Thursday, July 22, 2010
Welcome, Diane Scott Lewis
Several years ago I wrote and researched a novel set on the remote North Atlantic island of St. Helena during Napoleon’s exile in 1815. Most of the people who accompanied him wrote diaries and memoires…so many details and history. The island itself was a character due to the odd flora and fauna and geographical setting. I stuffed the novel, Elysium, with these nuggets until it grew to over 150,000 words. The first agent that actually read the book said I had too many characters and needed to develop the two main characters more. So I ripped out several characters, fictional and historical, (which left huge plot holes I had to repair) to make room for Napoleon’s POV along with delving deeper into my heroine’s.
With all that introspection, the novel again ballooned to over 150,000 words. The agent rejected me anyway, not on size but theme. Later, I received a publishing contract from an up and coming small press which wasn’t afraid of large or “outside the box” books. The joy! Then they filed for bankruptcy before I even began edits.
I set the book aside for over a year, but the story kept calling to me. I read Elysium again a few weeks ago and said, “What crap! This needs additional severe self-editing.” First I went through and cut extra words: “just” and “very” are good ones. You also don’t need “she/he wondered; she/he knew; she/he saw” in their POV’s. I slashed the “telling” and added more “emotion”. I studied each scene, do I really need this scene, is the info important, or can I move that one line of info elsewhere? “But I loved that scene!” Oh well, no room. In many scenes the characters blathered on too long, repeating themselves…snip snip!
Get to the point faster! Do I really need to name all the unusual plants on the island, even though they’re fascinating to me? More cuts. Do I really need to keep saying “really”?
The experience has forced me to look at my writing in a different light: cut extra words, scenes that go nowhere, remove superfluous characters. Can two, even three, characters be combined into one? Make every word and all the dialog count and move the plot along.
I’m amazed that I’ve shaved the work down to 137,000 words, still large but manageable. Now I lament that I might have cut too much and removed the historical points I wanted to include. I might sneak back and…add a few back in.
My friend, and an extremely talented writer, Anita Davison, designed this cover for my as yet unpublished book.
For more info on my recently published historical novel, The False Light, adventure and romance in the eighteenth century, and my other books, please visit my website.