Revision Reflections Part 2
In the early drafts of my novel, The Lingering Shadow, there were various elements to the story which I found very interesting, but as I was revising and redrafting, found that they slowed down my narrative significantly. Especially when I needed to trim things down. There is no better microscope for unneeded material than the need to trim down the manuscript.
Word count is a tricky thing. For established writers, I think, it is much less of a worry. Stephen King and J.K. can write for as long as they want, and sure they have editors, but they can pack a lot more into a story. For those of us still waiting to break out, word count is a constant worry. Our respective genres have expectations, and we, as newcomers, are a financial risk to publishers. My novel is YA sci-fi / fantasy. Most sources I’ve found give a general WC expectation of 80-100,000 words. Anything longer than that and agents and editors alike worry before they’ve read a word of the book. So, large as my plot is, I have striven to remain within that range. Here are some suggestions from my latest revision that have helped me keep things trimmed down.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
There is a main plot line for your story. There will be smaller secondary plot lines for various characters, and you need these, because, even in first person, the story does not only belong to your Main Character. Everyone needs to be in the story for a reason, not a body count. Each character needs to WANT something, and being striving to obtain it, just as your MC is doing. Some writers keep things too simple, and everything pertains to the MC, and the secondary characters become nothing more than extra bodies in a scene. Don’t do that. However, if a character, plot line, or event is not driving the larger story forward, it can probably be cut.
For example, in my story, Taylor, my MC, originally begins the story with a boyfriend. Early on they break up, providing tension later on in the story, and between her and her good friend, Darien, who is secretly in love with her. I considered cutting the ex altogether, but found that I needed him for some tension at key points in the story, even though he doesn’t play much of a part in the larger story. But he was needed. However, I did NOT need the relationship shown in the story. I was able to cut scenes of his and Taylor’s relationship, and make him the ex from the start. Those scenes, I found, were not missed at all. I needed the ex in the story, but I didn’t need the relationship, just knowledge of it. This simplified the story and got it going much quicker, while maintaining needed tension.
Keep the STORY Moving
You need tension dripping from every page. Things can’t go your MC’s way. That’s boring. The WANTS of your characters need to clash, causing conflict. However, tension for tension’s sake is not good either. The best tension arises from those conflicting wants of your characters. Other tension drags down the story.
In early drafts, Taylor was a recovering alcoholic, who turned to drinking after her mother and sister died, and her family system fell apart. Taylor’s alcoholism was very interesting to me. I loved writing from that perspective and seeing Taylor deal with that throughout the story. However, I found that it really didn’t add anything at all to the larger story. It added some great tension early on, and then, when the bigger story comes to the forefront, it actually hindered it. I would still love to investigate the struggles of a teen alcoholic, but this wasn’t the story to do it in. I had too many other things going on that were more important. I could either keep it, and have be insignificant later, which would be a low blow to teens (or anyone) who struggles with alcohol abuse. Or I could cut it. Which I did.
This cleared up scenes and helped me keep the main story moving and at the forefront of my narrative.
Raise the Stakes
My novel is filled with several significant events that bring certain characters together and introduce the larger story (yep, I said it again). In an early draft, Taylor is attacked by a pair of drunks and a mysterious stranger named Rogue comes to her rescue. Originally, the drunks were merely a device for her and Rogue to meet. It was interesting enough, but it didn’t have anything to do with the larger story outside the meeting of two characters. But what if those drunks weren’t drunks at all, but actors, or better yet, since I’m writing about a race of humans with supernatural abilities, what if the actors were also shape shifters trying to draw out (spoiler) Taylor’s not-so-dead mother? Now that is a lot more interesting, and kept the main story at the forefront, and introduced the antagonists from the get-go, while also introducing Taylor and Rogue when Taylor is in danger, significant to their relationship and a mind connection they share, which is revealed later.
I’ll say it again, keep the larger story, the main plot, always in view. We need those secondary story lines and characters, we need that tension throughout, but it will always be more interesting if it also has to do with the real plot. This also keeps things trimmed down, and helps with that dreaded word count.