1. MustWrite
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    MustWrite Member

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    How to decide what to include, and what to save for a sequal?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by MustWrite, Jan 6, 2014.

    I am trying to tie my enormous fantasy together and realizing I have a bit much material, a lot of subplots and maybe stuff that should be saved for the next book, but I don't even know how the end will be, or where it will be. As its my first big book I feel over my head and like the story has got the better of me, so many parts of the story have grown up that I never envisioned at the beginning, how do I decide whether to chop them? Help, please!

    Part of my panic is that I read Publishers are not keen on first books bigger than about 110k, and mine will be more than twice that if I keep all this material, I know of course good writing is cutting out all the unnecessary material, down to words and sentences, but I don't think I can get it down without cutting a lot of material..
     
  2. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cut everything that is not related to the characters goals in this book? = Everything that isn't absolutely necessary for the characters to go from A to Z. Too many subplots will only make the story messy and the reader will probably forget what actually IS the main story here. I know it's easier said than done, when one has so many ideas, but try to think about it in the bigger perspective.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say finish your first draft, all the way to the end. You really do have to get to the end before you can take these kinds of decisions. Only then will you know what you've got to work with—and you'll know exactly where your story goes.

    Often times a story doesn't 'go' where you think it will when you start writing it. This means you may have included lots of elements at the start which don't ultimately matter all that much. It would be different if you had it all plotted out beforehand, but you say you don't even know yet what the ending will be. I'd say you need to get to that ending and get it written, before you can do much about choosing what to keep and what to cut ...and what to save for the next book.

    Let the finished draft sit untouched for a wee while, until you can approach it with fresh eyes—almost as if somebody else wrote it.

    I think you might immediately see lots that can be cut out. First of all, tear into the over-written bits. The strings of adjectives, adverbs and excessive melodrama and description. All the places where you've said something once, and then said it again in a different way ...for emphasis, or just in case you think you didn't say it right the first time. Cut all this stuff down. Cut the unnecessary dialogue that replicates 'real' conversation a bit too closely. Like any other writing, dialogue should never be allowed to witter on. Make sure every word counts. Also cut any dialogue which might not sound right in the ear, or is something that seemed fine when you wrote it, but now you KNOW it's not something that particular character would have said. (I find this a lot in my own work, as I do my edit. It's so satisfactory to get rid of it!)

    After you've cut all those easy bits, then comes the shaping. Look again at where your story ended, then go through from the beginning, with an eye for exactly what you needed to get to that particular end. Anything that doesn't either lead directly towards the conclusion or provide incredibly good scenic/character-building material, can go.

    By that time you will have pared the thing down considerably. If there are bits that don't really lead to the conclusion you've written, but you LIKE them ...well, take them out and keep them handy. You might be able to use them in another story.

    Now is the time to give your story to a beta reader (or a few betas.) Tell them you want them to pay attention to any places where the story drags for them. Any places where they feel you've digressed too much, or perhaps overstated things. Any things they feel could be cut out.

    Obviously it's your story, and you don't need to act on every suggestion they make. But if you feel they 'get' your story and like it, then pay particular attention to what they tell you. They are your target audience.

    By this time, you should have a leaner, meaner story. It might go on for a while, but that's not necessarily death to getting published. However, any story does need to roll right along, however lengthy the trip may be.

    I do strongly feel you can't do any of this with any accuracy until you FINISH your first draft. Without that whole picture to work with, you'll just be dabbing away at editing, worrying yourself into a lather about word count, without knowing which words actually DO count.

    If your story is a corker, I'd say you will be able to get it published. Yes some publishers won't take a long story, but keep at it until you find the ones who will. If you're writing Fantasy, you're already a step ahead of the rest of us in that department, as Fantasy publishers aren't as reluctant to take on longer works. So much of what they publish is in multi-book series. So just write the best story you can, and good luck to you! (And have fun.)
     
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  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @jannert nailed it.

