1. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My Quandary: A Case Study? (Long Post)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by EdFromNY, Sep 24, 2013.

    I begin with a disclaimer: although what is presented is a quandary, I am not specifically asking others to provide me with a way out. I have often said in these forums that there are certain decisions that writers must make for themselves, and this is clearly one of those. But I post it here as something of a case study for other novice writers, so any comments or suggestions may well be beneficial to them and I will certainly not be offended.

    As I have mentioned a few times in the past year, my current project is a historical novel that spans 500 years. If I succeed in getting it published, it will be my first. I firmly believe that it has a very good chance, and have done since I actually began to write it last summer. However, if I go the traditional publishing route (and I intend to try), I will be limited in terms of length and so I have planned and outlined the story with an eye to keeping as close to 100,000 words as possible. That is a consideration in my quandary, but it isn’t a major one.

    You can’t cover 500 years in 100,000 words and not do a significant amount of telescoping. My problem is a specific chapter in which I had planned to cover a period of about 30 years, with a specific character as a focal point, but now that I’ve started I’m not sure I have enough to really do him justice (although he adds to the overall fabric of the novel). Moreover, there is a significant historical event that occurs during this time period (although I could simply make reference to it later on) and the chapter was to provide a chance to resolve some conflicts left hanging at the end of the prior historical chapter. I could lengthen the previous chapter, the following chapter or both to compensate if I decide to drop this one but I worry about the pacing, which up until now has worked quite well.

    My first thought was to simply go ahead and write the chapter, knowing that I can always cut it later on. That’s still probably my best bet, although I worry that writing something that I know may well be cut from the final product will affect the quality of the writing (it’s different when I write, generally, and know that SOMETHING is going to be cut, but not what the specific thing is). I suspect that is what is holding me back now.

    On the other hand, I could sprint on to the next planned chapter (for which I have a very solid idea) and worry about bridging the gaps later. Experience has taught me, though, that skipping ahead and then writing up to that point is usually problematic, especially if you are going to be dealing with essentially the same characters. Characters change subtly as you write about them, often in ways you couldn’t have anticipated.

    Before I make a decision I’ll go back and review some of the history itself to see just how much I want to devote to the historical event in question.

    Anyway, thanks for reading. I’ll come back and let you know what I decide.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2013
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  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I had this issue with one of my novels. I wrote it in a three section format - each section having several chapters accept for the middle section
    which was to be one rather bloated chapter entitled The Past ( I titled all my chapters back then. ) I went in thinking this would be a relatively
    long chapter but it came out 400 pages - a novel within a novel - because I loved writing about the history of my villain. Compared to the rest of the
    novel though, 400 pages wasn't such a big deal but getting that chapter out really helped to shape and define the following chapters, especially the ending.

    I always try to go with my gut instinct when I'm witing, every time I over plan or pull back the reigns I lose the moment. But it's different for everyone some writers excel at sticking to a plan. I'm glad I rode that chapter out, though losing the plan actually produced some of my best writing.

    Also, I try not to write anything with the thought that it could be cut. The trouble with that is I'll hold back. I try to write every scene as though it bares the utmost significance because usually the things I thought were mundane turn out to have more power than the scenes that I thought were wrought with power. You never know where the cuts will be.
     
  3. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Why not cut the chapter completely, tell the necessary bits the reader must know in flashback or in a dialogue in the next chapter, and leave it at that? It seems to me that you're quite right. 30 Years in a short chapter will not make good reading.

    On the other hand, what we can't tell from this is what this will do to your pacing. Have you left gaps of 30 years before? If not, how did you solve the issue there? Will you be leaving more gaps later?
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Good point. OTOH, I don't think it's possible to write a really good historical novel without extensive planning. I've done more planning with this project than with all my other projects combined.

    Absolutely.
     
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  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Definitely an option that I'm considering. And if I decide I really can't commit to the chapter on the assumption it will stay, that's what I'll do.

    In this project, my shortest historical chapter is 6,000 words, so I don't worry about that.

    Yes. The first historical chapter covered 1510-1550. The second 1762-1791. I found that earlier years were easier to telescope because although the events that occurred in them were exciting, they didn't bear directly on the key conflicts later on in the novel.

    Yes.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2013
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, you definitely have a harder time with a historical novel. I never thought about it but you can't even
    shuffle chapters around too much ( I'm a notorious scene and chapter shuffler ) without it effecting the
    time line.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ed...
    keep in mind that as long as the writing is of good quality, you can go over 100k for a historical novel, as they generally do run longer than other genres... so, if you find it heading toward 110 or even 120, i wouldn't worry about it... a good query letter and excellent writing can overcome it going past the generally preferred 80-100 for a first novel...
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I realize that, but as I tend to be verbose to begin with, I try not to make my editing job any harder than it has to be. However, word count is only a secondary consideration, here. My main problem was my gnawing doubt that I could sustain the interest in the character who was to be the focal point of the chapter.
     
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  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also, most first-time novelist's manuscripts will shrink during editing rather than grow, if the editing is done well. Removing cruft usually is needed more than expansion.
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Very true, and I typically cut a lot in editing. However, I have been to an extent editing as I go with this (another change in how I do things, and perhaps an indication of my development as a writer? I hope).

    I've actually decided what to do. After making a minor revision to the preceding chapter, I've decided to merge the chapter in question with the one to follow, in effect condensing three chapters into two. That way, I don't have to "catch the reader up", I can just telescope the action a little differently.

    Funny thing about problems like this - once you decide what you want to do, carrying it out isn't nearly as difficult as you thought it was going to be.
     
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  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'cruft'?

    a new coinage, cog? [or would that be a 'cogage'?]
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nah, cruft is a moderately common term in my field (software engineering), loosely translating as sloppy, useless, but relatively benign garbage. Often used to refer to programming code that serves no purpose but was probably introduced to try something out, and never removed.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It also appears when new versions of old software are released. I've written programs that have gone through twenty versions in the past dozen years or so. Needs change; features are added and others are removed. This results in a fair amount of cruft - it's usually in the form of functions that are no longer called, or cases in switch statements that are never executed.
     

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