Cutting

Today I cut a scene from my novel. This feels good–fewer words! A more streamlined story! This feels bad–those were good words! They added depth and texture to the story!

What’s a writer to do?

To make up for it, I added a scene. Also, I changed the name of the novel.

Am I making progress? Do I get to watch the Patriots’ game as a reward?

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Starting the second draft

The second draft got underway this weekend. Characters who showed up two-thirds of the way through the first draft now begin the novel–the first of many ways in which I will address my future-perfect comments littered throughout the text:

“I will have have to set up this scene earlier.”

“This character will have a different name in the second draft.”

“Need to have a better explanation for this behavior.”

This is the good stuff.

Points of view

Final count on points of view in my novel is 27. Too many? Not enough?

Near the end, for numerous excellent reasons, I switched to first-person POV a few times — including a couple of sections using first-person present-tense, which I’ve never done before. I think a little of that goes a long way — “I sit in a darkened room and ponder the mistakes of my life. I wonder what will become of me.” But I decided it was right for what I was trying to accomplish at the end of the novel. We’ll see.

How long does it take to write the first draft of a novel?

. . . when you’re working full time and commuting two hours a day?

Forensic evidence suggests that I started my novel in April 2016 and finished its 123,000 glorious words in September 2017. So, 17 months. Seven thousand words a month. Less than 2,000 words a week. Maybe a page a day. Is that impressive, or awful?

After discussing the final chapters with my cold-eyed writing group, I now need to begin the second draft by recalibrating the climax. Also, I need another title. How many months is that gonna take?

Killing off your characters

A while back I listened to a podcast about Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel North and South. The panelists made a persuasive case that it is still worth reading. So I downloaded it and read it. The panelists were wrong.

It’s not, you know, terrible. But there’s nothing distinctive about it, and it falls too easily into Victorian attitudes even as the author sometimes seems to be pushing boundaries a bit. Dickens does the same thing, of course, but you can forgive him because he’s so brilliantly funny and inventive; Gaskell is neither. The panelists pointed out that she tries to fairly represent the points of view of capital and labor in the new industrial society that was transforming England. That’s admirable, but those points of view feel pretty dated 150 years on.

Here’s one distinctive thing Gaskell does: she shows no qualms about killing off her characters. Half a dozen major-ish characters die in the course of the novel, several of them for no apparent reason. That is to say, the plot would have worked just as well if the heroine’s mother hadn’t died, followed by her father, followed by her godfather… It’s Victorian England, of course, so it’s not unreasonable for someone to cash in his chips without any warning in his mid-fifties. But it happens enough in this novel that it feels like an authorial tick.

I’m intrigued by this because I’m approaching the climactic scenes of the novel that I’ve been working on. I’m clear on the general direction of the plot, but I haven’t worked out the details–like who’s gonna die. A bad guy or two, surely, but what about the good guys? It seems unlikely that they’ll get off scot-free. Unlike North and South, in my novel people are actually fighting each other (to be fair, there was a pretty good union-busting scene in North and South, but no one died in it). But which good guys? At this point I’m pretty fond of all of them.

I’m interested in finding out how this all turns out. Which is why I haven’t been blogging much lately.

Let’s count adverbs!

This post about this book (which I need to buy) is great.  Number of  -ly adverbs per 100,000 words:

Hemingway: 80

Twain: 81

Melville: 126

Austen: 128

J.K. Rowling: 140

E L James: 155

One might easily imagine that the writer of the “Fifty Shades” novels would use almost twice as many adverbs as Hemingway, but it’s nice to see some data.

The case against adverbs is pretty clear: they are often a flabby substitute for more succinct prose.  “Hurry” is punchier than “walk quickly”.  And lots of adverbs might indicate that the writer hasn’t done a lot of revising and tightening:

The Hemingway book with the highest usage rate for -ly adverbs, True at First Light, was released only after his death and is considered one of his worst works.  The same pattern is true for Faulkner and Steinbeck, namely that the most highly praised works have relatively low rates of -ly adverb usage.  Among other notable authors surveyed, D.H. Lawrence seems to be the most obvious exception to this regularity.

I often find myself editing out adverbs that I couldn’t seem to avoid in my first draft.

While I’m sort of on the subject, I enjoyed the rather strange novel Adverbs by Daniel Handler (who was much more successful with his Lemony Snicket novels).