybody loves these days: a series.

Prognosis: The Surgeon is Cautiously Optimistic

Two books do not make an epic series, but it is a series. I’ve never written a series of any sort, so the prospect is exciting.

Of course, every solution brings its own problems. Now I have to tease this book apart without leaving wrong scenes in wrong books, while making both offspring self-sustaining. I also have to write some new scenes to balance the ends and ease the transition between books.

These issues are daunting. I may fail miserably. If I succeed, I’ll have a sequel ready when I publish the first book, and that seems like a nice position to be in. I’m going to give it a try. Wish me luck.

 

You don’t have to rewrite the good parts

My wife is my initial beta reader. Like me, and in a strange coincidence, she also has three young children. Together with her many jobs and responsibilities, these children make it as difficult for her to find time to read as they make it for me to find time to write – probably more so. Consequently, I must be patient and find something else to work on while awaiting the initial feedback on the latest work.

Lacking a suitable idea for a new project, I am left with the daunting notion of revisiting some old projects. I have four unpublished novels in completed draft form. That is to say there are four that come to mind; there may be others my subconscious finds too painful to contemplate.

Of the four, one can probably be fixed to meet my standards for publication. Another might have potential, but needs serious structural work. The other two are long shots. All four need lots of attention.

It’s difficult to get motivated to do the amount of rewriting that even the best of them would require. Rewriting doesn’t touch the good and the fun parts very much. The peaks are fine; it’s the dark, grimy, stinky valleys that beg rewrites. Your brain gets dirty and sweaty at the very bottom of the pit.

I know I eventually have to put on my overalls and get down into the dirt of the salvageable novel, but I’ll still find excuses to put it off. As for the others, I may just save those for when I’m famous, and also dead.

The After I’m Dead (AID) novels will be my last embarrassing legacy. My money-grubbing great-grandchildren will bring them to light for a quick payday. People will shake their heads at the poor quality, but do so quietly out of respect for the departed. Since I will be famous (play along with me) and also dead (couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy), morbid curiosity will turn these into my best-selling books.

-"And now, sweet grandchildren, you must promise that you will never bring this sub-par manuscript to light." -"We won't. We swear on our grandfather's grave."

-“And now, sweet grandchildren, you must promise that you will never bring this sub-par manuscript to light.”
-“We won’t. We swear on our grandfather’s grave.”

My great-grandchildren will buy 10,000 square-foot homes in Malibu and I’ll roll over in my 12 square-foot grave.

Perhaps I should really get to work on rewriting the AID novels after all. I like to keep still when I’m sleeping.

I guess I should start with the salvageable novel first, because nobody gets to live in Malibu if I don’t get famous before I croak. On the other hand, I don’t want to live in Malibu and, at this rate, my great-grandchildren don’t deserve to.

So maybe I’ll just keep procrastinating. Maybe I’ll even write some more meandering blog posts as an excuse to avoid the hard work waiting for me.

Maybe I’ll spend the time with my kids, teaching them lessens they can pass on to their children and grandchildren about how not to be mooching, greedy bastards.

Who knows what I’ll do. At any rate, I most likely won’t become famous.

That’ll teach ‘em.