    I sometimes turn off the word count display feature on WORD when I feel I'm starting to obsess over it. My very first attempt at a novel was done many years ago, using a word processing program that required one to hit a specific function key in order to calculate word count. When I finally completed my first draft, I found it was over 400,000 words. :eek: I eventually edited it down to about 1/3 of that.

    If you do find you need to edit out whole subplots, don't trash them. You never know when they will spring to life once again. When Michener first wrote Alaska, there was a segment that involved a character riding down a frozen-solid river on a bicycle. Michener was an established author by then, a regular at Random House. His editor advised him to remove the entire subplot and the character, and he took the advice. He later fleshed out the idea into a novella about the gold rush in the Klondike and included both the character and the bicycle ride. It was called The Journey.

    Of course, first time writers don't have the luxury of editors to sort such things out for us, so we need to be lean and mean on our own. Congrats for realizing the problem on your own. You are not alone.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you're an unpublished author, hold nothing back, and don't even think of sequels. You'll have a hard enough time getting published putting everything you've got into that one story. Moreover, you'll learn enough writing that first book that it will look pale and sickly next to your subsequent novels. Do you really want to start off a series that way?

    Make your first novel a stand alone opus. You'll also find that publishers won't want to commit to a series from a new writer. Too many new writers never write a second novel worth publishing, so it's a poor risk for them.
     
  6. Lone Wanderer
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    Lone Wanderer Member

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    I would very much agree with Cogito. Everyone wants to have their own epic saga (me included) but if you plan to get this published it would be best to have single story that could stand alone.
     
  7. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Cogito has some solid advice, as always, but, also as always, I must disagree with him when he says "don't even think of sequels".

    Let me explain what I mean by this. Cogito's perfectly correct in the sense that, yes, you should prioritise that first novel because, without it, there'll be no sequels. So, for example, if you're afraid that you're using up to much of your material on your first book and aren't leaving enough for a possible sequel(s), then don't. Use that material, make that first novel excellent. Material is something you can come up with, should you be called upon to write a sequel.

    However, you shouldn't just forget about your sequels completely. If you have a great idea that may come into play in later novels and want to hint at it in the first novel, then do so. Because, whilst you can think up extra material and add/remove characters, what you can't do is edit the content of the first book. And if you want your series, as a whole, to be cohesive and, in a way, impressive, then you should really bear this in mind. If your publisher doesn't want sequels - or you find you don't want to write them - then there's no big deal. That hint will become a random piece of extra info. If you do write sequels, when your readers read that event, they'll look back at the previous book and think "why didn't I see that coming?"

    Consider Harry Potter. In The Chamber of Secrets we learn that Harry can speak to snakes. No big deal. It's another gift that this already gifted boy has got and it helped advance the story. Later on in the series, we learn that this gift comes as a result of Harry's direct connection to Voldemort. Looking at it now, we applaud J.K. Rowling for her ability to plan ahead in such a way. This - amongst other things - makes the series look more cohesive. Had Rowling not put that bit of evidence in, we may wonder why Harry just so happens to be connected to Lord Voldemort. We may even accuse Rowling of simply thinking this up as a desperate clutch for a twist. It's an extreme view, yes, but you can't deny Rowling's forethought has expelled any such potential accusations. But then let's consider that the Harry Potter series had ended book 2, or book 3, or whatever, that we hadn't found out about this connection. Harry's ability to talk to snakes isn't an unanswered question. This addition didn't affect the original book going into print, it only made the series look better later on.

    Tl;dr - Don't completely forget about your sequels, but don't forget about the quality of the first novel. Have those sequels and those ideas in the back of your mind as you're writing the novel to ensure that the quality is great, and then even better or the reader who's re-reading your entire series, should it come to that.
     
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  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Just a thought - she might very well have thought up the ability first, and the basis for it later. I've had that happen to me a few times in my current project, in which I've included something in the story, and then found in that item the basis for something else at a later date.
     
  9. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Now that certainly is true, but it was the first example that popped into my head and it demonstrates my point well enough, even if J.K. Rowling didn't actually use the method I described.
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think it happens as I suggested far more often than you realize.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I advise that not because a new writer CANNOT POSSIBLY sell a series, but because it severely damages your chances; also because it encourages new writers into weak writing habits.

