1. friendly_meese
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    friendly_meese Member

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    59 facts???

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by friendly_meese, Jul 29, 2014.

    My WIP stalled when I realized it was going to top out at 20K words, too short for a novel. So I went back and reworked my plan for it. It's a mystery in which a first-year law student finds out the truth about her dead parents, who died when she was a baby. I wrote a two-paragraph summary of the novel, then a description of what really happened and she'd been lied to about, then a list of the facts she'd have to uncover. Next step will be to list what evidence of each of those facts would survive for 23 years. After that, I start shuffling the evidence around until I find an order that makes sense for her to discover them in.

    The problem is that, even combining some things that would naturally be combined, I have 59 facts for her to find. I expect there to be more than 100 pieces of evidence. I'm crapping bricks about that because the novel could end up being far too complex for readers to enjoy--and perhaps for me to write.

    Any suggestions?
     
  2. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Wow. I must be a real amateur because I am just letting evidence pop up along the way. I guess I'll learn the hard way then XD

    As for your predicament, I'm not expert but yes, such a complex plot loses its pull because if a reader cannot follow it, they won't be invested in it. They might not even get the resolution when it finally comes out. So the simplest solution is parsimony; you might have made a number of convoluted paths for the MC to take to get to the truth, probably when you realized you wanted to increase the length of your work. Rip it off. Rip everything off. That is, except for the clues that just cannot be done without (e.g. mother was not really her mother but a Russian bride hypnotized to be the mother), rip out everything else (e.g. mother's last correspondence was with a woman in Russia). Then, add the clues bit by bit, and then see the minimum number of clues you can use to make it work. I have a lot of trouble slicing details, both in my fiction and my academic work, because I find it hard to discard certain facts--I think them all pertinent. But fact is, no matter how much you think a concept cannot be summarized, it can be, from the milky way to the point of being a Higgs boson. So no, not each one of your clues is pertinent. Don't be afraid to slice off some blubber.

    Or, another technique, is that you allow multiple clues to be revealed at a few points along the novel. Maybe the MC runs into an assassin who is dying of cancer, who tells her 20 of those facts to her. Of course, you have to be careful not to overwhelm the reader, but done well it can work just fine, and has been used in many mystery tales. I would recommend you try the first method initially, see if it works, and then avail this one.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind that each twist you create, you want the reader to want to follow. I don't write in the mystery genre and haven't read that widely in it, but I would make a strong guess that 59 facts to be uncovered is waaaaayyy more than you will find in your typical Anne Perry or Agatha Christie. You may want to check - go back and re-read your favorite mystery novel (so you aren't distracted by the pull of a story you are reading for pleasure) and make a note of each "fact" uncovered in the course of solving the mystery. This will not only give you a sense of the right number, but also the kinds of facts you will need to present.

    Usually, problems of length in a novel aren't based in the number of "facts", but in the complexity of the plot, the existence of subplots. Rather than making your mc's path more difficult, you may need to simply give us a more in-depth look into her character and her life.

    Good luck.
     
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  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, the evidence can be uncovered by the police, or forensics, it can already exist in some hidden file etc. You need red herrings, clues and ultimately proof. Proof is only one or two, maybe three things that come together, and each can stem from several clues that need to be followed. Novels are life with the boring bits taken out (paraphrasing Hitchcock), so cherry pick the most interesting, appealing, riveting facts, that don't leave gaping plot holes in between, and include them in your story. Don't get drowned in minutiae, don't miss the wood for the trees.
     
  5. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    See if you can combine the facts or evidence. Most likely many of them are actually related to each other and your MC can discover them in clusters. An important witness can reveal a sequence of events or facts rather than just one. A set of records or safety deposit box can hold a box of stuff, and so on.
     
  6. friendly_meese
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    friendly_meese Member

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    I started making a list of the evidence, and the facts seem to be converging. So far, just some old City Directories disclose 10 facts nearly at the same time. This is helping me pull together how the actual investigation will work. The 100 pieces of evidence seems to have been an exaggeration. The trick is not to spend 20 paragraphs on the protag flipping through decades' worth of City Directories. Although that's a staple of real-life investigative work, it's boring for readers.

