Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Incredible Shrinking Manuscript

Since Tuesday, I've been going through my manuscript, looking for dead wood to prune.  So far I've made three passes and I've managed to lop about ten thousand words, not counting the TWENTY PAGES of endnotes I also cut.  I'm confident that my readers will be smart enough to figure out what's going on without help from me (although sure was fun adding all that history and culture!)  Right now I'm printing out a fresh hard copy because I find it much easier to edit on paper rather than onscreen.  I still need to add chapters, smooth out a few rough spots, and add a prologue and epilogue.

At the suggestion of a friend who writes, I picked up one of Donald Maass's books on writing the breakout novel.  I'm hoping it'll give me some ideas for the prologue/epilogue.  I have some thoughts of my own, but I figured it couldn't hurt.

The hard part will be seeing if I can cut the novel down further.  As Professor Strunk says, "Omit needless words." (Rule 17, Elements of Style)   I did try to be as concise as possible the first time through, but that doesn't mean I can't trim more, especially given my penchant for rambling on about historical bits I find fascinating but which aren't central to the story.  Sixty pages gone is nothing to sneeze at, however, and I do hope the finished project will be acceptable.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Picking up my red pen.

After some time mulling over the feedback provided by several publishers via my agent the other day, I've realized that they're right.  In creating a milieu for my story, I buried it in several layers of narrative that were unnecessary and distancing for the reader.  Isabelle's Confession has a prologue and an epilogue, a letter/confessional format, and a convent setting, all of which are really extraneous to the story itself.  As an inexperienced writer some ten years ago I felt I had to give the story a reason for existing, but in thinking about beginning my second book last fall I realized that was an unnecessary conceit.  Although I thought the found manuscript idea that linked the story to my real-life doctoral dissertation very cool, I wasn't thinking of potential readers who would want to open the book or turn on the Kindle and dive right in to a different world, and so it all needed to go.

There was no way I could just abandon this book to a dusty drawer without trying to make it better, so yesterday afternoon I sat down with the hard copy of the manuscript and started cutting.  In a couple of hours I got through 152 pages and have already eliminated at least 10.  I had to resist the temptation to dig into the file on the computer, but for now I think it's better to stick with the hard copy because the story will need a new introduction.  Once upon a time that would have been a very scary proposition, but no longer.  I have a couple of ideas rolling around, and I'm sure the right thing will be excavated in due time.  In eliminating the letters I also hope to make the story less episodic, with better narrative flow.  I don't know if I'll have chapters or books or both, but that's not too worrying.  I'll have to decide about the end notes.  I think most readers would probably also find them intrusive, so they may also fall prey to the red pen.  It bears remembering, as our English teachers have told us, that writing is a process and editing never killed anyone.  In his early writing days Stephen King was advised by an anonymous editor that the final draft equals the first draft minus ten percent.  I have a strong suspicion I'll be cutting a lot more than that.  It'll be interesting to see how many words I have in the end.  I'll let you know!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Got Feedback...

I just got off the phone with my agent, and now I have a conundrum.  While publishers universally praised my research, saying it was rich and vibrant, they said the human story didn't shine as much as the history.  The novel lacks narrative push, and is overlong and episodic.  A few, however, are willing to look at the manuscript again if I rework it.

Which brings me to the conundrum:  how, exactly, should I rework it?  Tudor England is supposed to be the hot topic in historical fiction right now, which I can't do anything about.  How can I go about making my story the page-turner I know it can be?  This will require some thought, and perhaps I'll have to actually read some historical fiction, which I'm willing to do if they're not thinly-veiled romance novels.

I admit that I'm an inexperienced writer.  I'm kind of amazed that I actually got this far, but I also don't want to bail on the story just because I've come up against an obstacle.  Writing is a process, after all, and I want readers to see Isabelle for the fascinating person I think she is.  Now if I can figure out how to do that...I'll keep ya'll posted.