Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

The Craft of Writing

Progress! Sort of

Last night I tweeted something that was essentially: Yay! Just figured out a plot point! Alas, lotsa rewriting tomorrow.

Then someone asked about how I edit — by rewriting from scratch or messing around with the messed-up chunk or what.

So let me unpack the process a little, always remembering that process is highly variable for different writers, so this is just me.

What happened last night the moment I turned off the laptop: I have been bothered by feeling that the book (this is THE WHITE ROAD) is too complex and cluttered with characters. I just passed 100,000 words and I am at this point hardly looking for length; I want to get into the endgame and tie up the story in some reasonable number of words.

I had recently introduced a character but didn’t have anything important for him to do in the endgame, so that was a problem. What could I do to make this new character integral to the plot?

The standard advice to combine characters if you can drifted through my mind.

Ah hah! I could cut that character and give his role to a different character, already introduced earlier. AH HAH! Now the whole plot can hinge on the fate of this particular character. Because this and that and this other thing can ALL depend on what happens with this one character! Instantly the plot smoothed out and became way more coherent.

Doing this revision will require going back 100 pages, sending Character A from one place to another and dropping him into Character B’s situation.

The challenge: Moving Character A from one place to another, which will probably require a kind of magic which I’ll eventually have to foreshadow cause right now it comes out of nowhere. Coming up with a reason for the actual protagonist and her friends to go after him rather than appealing to adult authority for help (haven’t got a reason for that choice yet). Justifying a bad guy doing this instead of that, which probably means setting two bad guys at odds instead of having one be the servant of the other. Rewriting a scene to make that change.

The easy part: removing Character A from the intervening scenes in which he is no longer present. It was a crowd anyway, so being able to get rid of a character is only beneficial. Revising the last 20 or 30 pages because Character A’s situation cannot be exactly like Character B’s situation. Removing Character B completely, and thank heaven for the Find command.

The goal: this revision will should put Character A in the thick of things with the protagonist. I think. I’m not sure whether the other secondary characters will be right there during the climactic scenes or not; maybe they’ll fall by the wayside or catch up later or something. Some aspects of this are going to be tricky to manage. But I think the upshot is going to be tightening up the plot and getting to the climactic scenes faster.

Incidentally, my other YA novels worked out like this:

CITY — less than 90,000 words
ISLANDS — 118,000 words
BLACK DOG — 125,000 words
THE KEEPER OF THE MIST — um, I think 118,000 or so again for that one.

So with THE WHITE ROAD already at 100,000 and me not even in the endgame yet, well. Anything that can help tighten the plot and move things along is indeed greatly to be desired.

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2 Comments Progress! Sort of

  1. Phineas

    Do you have external pressure to limit the word count or is it something you’re concerned about? Not that there’s anything wrong with a tight plot and keeping things moving, but speaking as a reader, there’s nothing wrong with long books either! Or at least, if I like it I usually don’t want it to end. I was surprised to read on Jane Lindskold’s blog that she was pressured to keep her ‘Artemis’ books short. I don’t really understand why, though. Surely there’ve been enough successful relatively long YA books that high word count isn’t necessarily a barrier?

  2. Rachel

    Good question! No, not so far. I am grateful to Harry Potter and to Tamara Pierce’s work, since I think those are some of the books that drove a stake through the heart of length limits for YA. (Though I do think the last HP book could have been cut A LOT and would have been the better for it.)

    So, no on the outside pressure. But I don’t personally feel like this book needs to be much over 120,000 words and I would prefer to keep it around that length.

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