I took three chapters out of my book.

It began as an experiment: I’d gotten a note from one of my beta readers that the first few chapters felt different in tone and objective than the rest of the book, and it was true: they all took place on the road in kind of a road-trip vibe and leaned heavily on ‘shenanigans’ between the characters as a way to introduce their various ways of interacting with each other and with the world. They felt like solid chapters and I was proud of them, but I wondered, you know, just theoretically, what it might be like if I took them out and began the story with the character’s arrival in Chicago.

I decided to give it a try.

I saved the prologue and the first four chapters into a new document so that I could cut and paste freely. Then I went through and highlighted the most important bits of exposition: character descriptions, important props, and characters and events that get mentioned again later and will need to be set up. It seemed like a surprisingly manageable amount of content to be redistributed. I felt optimistic.

I began to fiddle with bits and pieces: replacing dialogue, removing minor characters, re-prioritizing what themes and plot elements got introduced. I found that I could set up nearly all the information that I needed in a few pages by having the character relay the information to the audience directly instead of showing it blow-by-blow. It’s not a technique I like to lean heavily on because it can slip into a kind of “Harry-The-Explainer” voice very easily, but for the sake of my experiment it worked pretty well, and for the sake of my wordcount it helped me eliminate about nine thousand words.

More dead darlings.

I feel like it’s safe to say that I’ve gotten enough “distance” from my work to be able to make the deep cuts.

It would be easy to dismiss these chapters as not being necessary. Maybe the agents that I’m querying out there are throwing up their hands in exasperation saying “we TOLD you to send us your most polished version! Why were these chapters even in it if they were so easy to cut?!” But they were necessary at the time. There was a book I needed to write and it was nine hundred and twenty seven pages long. And now that I’ve done that, I need to hone it down into something that can hold an edge.

So, I feel good about the progress so far. The overall arc of the story is in a bit of disarray at the moment while I tinker with plotlines and character arcs, but it’s exciting to watch it evolve. It keeps me distracted from the rejection letters that continue to filter in (just got another one today), and help me to remember that the project is alive and needs to keep growing. And when it’s ready for the world, the world will be ready to welcome it.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on October 23, 2019.

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