    Holding back is never a good strategy. You should always put all you've got into the novel you are working on. Then, when you work on a new project, exceed all your previous expectations.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Here's the thing. If your writing is done properly and becomes wildly popular, a sequel is a sure-fire seller, and publishers will be more than interested in taking on Book 2. Indeed, they'll be pressuring you to write it. So of course you CAN think of sequels as you write, and drop little seeds in places where they may sprout and take root later on.

    However @Cogito is right—your first novel has to be a corker. So while you can THINK about what your characters or setting might move on to, be careful not to leave any ends dangling. You can certainly leave characters standing, and perhaps hint at what might come next, but I'd say make sure your first novel stands alone, and that it's a strong story.
     
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  13. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    You're not going in selling a series, I never said that. You're going in selling that first novel. Just because you're thinking about the series, doesn't mean you have to tell the editor. I've had little experience with editors, but I'm fairly sure they can't read minds...

    And you're not holding back. As I said in the second paragraph of my post above, if you have good material, put it in and don't save it for the second book for fear you won't have enough content for it. Because you can think up material. I'll say it again: the only thing you can't do is edit what has already been published. So don't miss out on any foreshadowing/hinting/setting up etc that you want to do, purely because you're not at all thinking about your potential sequels, because you may regret it later.

    Perhaps, perhaps not. I guess it's hard to know for certain.

    However, I do know that I'm doing a lot of this. I'm dropping some hints about what will ultimately become one of the biggest twists in my potential series, and foreshadowing that'll happen in other books. Hell, I'm even hinting at aspects of certain characters, aspects that I'll never get to write about unless my series becomes super-popular and I have the opportunity to write lots of "spin-off" books, à la Tolkien's silmarillion.

    Yes, it's very unlikely that I'll get to do that, and I may not even get to write a sequel. If I do though, and I hadn't included those things, I'd be annoyed at myself. However, these hints in no way worsen the quality of the writing in the first book and will go completely unnoticed if it's the only novel I ever write.
     
  14. maidahla
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    maidahla Active Member

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    Put it all out there in the first one. Let someone else use your name and write the rest of the books. That's how I would do it. But maybe you like manual labor. Who knows. I like the first story and I rarely follow up. But I come up with quite a few "first books". Hopefully, things pan out for you.
     
  15. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I have to follow some in the line of reasoning as Cogito, but first you need to decide WHY you are writing in the first place. Are you writing to try and make money? Are you writing just to get your work out there and plan to make it free for people to read? Or are you writing for your own enjoyment?

    If you are writing for the first two reasons, just write the best story you can and not worry about sequels at the moment. Take a wait and see approach and make sure people WANT to read a sequel. If they don't you might just move on to another plot and story.

    Now if you are writing for your own enjoyment foremost, plan it out whichever way you are going to get the most fun out of.
     
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  16. maidahla
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    maidahla Active Member

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    i think writing for enjoyment is key. But if you're writing for fun... Why does it have to be longer? Maybe it's done as a first rough piece.
     
  17. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I had the same problem years ago where all I could think was how important length was.
    I know better now and learned not to obsess about it.
    Only time I check the count is when there is an actual limit I need to be mindful of.

    Personally, don't think of a sequel, mate.
    Yea, you might have material and ideas that can span multiple books.
    Good for you.

    Finish the first book draft is see what you can save for later and what needs to be dealt with now.
     
  18. maidahla
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    maidahla Active Member

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    If you're looking for a good publish, shop the first half around. Let the fledglings handle the rest of the book. They're readily accessible and quite capable. Depends on your morals. I hate dirty work. I would send in a bunch of first half portions of a series and make someone else entertain me with the endings. They'd have to piece it together by hand as far as storyline.

    The debate on whether ghostwriting is ethical or not has been by far one of the most challenging topics to date amongst PR pros. Ghostwriting, if you enjoy being behind the scenes, is where you create written published work for a client. Sadly, you get no spotlight shine.

    Sorry if I sound repetitive. I just have to deal with it.
     

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