Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Less is more

So, I'm now sitting pretty on about 45,000 words of my story after an unbelievable month of overdrive in the writing department. I've written close to 30,000, and I've pulled in the rest from stuff I've previously written. This is a good thing- I don't want my earlier drafts to come to nothing, despite the fact that the story has changed so much they're barely relevant anymore.

In the course of all this writing and salvaging, I've discovered and rediscovered a lot of things about how I write. One of the new things that has just struck me between the eyes has been a big revelation, but at the same time kind of obvious.

And that is, for me at least, less is more.

If I sit down and write my scenes to a high level of detail, incorporating every bit of sensory detail, inner feelings of the characters, etc etc etc, it takes me quite a while. And at the end of it, I might have four thousand or even six thousand words for a single chapter. This is what I had going on in my first draft- hugely detailed, and let's face it, bloated chapters.

The problem with those chapters was that in the course of trying to capture everything about the scene, I often lost sight of the core story- what the purpose of the chapter actually was. Every chapter has a purpose in the overall scheme of the novel- they each drive the plot forward. But I, in the meantime, was busy trying to be the best graphic writer I could be, making sure I got my settings just perfect, or my characters exactly described. I didn't mind if they wandered off track and talked about something completely irrelevant, because I figured it was all character development.

Which it is, but it doesn't belong in the story.

And herein lies my biggest problem, and the reason why I'm rewriting the lot- I'm not good at cutting things out when I'm editing. I'm much, much better at adding detail instead.

So, faced with a six thousand word chapter, I struggle to figure out what needs to go. I sit and look at it, and I frown at it, and quite possibly I say a few swear words. I read it until I know it off by heart, and I still can't decide what has to go. The major reason for this is, those chapters rarely contain the right material that I'd need to leave. It's why the parts I need to cut are not obvious- in most cases, I need to cut the lot.

Now, my approach this time has been different. Instead of worrying about setting, instead of fussing about how many times "he frowned", "she smiled", "he touched her arm", instead of fussing over dialogue tags and the like, I've just powered on with my writing, and I've made it spare.

My focus this time has been on two things- action, and dialogue. What these people are doing, and saying. These two things contain all the conflict of the story- not the setting or anything else. Just the people, and their doings.

It's a little bare in places, like a newly built house, where the people have moved in but they're still collecting furniture. But for me that's a much better start than the alternative- moving into a house that's too small, and having to cull your furniture because there's way too much of it jammed in there.

The better part is, every chapter does what it's supposed to. When I read through them all, I see a story- not just a collection of meetings, discussions and descriptions. Some chapters don't have beginnings yet, and some don't have endings. Some suffer from an awful excess of stage movements that appear in lieu of better description. Some of the dialogue is brief to the point of being abrupt, but it all contains the basics.

I can bulk out every single one of these things when I go to edit, and there's little I need to remove. But it's also going to be a lot clearer when I do come across something I need to cut, because it won't be hidden in amongst extraneous words.

But wait, I hear you asking- you already have 45,000 words! For the first quarter! And you're going to bulk that up?

Yes. Yes indeed. I'm thinking I might need to revisit the separation of the book into two stories, *again*. We'll see. But for now, I'm just enjoying the ride again.

On the agenda this week: I'm taking a sideways step and writing some alternative points of view that will definitely not appear in the final book. Namely, I'm writing scenes from Kit's and Lionel's points of view for the time when Bill is away at war and the two of them are left at home to deal with each other. I actually think there's a second book in that story alone- I'm quite awed by the power of their conflict. To keep her ailing father-in-law from finding out the shocking truth about his eldest son, Kit has to live with the guy who raped her while her husband is away at war, unable to protect her. But the tables have turned since he's lost a leg and contracted a terminal heart condition through his war injuries, and she's now the one with the power. The two of them coming to terms with all that has happened, and fighting it out for redemption and forgiveness and all of those things, is proving to be an amazing story in and of itself.

Once I'm done with that part, I'll be ready to write about Bill's return home to face his brother after Kit's death in childbirth...


  1. I somehow slipped this comment into one of Rachel's posts, but it belonged here! Sah-wee. :)

    Claire, so glad you are refining your writing method and finding what works best for you. It's so different for each of us, but I've struggled with some of the same issues (writing so bloated by detail it sinks instead of swims). I don't have too much problem seeing what can be cut as long as what I've written has had time to "cool." But I'm also doing what you are to some extent, trying to push on with action and dialogue. I can layer in the sensory stuff, the lovely language, the less cliched phrase, in a later draft.

  2. It's amazing to hear that you have so many words to work with! My first and second drafts tend to be on the sparse side and I try to fill in details as necessary later. I do cut scenes quite a lot but have not, intentionally, ever written stuff that I know from the start will not go into the novel. I guess because I get so lazy so often that when I am writing, I try to focus on stuff that ought to be in the novel. It's too bad, because I think exploring different scenes and povs is a great way to get deeper into the story!