Get to the story, and stick with it

The word counter tells me I’m about 65,000 words into the last book. This series was started in August of 2013, its first draft miraculously finished in ten days. It was a huge amount, even for me. One or two days at that pace was fairly normal at the start or finish of a book, but sustained for ten days wasn’t anything I’d set myself up as a goal.

I started the second book soon after the first. It took a lot more time, but I really got the characters by the start of the second book. When I went back to reread the first, though, everything was off. The characters on the page weren’t the characters who had just survived a holdup at a gap store in downtown Victoria. All their hopes, needs and secret desires were missing. There was generic wounded protagonist and a generic understanding boyfriend. Interesting in-laws, those I could keep, but the problem at hand was far too small to be worth all the effort.

Going back to fix was frustrating. Finn’s point of view was too bland for the stress that he was under. The emphasis was on the abuse, not the love between the two characters.

No one would know if I didn’t tell them what the characters could be, but if I didn’t do the work and sharpen each sentence to drive itself just a little bit further into the reader’s head, the book would be putdownable, forgettable, average.

I wasn’t aiming for average. Donald Maass advised a time limit. That helped shape the first book. The magic was vague because I didn’t really know what the magic was, but I’d spent last summer watching videos of quantum mechanics and suddenly the vague magic follows the wave/particle duality.

A lot got cut. I rewrote entire scenes where nothing changes but Finn’s desperation. Murder your darlings is an easy bon mot to pass to newbie writers, but actually spending day after day, writing three thousand words, cutting three thousand words is next to impossible. I stayed at 65,000 words for three weeks.

I’m at 65,000 words now, and the first book is due back for its first round of edits in two weeks. I can make the trilogy fit into each other like nesting dolls was worth the wait.

I told dozens of people to murder their darlings while spending tonnes of effort trying to save what was on the page instead of saying what I meant the first one. A new bon mot is easy to say, harder to do. Don’t edit the first book until you finish the second. If at all possible, try holding back the trilogy until you can edit book one and three at the same time.

I wonder if this will still hold true the more I write. I can pretty much plot out a 60-70,000 word story just by making the problem big enough. I trust that the words will fall where they need to go. Book three still needs work, but all the scenes are in the right place.

No one could love writing more than I love writing. But the more I wrote, the more caught up I got in trying to impress other writers instead of trying to tell the best story I could. Get to the problem and stick with it. Whether or not you have a good hook is secondary to finding out what your character wants and then do everything in your power to keep them from it.

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