Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Making the Novel Shine Part 1: Bringing an End to the Beginning of all Beginnings.

In a former post I described how I’ve gone through my finished novel three times by now, trying to a) tighten the plot and the writing, b) take out unnecessary elements, scenes and characters, and, consequently, c) bring down the word count from tome-resembling proportions to something that will fit in a middle-sized handbag – in short: giving it an overall cleansing scrub.

By now the thick crust of mud has been chipped off, the dust brushed away and the fingerprint-smears wiped clean – the gold is starting to show. Yet it is dull, lacking in luster. It needs not only a scrub but also a polish, before it can shine and sparkle and show its true value: 24 carats of novel entertainment (pun intended).

I mean to attack the dullest part first, the part that wouldn’t even reflect light if it were two inches from the sun: the beginning.
I’m not talking about the first chapter, although that will be under some scrutiny at one point or other, too. But that’s just a few snips here, a couple of tweaks there, to get the action going a few paragraphs sooner than it does right now. Nothing major. No, I’m talking about what I have before Chapter One.
There’s a prologue, of course. I had my writing group look it over just recently, and the basically unanimous (and unanimously merciless) opinion was to kill it, or at least cut it drastically.
But there’s not just the prologue. There’s even more stuff in front of the prologue. Three whole pages more.

The story of the novel grew out of an idea I had when I was in an all-consuming epic-fantasy stage. I wrote the idea down, the three pages which explained the world I’d created, stored those three pages safely on my computer and promptly forgot about them.  About two years later I stumbled across them almost by accident. By now I was deeply enchanted by the worldly wonders of urban fantasy, and I realized the potential for it stored in those three pages. A character formed in my mind, clamoring for her story to be told. So I let her out.

While I wrote the story, those three pages helped me understand this world; this world born out of my mind yet vastly unknown to me. The world grew as the story grew, but on those three pages all other developments were based. Without that foundation to work with, all sense in plot and world building might have flown right out the metaphorical window.

Now, those three pages aren’t needed anymore. They’re not a part of the plot, their important points have been made in the relevant scenes within the book, and if left where they are, they would confuse anybody not closely acquainted with the story already.  They equal a deep and annoying pothole between the dedication and Chapter One – with the prologue following as the axle-jarring bump behind it. And that is a very very bad way to start your book.

Still, they are the seed from which this golden fruit grew, and it’s not easy parting with something that was at one point crucial for you to keep tending it. (Ain’t I just aglow with similes today!) So I’ve kept them in there, revision after revision, edit after edit.
Now I’m cutting the cord. I’m filling in the pothole. I’m applying spit to my polishing cloth. I’m marking those three pages with their four hundred words and hitting ‘delete’.

There. Didn’t feel a pinch. But now I’m squinting – there’s a bright patch on my golden fruit. Granted, it’s not big. Those three pages came to only four hundred words. But every editing journey begins with one word less.

Four hundred words down. Several thousand to go. 

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.  ~Author Unknown

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