Going With My Gut


Decisions, decisions. About five months ago, I had some feedback on my YA fantasy novel advising me to delete a couple subplots because they weren’t going to be resolved in Book 1 (it’s part of a series). I resisted the notion because I thought those scenes were really organic to the story, regardless of whether or not they bore fruit in the same book. But I know I sometimes resist good advice, and I was also looking at a manuscript that tipped the scales at about 165K. So I started looking for things to cut and couldn’t help but notice those subplots were eight thousand words I could cut in one fell swoop–so I cut it and polished the rest at a more svelte 122K.

But I felt something important was missing in the middle, but couldn’t put my finger on it until last night, when I thought about resuming work on Book 2 and realized I was dead in the water even worse than I’d thought I’d be when I cut those scenes. It pushed my inciting incident back too far, so I had second thoughts about those 8K words.

The first thing I saw was that they no longer fit where they used to be–I filled in the holes they had left very well–but if I changed the order of introducing the two subplots, they both reinforced adjacent plot points and put back that missing something. So the book sits at 130K, but I finally feel happy with the final manuscript. (Though the typo hunt is still on.)

So today, when I put Book 1 aside (waiting on the last couple pre-readers’ feedback) and started work sketching out the scenes for Book 2 (I’d already written a significant portion of it about a year ago) everything just fell into place beautifully–which it could never have done without that 8K back in Book 1 rather than in Book 2.

So today was really exciting–a complex story like this one can be a bear to wrestle into submission-worthiness. I’ve spent the last two and a half years grappling with Book 1, and it’s a nine book series–I really don’t want to spend the next ten years on just this one series. I’ve got a huge backlog of novels I really want to get through, and at one book a year, I’d be 110 before I got them all finished–assuming that I didn’t have more pop up.

Now, if I can finish two per year, I’ll only be 82.

Yeah, maybe two a year is just a fantasy in itself, but my feeling is that I’ve gotten through the worst of the learning curve, at least for this series. I know I’ll always be learning something new, but now that I know what “done” feels like, I think I can get there faster.

So, what’s my point? That sometimes generally good advice can be all wrong for a given situation. Before this, I’ve been fussing at the manuscript, nibbling away with little edits, changing a word here and a sentence there, never really happy with it; now I’m suddenly at peace with the manuscript. It’s a good feeling, and it never would have happened if I didn’t ultimately trust my gut feeling about what was right for this story.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Going With My Gut

  1. Pingback: How many times have you re-written Chapter 1? | J. Keller Ford ~ Young Adult Fantasy Author

    • Hi, Jenny–Funny you should ask. That’s what I tried to figure out this morning. It’s a little complicated to answer, except that I did my last bit of tweaking on Chapter 1 about a week ago.

      I’ve worked on this series for the equivalent of 7 years, 1 month since 1998 (with time off to work other stories that I haven’t finished). Since I save every day’s work in a new, dated file, it’s actually fairly easy to tally what I was writing when. During that time, the entire story concept morphed 16 times. I lost track of how many times I reworked Book 8 (out of 9) back when I thought it was Book 1.

      Each iteration of the story got an uncountable number of new beginnings–I seem to have the most trouble with getting the ball rolling, deciding on my protagonist, my POV, POV characters, etc. I originally thought the series was a trilogy, until I finished Book 1 and realized it was actually Books 1-3–I was trying to stuff too much plot into one book and likewise with the other two books in the “trilogy.” That required some rewriting of Book 1-3, since it’s a little messy breaking up the longer story and still have the pieces work as complete stories on their own.

      The good part of all this is that I essentially only had to start once–the other eight books have natural starting points as a continuation/escalation of the earlier books, I have already written most of the significant scenes and turning points of the other six books–I expected there would be unexpected subplots, so I didn’t invest too much effort into the later books beyond what was necessary for the central plot to resolve properly.

      This is all new ground for me, but my feeling is that these subsequent books will be much faster to write because of all the work I did on the front end in developing the series. Book 1 was pretty messy–I like to outline, but I was getting overwhelmed by detail, so my outlines actually lagged the plotting in the first draft–I had to impose order on it after the fact. By contrast, I spent a couple hours this morning making a flow chart of the main plot and three major subplots without any of the agony I went through with Book 1. But I’ve already changed Chapter 1’s opening three times since yesterday, so some things probably won’t change–I’ll be making uncountable changes to the opening until it works!

      How many times have you rewritten Chapter 1?

  2. Pingback: Muscle Up the Gut of Your Story: How to Write the Novel «

  3. Pingback: Subplots «

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