Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Poof Shelved

So do you want the good news or the bad news? I'll give you both: Poof is on hold for a while, but I'm going to write something fun and short instead.

For this blog entry, I've compiled several of my posts from Codex (a semi-pro writers' forum) and Facebook. It's a jumbled mess, but it will be nice to have all the information here in one place to help explain to anyone who is curious why Poof has been shelved. Without further ado:

I just spent the last 3-4 months religiously outlining what I thought was going to be a 60,000 word YA novel. During the outlining process, I realized that maybe that word count was optimistic. With 85 scenes or so, maybe 80,000 words was more realistic. Surely 1,000 words or so per scene would be plenty.

Well after day six of the actual writing, the book was 13,000 words long, and I had only covered FIVE AND A HALF of the scenes. At that rate, the book would have weighed in at a sickening 195,000 words, 3.25 times as long as I had projected.

It seems to me, there are some things I did very well while outlining. Each of the 85 scenes is pulling double (or triple, or quadruple) duty as far as advancing the story and setting up what comes next. Often, I didn't construct a scene by saying "What would be neat?" but by saying "What do I need to set up? What will advance the story? How can I illustrate this important concept?" Sometimes, it was all of the above. And always, there was a list for each scene called Exposition/Objectives. As the outline currently is, each scene must exist or its core components would have to be spread out to other scenes, inevitably lengthening them. This is good sign, because we know I'm not inventing useless scenes. But it's also bad, because it makes the thing extremely difficult to cut.

But I can also see some things I did very badly. I don't think the story is too long because I'm over-writing, or because I have scenes that don't pull their weight. (At least, I don't think so. There are probably a few things here and there. I ain't perfect.) Ultimately, this story is too long because I'm inexperienced, and I created too much content. The scene-by-scene was 30k in notes--overwriting or not, you're writing a brick. I think the mythical concept of "THE BOOK" looming in my mind blinded me and made me anxious to build, build, and build some more. I've never finished a novel before, and I had no feeling of how long my story should be. I'm learning that lesson now. It's a painful, expensive lesson, but I'm learning it. There's that, if nothing else.

It seems to me, the only way to cut this story down to a single novel would be to rip out entire threads and characters, slashing whole acts from the book. I've given this a shot, and in my opinion, it killed it. (The person I shared it with felt the same.) Cutting it into 3-4 books is a lot more plausible. But I'm hesitant to do that for a few reasons. For one, I'm not sure about the publishing applications. Can a first time novelist sell a trilogy out of the gate? And probably more importantly, I'm not sure I should try to write a trilogy when I've never written a stand-alone book. It feels like running before you walk.

My plan, as of right now, is to put this novel on the shelf for the future. I'm proud of the story, and it will be nice to know something this fleshed-out is waiting in queue for a rainy day. Later in my career, if an editor or agent asks me if I have something, I'll be like HECK YES I DO. But for now, I think I'll try my hand at something more manageable and appropriate for a first-timer. I'm looking forward to getting started and taking this hard-won lesson out for a test drive on the new book [Still untitled--more info later].

Overall, this has been a really hard thing. I had three days or so where the first thing I would feel waking up was regret and frustration. I couldn't believe that my wonderful project that I'd poured everything into had actually derailed. I had really thought this was the one. But disappointment and struggle comes with the territory. Writing is what I want to do with my life. And for anyone making that claim, there is a certain amount of pressure to sell something. It's not the nurturing, zen-garden environment I would like to have for budding projects, but it's what I've got. The hardest part for me is watching my friends deflate when they hear the long-heralded novel of olde isn't happening for a while. And db fans REALLY won't be happy to hear about the delay...after all, I had to quit that project to do this project. But what can I do, you know? I just have to suck it up, pretend there's no pressure, and make stuff up. Sometimes, it's enough to make a guy wish he was a "secret writer."

All that said, I'm excited about the new project, and I can't wait to share it with everyone. And take heart; Poof and db may yet see the light of day as finished projects.

There we go. I hope that wasn't too bipolar for you. I wrote different parts of this post at different times, in different moods, discussing different things, so I hope it makes sense. Think of it less like a real blog post and more like the Bible. The info is in there, but it's up to you to make sense of it. I'm sorry to let any of you down who were excited about the book. Hopefully, you will enjoy the new project just as much.

As I said several times to several people, if I was going to quit, I'd have done it already. This is a pretty major speed bump, but it's no big thing in the grand scheme of things. And on an unrelated note, if you actually made it this far down the page, pat yourself on the back. Nobody reads this much text at one time on the internet. You're a rare breed. Cheers.