“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
– A. A. Milne
I am a Bear of Very Little Brain. Especially when it comes to writing.
I am often told that I am very smart. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. I have certainly spent my time perusing nerdy and esoteric reading over the years, and accumulated a lot of knowledge as as result. (You are, after all, reading the blog of a gal who in ninth grade picked up – and read – a book on how to write in italics, and thought she had discovered the mother lode of literary coolness.)
But anyone who really knows me can also put that absurd nerdiness in perspective: I have an unfortunate tendency to overlook the obvious.
This is glaringly true when it comes to my writing. In my current WIP (or, “work in progress” for you non-Twitter folk), I have been faced with the daunting challenge of combining two manuscripts into a 246,000 word behemoth (which I affectionately call my “baby walrus”) and paring it down into ONE single, streamlined story that I hope to start querying later this year.
The reasoning behind merging the two manuscripts was simply this:
Manuscript I dealt with 3 main characters: A, B and C. Character C, however, is enchanted and therefore mute until the last five chapters or so of the book.
Manuscript II was intended to show Character C’s life in her next big challenge, after she returns from her journey in Manuscript I.
HOWEVER…Somehow Manuscript II, once written, began before the events of Manuscript I. My brain wanted to show how Character C got into her enchanted pickle. So I wrote it. Then, once I got Character C to the point where her path diverged to meet A and B, I thought: Jinkies. I should show part of Manuscript I from her point of view – shouldn’t I? That would eliminate the need for a lot of the descriptive/backhistory nonesense that’s bogging it down.
What a great idea! said my creative side. And it was a great idea. Still is.
But boy is it a lot of work.
Know the crazy part though?
It shouldn’t have been AS much work as it’s been lately. I’ve made it harder than necessary.
Thank you, nerdy chopstick-wielding Angela for trying to use the extra forks where they don’t fit.
Here’s the pitfall I fell into:
Manuscript II began before the events of Manuscript I. Showed C in all her dwarfish glory (yes, she’s a dwarf), and how she ended up getting into a hot mess of ugly magic that pretty much derails her life for almost a full calendar year.
Once I showed her being taken away by evil villainous kidnappers, my brain wanted to barge on through and write what happened to her family while she was gone, since their adventures set the stage for Character C’s adventure when she finally returns home. I got pretty far, too. About 60,000 words worth of dwarfish adventuring, for those of you who like that sort of thing.
Where’s the problem?
When I merged everything into the 246,000 baby walrus, I also merged the extra adventure. I only needed the first 5000 words or so from Manuscript II to get Manuscript I off to the right start; and yet I dragged along ALL. THAT. EXTRA. LUGGAGE.
And it was Dwarf luggage, at that. I don’t care what you say about dwarves being cute and short – they’re heavy. (Use dwarves sparingly in your fantasy writing. That’s all I’m saying.)
All that Manuscript I needed was a new beginning. And I gave it cancer.
Bottom line? I’ve been editing out a 246,000 manuscript lately, and trying to pare it down to 80 – 100,000 words, without letting go of ANY of my plots, subplots, sidekicks or “favorite parts.”
Ugh. The “favorite part” curse.
OK fellow writers – let’s quote Sir Thomas Quiller-Couch together:
So here I’ve been the last few weeks, gradually cutting out things here and there, when I could have cut out 60,000 from the very beginning by NOT PUTTING IT IN WHERE IT DIDN’T BELONG.
But did I think of that? Nope. Not at first.
But something yesterday triggered the “Eureka moment” that helped me through that self-imposed brick wall. It was before the luncheon – that’s why I was shaking my head at myself when my friend made the “You know everything!” comment – and it was late that evening before I was able to sit down and remove what I should have never inserted in the first place: 60,000 words of dwarf-in-the-caves nutzo adventuring that had nothing to do with things that live ABOVE the ground (which is where the adventures of A, B and C take place).
The baby walrus has now been trimmed down from 246,000 words to 133,477. So it’s roughly half it’s original size.
Still needs about 40,000 more words off the top, just so I can rewrite and insert scenes that MATTER into the final copy without breaking the word bank (literally).
But in all this – thanks to my good friends at the dinner table yesterday – I learned two things:
1. You only have to be hit over the head with something once. So – hopefully, this will be the only time I’ll be this dense about something THIS OBVIOUS in my writing.
2. I don’t know anything about baseball.
Maybe I should sign up for classes.