About March of this year I grew extremely weary of The Good Adventurers. It had been a year since I finished it, and after that year of constant editing, it was starting to be monotonous. I couldn’t find anything to make better, even though I knew with certainty that it was brimming with flaws. I couldn’t breathe life into the stale and awkward incidents.
So I decided to break. I had planned to take part in NaNoWriMo’s July camp, but I knew that I needed the break then. I left the manuscript untouched for the month of April and applied myself to The Writer’s Game, my other WIP. (I started late, but wrote nearly twenty thousand words in as many days.) In May, I returned to The Good Adventurers. It worked! My mind and eyes were refreshed. After more than three months I have finished. It would have been less, but at the end of June I lost a third of what I had written because of a corrupted file. My Very Excellent father was able to rescue as much for me. It was discouraging because I lost the ‘fresh look’ advantage, but at least I didn’t have to start over from the beginning.
Before that I scoffed at the idea. Write my book all over again? Nuts, I know. But the more I articles I read on writing a tighter story, the more elements presented themselves for fixing. I don’t know how the rest of the writing world goes about writing a second draft, but I copied and pasted the story page-by-page into a new document.
My goals were:
- Shorten the beginning.
- Cut down on the word count significantly.
- Utilize many changes I had in mind for the last third.
My goal here was not to find grammatical errors. The Good Adventurers was way, way too long, and it needed abridged. Here’s what I accomplished.
- 2 new characters, one minor, one more major.
- 4 chapters cut or consolidated.
- 10,783 words less than before. Now it rings up at just under 117k. Purportedly, the word-count parameter for historical fiction is 120k, so this is a big win.
And here’s what I’ve learned to remember when shortening a story.
- Look for unimportant scenes, especially near the beginning. These get into your story when you’re still drifting around at the start, especially if you’re a pantser like me. There was a wedding near the beginning of The Good Adventurers, but it could be mentioned in a single paragraph elsewhere, as it had no bearing on the plot. Bits of backstory and the introduction of both major plots found new homes in the first chapter, which was a better place for them in the end.
- They must go if they do not affect the story. You will have to part with your pet scenes. Weddings; births; funerals can all be simply mentioned, unless the story is happening there. In this case I told, instead of showing.
- Try renaming your chapters. It will give you the opportunity to consolidate materials, making two or even three chapters into one.
- Find the improbable and rework it. Write and rewrite incidents realistically. Likely, they will need less detail and you can condense them.
- Often, incidents can be ended naturally in a different, earlier place, and superfluity can be avoided by looking for these opportunities.
Writing a whole second draft as opposed to an edit gives you liberty to cut and trim. Be daring. You won’t regret the results. I accomplished much more by writing a second draft than I could have in another year of editing. I’m glad I went to the trouble and effort; it was very worth my while.
Next comes beta-readers! Any volunteers?