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Novel Update: knowing when to be concise September 27, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

golf cartoon-thumb

As I broke through the 130,000 word barrier yesterday on my WIP fantasy novel, I started to wonder why the heck it is taking me so long to make any decent progress.  I mean, the story is flying by in my mind, and when I’m imagining how the scene is going to pan out, it’s always just quick flashes, like a well-edited movie.  That’s the way I want to convey the story.

But when I actually sit down to write it, it never turns out the way I want it to.  I don’t know when to wrap up a scene.  They always end up being significantly longer than what I first imagined, and often a whole lot different too.

I liken writing one of my scenes to playing golf.  When I write a short scene, it’s supposedly like a par 3, with a straight, wide fairway right down the middle with no obstacles on it.  I tee off and the ball goes sideways into the bushes.  My next shot soars across into the bunker on the other side of the fairway.  The shot after that torpedoes back into the bushes on the other side, and so on and so forth.  Each shot I take, I’m getting it closer to the hole, but I’m zig-zagging over and across the fairway, creating obstacles for myself when one simple iron shot would have done the trick.  And when I finally get the ball on the green, I need a three-putt to seal the deal.  (Sadly, this also happens when I’m on the golf course for real).

As a result, I’m taking three or four hours to write a scene that should really take one or two.  A short flashback turns into an elaborate back story.  A quick chat becomes the mother of all conversations.  A simple thought which ought to take a couple of lines becomes a freakin’ Hamlet-esque soliloquy.

Brevity really is a virtue.  Sure, I can finish the novel this way, but it’s going to take me a lot longer than I anticipated and re-writes and edits (when I finally get to them) are going to be nightmarish.  What’s wrong with me?  Am I just not skilled enough?  Not experienced enough?  Or is it something other first-time writers go through too?

Ahh…back to writing…



1. Michael Kizzia - September 27, 2009

My editor father used to say “A good story is not determined by what you put in but by knowing what to leave out.” The editing need not be nightmarish. What is essential to the story (sub plots included)? If it isn’t essential, chuck it. I don’t care if it is the “cool” part or your best writing. Non-essential? Ker-chuck! (If you really love that scene, save it for your next book).

pacejmiller - September 27, 2009

Thanks so much for the advice! My biggest fear is that I’ll end up thinking everything is essential…guess I’ll just have to cross that bridge when the time comes. Ahhh…when am I going to finish this first draft???

PS: I wish my father is an editor!

2. Nate - September 29, 2009

I thought I was the only one who write as if I was watching a movie and tried to keep it well edited in that regard, how foolish of me. Ha.
You gotta remember though, that movies are after all, edited versions of books that do not contain everything…therefore are often not as good as the book, because they have to leave things out. So as much as you are imagining the movie in your head, you have to remember you are writing the novel version not the movie script.

With that out of the way…. I don’t know, maybe you are fighting the story itself? I personally like to think of the story as its own being and I’m just a vessel for it to get out, so the story basically writes itself and knows where it needs to go and how to get there and I just go with it. After all you are just writing the first draft and most often than not, you are including everything you come up with, everything you want from it, so just let it flow. Once you are over, completely over, and you read the whole thing from start to finish instead of in chunks, you’ll get an idea of how good it reads and what needs to be taken out; basically where all the fat needs to be trimmed, and it doesn’t have to be nightmarish, it is actually fun and a good way to learn about your own skills. Everything you go through while editing that first draft its going to help you write in a more concise form every subsequent book thereafter, so the more you edit, the more you learn what needs to be there and what doesn’t as you write other first drafts and then whatever problems you feel you have now, will all be gone.

PS. My dad wasn’t an editor either :( I had to learn all of that on my own just from writing more and more. You never stop learning.

pacejmiller - September 30, 2009

Dude, you are always insightful. Thanks for the advice. First draft, first draft. I think it’s through years of bad habits that I can’t help but feel if the first draft is not close to being good enough then the final product won’t be either.

By the way, remember to keep us updated on how your novel publishing is progressing on your blog! I’ve actually applied to do a publishing and editing course part time – maybe it’ll provide some tips.

3. j-a brock - September 29, 2009

hmm. couple of points. firstly, i don’t think it’s a bad thing to write without editing at the same time. the important thing is to get it out of your head and onto the page. it can be finessed, cut down, etc later.

having said that, you don’t want to waste time writing stuff you don’t use. i find keeping my key plot events in sight is a good way of keeping yourself focused and avoiding getting off track. even if you’re a free-faller, you can identify the key highlights and how they relate to the overall picture. keep coming back to ‘where does my character need to get to, and will this get them there?’. if the answer’s no, it’s off track.

hope this helps.

pacejmiller - September 30, 2009

Thanks! That does help! I always forget that the most important thing is just to get it out onto the page, having this fear that whatever that spews out onto the page will be hard to fix later on. I do have a list of key highlights in each chapter, but I end up adding new chapters and new highlights as I go along, hehe.

4. Bekah - August 13, 2010

Hey, just email me a few chapters of your manuscript and I’ll show you how to make it better. Not to worry you, but most Young Adult novels are 40,000-60,000 words. But if you edit right, you CAN reduce this down to maybe a third of the word count. I’m notorious for making my stories too concise (this IS a problem) and ending up with an intricate plot that takes some thinking to figure out. But since you have an opposite problem, I could help you with it. Email myexplodingcat@gmail.com with your stuff either pasted or attached on. (I’m not freaked about viruses because my attachments are always scanned.)

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