Wednesday 2nd August 2017
I do a lot of travel. If I go into the day job office it’s a good hour by car, and swordfighting training can be anything up to 2 hours depending on where I’m going.
However, I must admit that I don’t mind the drives. In fact they can be quite useful.
On tournament or sparring days I use them to as an opportunity to mentally prepare myself. I’ll put on my tournament playlist and then just get my mindset into the right place. With as much as a couple of hours, it doesn’t have to be rushed either. I can let my mind wander, bringing it back into focus if I think I’m getting distracted.
Now mindset is playing an ever-increasing role in my fights, I value the travel time.
It’s time by myself. Whereas, once at a tournament, I need the company and distraction, on the journey there I need to psyche myself up or calm myself down.
Likewise, I find long drives helpful for the writing. I will often take a particularly knotty plot problem on the road with me, using the time to walk through the problems and propose solutions to myself.
I did it tonight on the way home from training. I’ve got three chapters to consolidate and I was trying to work out what function each of those chapters brought and how I could combine them all into a single one.
It’s not as a simple as just removing the chapter titles and turning them into scenes. The idea is to trim the word count and not let these three chapters act as a point to slow down the story.
That means going beyond the story and into the mechanics of storytelling. Do these chapters act as a break in the action? If they do, do we want to retain that. It can be tempting to think that every chapter needs to be packed full of action and whilst I do like to put a lot of action in a novel, I think you need to have those quiet moments to let the audience get their breath back. You can sometimes get away with going flat out if it’s the end of the novel because you’re building to a climax. But you don’t want to give the illusion that you are too soon.
All good books have a mix. Funny books have moments of seriousness, action-packed books have those quiet moments. I think books that are all one pace or tone quickly become boring. They need the light and shade, the quick and the slow, to make them feel unique and take the reader on a journey rather than shooting them at supersonic speed through your story.
Likewise, it’s important that the characters grow over the course of a novel. What do these chapters do in terms of character progression? Do they give any useful character insights that I need to retain. Does the dynamics between two characters alter based on what happens? It’s important that I capture that character growth and ensure that in consolidating these chapters, that doesn’t get lost.
And then there’s the story. A lot of this can change. If the hero now goes to X instead of Y in order to facilitate the consolidation, it’s really not too much of a concern. I’ve never been precious about changing things, and I’ve become even less so since starting the heavy editing. But sometimes I’ll use a chapter to set the pieces in play for a future chapter. So I’ll place the proverbial gun on the mantelpiece so it’s there to be used in a later chapter.
I find these the hardest to identify and fix. Sometimes there’s an entire list of consequences from one small action, and in changing the chapter, that action is lost leading to the rest of the novel then playing out differently.
I’m slowly learning the ability to make changes that have little impact on the chapters that follow. It’s hard to do and sometimes the right thing to do is rewrite everything after the changed chapter… but at this stage, having worked on this novel forever, the one thing I’m very loathe to do, is make any changes that have long term impact on the novel.
So I used my drive home to really think about those chapters in the novel and what they bring to it. What can I change, what will break if I change certain things? What needs to happen with the characters, and how will making any changes impact what comes afterwards.
I’m not sure the long drives give me all the answers but more often than not they give me an idea of where to go. Many a plotknot has been untangled by going for a long drive.
However, I’m hoping this chapter consolidation will be the last major piece of work I need to do. I want to get these edits done, but I also want to do them properly, and I’ve got to the stage where I no longer know which way is up and which way is down.
I’ve been told that’s a good sign that the novel is nearly done, although I’ve long learnt not to count my proverbial chickens too early.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.
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