I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

The last week or so has been interesting. I’ve been making pretty good progress on my book, but was finding myself in a draggy place about 2/3’s of the way through. I had so much action in the first half and then nothing for the 3rd quarter, until things got crazy again.

big booksMy first thought was that it’s simply too long. Not yet, because it’s not finished, but if I continue at the rate I’m going, I’m probably looking at at least 600 pages. Somehow, I thought that was a bad thing. So my next thought was, well, if the first half is so action-packed, why not just turn that into one book? Because I have a lot of material for the second book already, it would be easy to make my draggy 3rd quarter a short beginning before diving into the next bit of action.

So, I re-outlined the whole thing as if I were ending at the midpoint. It went pretty well. I actually had a coherent plot to the end, which made me feel nearly as proud as if I’d delivered a moderately attractive baby. But it felt wrong. When I daydreamed about my story and characters, I just wasn’t feeling the emotional punch. There was no tragedy. And for me, an epic fantasy  without tragedy is um, what’s the point? I tried to manufacture some tragic stuff but it felt manufactured and didn’t have the same impact as my original version.

A few days ago, I was preparing my blog post for today, and I realized that this scene is foreshadowing for Janna, and the way my story was shaping up, none of those foreshadowed events would happen in the first book. In fact, Janna’s storyline just fizzles out without any connection to the other plotlines. I know the girl has caused me nothing but grief for the past year, but this time, it wasn’t her fault. So I went to bed that night with the strong sense of “this isn’t working.”

I woke up in the middle of the night having a terrible allergy attack. My wheezing and sneezing woke up the poor hubby, so I unburdened myself to him while I waited for Benadryl to work and sipped coffee (which helps open up the airways). He very reasonably, assured me that my book should be as long as it needs to be and no longer. And no shorter, either. If the story is good, then people will read it. Then it occurred to me that readers of epic fantasy do seem to like weighty tomes. How many 1000+ pages is Lord of the Rings? Are any of the Song of Ice and Fire books under 800 pages? Harry Potter from Goblet of Fire on?  I could go on, but you get the picture.

With my fears somewhat alleviated, hubby went back to sleep and I continued to ponder. I’m really pretty new to the whole plotting and structure thing, so I thought maybe I got it wrong when I first started. I’d always assumed my first plot point was a certain event, but outlining the half-book version forced me to create a different one. And then I realized that my first plot point was actually the midpoint, which was why I’d needed nearly twenty chapters to get there. Plus, I’d had to manufacture a midpoint because I didn’t have anything before. That would have been the ending of the half book, but it seemed contrived and left all of my plotlines dangling. I hate that. I love nothing more than an ending in which all plotlines come gracefully together. I won’t go so far as to say they all need to be resolved, especially in a series, but at the very least, they should meet in epic battle.

Once I reconsidered my first plot point as midpoint, I had my solution. And the first plot point I came up with for the half book works perfectly for the whole book. So all that outlining was not a waste of time. Besides, I love outlining. It’s a sickness.Today, I re-outlined it with my new plot points, and it makes a lot more sense. Now my third quarter is so busy, I’ll actually have to cut some stuff. But I’d always rather have that problem than the other one. And I can remove my sort of contrived former midpoint/ending altogether, which is a great relief.

Elizabeth George has said in her excellent book on writing, that you should pay attention to your body because it will tell you if you’re on the right track, or the wrong one. If something feels wrong, it probably is. That’s definitely been true for me so far. I just have to trust the process and keep thinking things through until they feel right. They always will eventually.

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