    Reading a similar novel and counting the facts and pieces of evidence in it is a great idea. Does anyone want to recommend their favorite private investigative/legal writer, especially one of cerebral and emotional rather than violent books?
     
  7. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Agatha Christie.
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Anne Perry.
     
  9. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    59 facts, huh? That's a bit much but, it truly is a great concept for helping to understand your MC and where you are going. Sort of like twenty questions for your ms, eh?

    Like Charisma, I, too, tend to be a seat of the pants writer. I know my characters before I begin and I pretty much know what they are doing and why. But there are always going to be 'points of interest' one might say, where, although you know where your characters will end up by the last page, you may have bumps and hiccups along the way. Those hiccups can really be 'cured' by the use of such a fact finding mission as you suggest.

    I don't think I could go as far as 59 facts for even the most involved project but, perhaps, and depending upon the project and genre, five or ten or even twenty questions. These, of course, would not all need to be included in the book, either. Sometimes, just discovering something new about a character can help to flesh out the anemic spots in the story or shave down and trim up slow or uninteresting passages.

    And it's okay to shortcut the process. Going through one hundred years' worth of City Directories can be boring, not only for the reader but the character as well. But, of course, your poor character must slog through them all to find the pertinent information. You just don't need to take your reader down that road telling all about each and every page of each and every volume your 'hero' touches, much the same as you would not tell your reader something like,
    "David walked over to the shelf and pulled down the first dusty volume. He carried it to the table and sat down in a chair. He opened the cover. He turned to the first page..."

    Your reader would be asleep before we reached page two! Instead, you might show your MC discovering the first bit of necessary information and then, through encounters with one or more people later on, your MC can reveal the whole of the information later.

    Easier, faster, more comfortable and coherent for the reader.
     
  10. friendly_meese
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    friendly_meese Member

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    Thank you, thewordsmith! I had to chuckle at the sample of prose you quoted, because my original drafts were a bit like that, thanks to the highly rational and methodical protagonist. She did have a tendency not to skip any steps, and not skipping steps is the cause of a big early blowup between her and her sidekick, who starts off with an untrained mind and is therefore much more intuitive. I'll have to pay careful attention to the fine balance between her aversion to skipping steps and bogging down the reader with her narrating every tiny thing she did. So you've really helped me.
     
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    The character is never narrating unless it is first person confessional i.e. diary format, or where the character itself is breaking the fourth wall, so to speak, and is making it clear they are communicating directly with the reader (here the character will appear to be having a conversation with the reader throughout their POV, or will be having a monologue whilst being aware they are being listened to). This gives rise to a specific type of prose that isn't so popular these days, but this was the first format the modern novel took a few hundred years ago (actually the evolution of modern novel involved letters, then diary, then first person then third person) and it still affords least separation between character and reader, so it's used sometimes (most recently in 'Gone Girl').

    All other points of view, ordinary 1st person, 3rd person, omniscient etc, you, the author are narrating. The point of view determines whose head you are in. But the words are yours and the reader gets this. So unless you are writing in a 1st person confessional POV, and the character is the kind of character who narrates every single action she does, out loud or in her head (which would be highly OCD and unusual) you don't have any reason to be bogging down the story with blow-by-blow accounts. We filter most things our brain perceives all the time, it is more natural storytelling to filter then not to filter and this is why, I think it works only when 'boring bits' are taken out.

    Taking it further, omitting to write about certain things the character knows, regardless of the POV, allows you to build suspense and still the reader won't cry foul because they can relate to not thinking about certain things at certain times, even though we are aware of them.
     
  12. friendly_meese
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    friendly_meese Member

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    Well, I never did get my MFA (or even come close to one), so I didn't know the technical details you provided. Thanks for the education. Of course I wasn't using a 19th-century first-person-narrator-speaks-directly-to-reader approach. That approach was clunky even in its heyday. It was just standard 1st person. Everything you say makes sense from a psychological, and even more so from a literary, point of view. I'll keep it in mind once I get to the next draft. Thanks again. :)
     
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  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm glad it helped. I took a couple of years to learn creative writing, so I picked up all sorts of trivia along the way :D Bram Stoker's Dracula is a really readable form of that style, if you haven't read it, you might enjoy it.

    This, to me, is the hardest part, what to keep in, what to leave out.
     

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