What 5 Chapters Can Teach You

So, it’s 5 chapters (and a prologue) into what’s going to be a roughly 20-chapter novel, and here’s what I’ve figured out, so far.

One.  Planning a novel, from beginning to end, is hard.  Really hard.  I finished my outline a few months ago, and I’ve been using it as a guide ever since, but the fact is that the first draft of the actual prose doesn’t look like very much like my original plan.  It’s mostly a question of order.  The things which I thought should be ordered A, B, C, and D have turned out to flow a whole lot better if arranged as A, C, D, and B.  Not a big deal, in and of itself, but it means that this guide that I have open at all times is becoming less and less useful with every passing sentence
I keep thinking I should probably go over the outline again.  You know, restructure it, or maybe commit some of the kinds of details that keep making me change things in the first draft.  Then, I think about how I could be using that time to actually write, and I just give it a miss.

Two.  Details are a commodity.  They’re a resource.  They’re obviously incredibly important.  They give a story definition, can take a mere story and turn it into a legend, a tale that might have actually happened to heroic figures, long ago.  But, they have to be used sparingly.  If you include too many details in a single paragraph, not only do you start adding extra inches onto your novel’s thickness, you also totally kill your pacing.

There’s an awful lot I want to tell people about this little world I’ve created, but I need to keep reminding myself that this exercise isn’t about making sure I tell everybody about all the neat things I dreamed up.  It’s about making sure the people and places in the story are something that people want to read about.

Three.  While it can’t always be avoided, it’s a good idea to try really, really hard to never have too many characters in one place at one time.  It’s extremely hard to not fall into this particular pit, especially if the book’s genre description has the word “epic” in it anywhere.  What happens, you see, is you get to the end of a big interaction between a lot of big characters, and you suddenly realize, “Oh crap!  Melvin didn’t say anything the whole time!”  Then, you start going over the scene again, looking for places where Melvin would have had a valid response, but you never thought of him in this context before, so nothing really fits, and you start second-guessing whether or not Melvin needs to be in the scene in the first place, but if he’s not there, then what’s Frank doing there, since they’re always together, and why did I need this scene in the first place, and—

It’s maddening, and I don’t mind saying, I’ve removed entire scenes because I don’t know if I can actually build such a tall house of cards and expect it to stay upright for any length of time.

I suppose I shouldn’t say I’ve “learned” these things, recently.  I’ve always kind of known them, but it’s always interesting to find yourself wondering exactly why a particular passage is being so bothersome, and then suddenly find you can put words to your pain…which, I suppose, is what I’m meant to be good at in the first place, right?

I just finished a fairly large rewrite of the beginning two chapters, which held me back for quite a few weeks.  The same thing happened in “Knight of the Flame,” in fact (ask me, sometime, how the cave scene originally went), so I suppose I should be relieved that, even if I’m not perfect, at least I’m consistent.

Chapter 6, here I come…

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