Wednesday, April 14, 2010

[Book Update] Ah, Chapter 6, My Old Friend

We meet again

It's hard to believe that two full weeks ago I wrote:

I did get some work done yesterday. I got tons of feedback about my "infodump" chapter - chapter 6 - when I took it to my writer's group. The result is a total re-write, pulling a character previously not introduced until chapter 13 all the way up to chapter 6, and then using his knowledge and experiences to drive the infodump. I may still need to "dump" some of the info into other chapters, plus I'll need to do something about the page or two that I ripped from chapter 13, but overall I think I like the way this is going. That's major change #1.

Major change #2 is that I've decided to create a new chapter 1.

 Hard to believe, because in the intervening two weeks, I have not yet completed the work described in Change #1 and have yet to begin the work in Change #2. I know, sucks, right?

And if that's not exciting enough, I've got essentially one full day tomorrow followed by what will work out to half-days on Thursday and Friday due to morning meetings that I have at my kids school. Each is only around an hour long, but they'll manage to distract me for most of the morning anyway. Oh yeah, then next week, the kids are off from school. Ugh.

It's not as if I haven't made progress. I don't want to imply that. It's just that what I describe above, a rewrite of chapter 6 wherein I pull a character up from a later chapter and use him to help introduce backstory, that became Chapter 6b. Chapter 6b is around 7 pages long at the moment (single-spaced, which is how I prefer to work) and is probably 80% done, but manages to convey only around 15% of the backstory of the original chapter 6.

No, chapter 6b, while a good chapter, I think, and one that's helping to develop a character that I'm increasingly deciding to give a prominent role in the novel, did a poor job of conveying backstory. Here I'll digress for a moment:

One tool for delivering backstory can be through the eyes of students learning about the novel's history or relating that history as part of a class project. I decided that this technique might work in this chapter and decided to write up a couple of 500-word student essays, each addressing a different aspect of the novel's troubled past. They were small parts of the chapter, but they actually did more to deliver backstory than most of the rest of the chapter combined. And then I realized that two was too much. I had to cut one, or roughly half of the information I was barely managing to convey. It was just unreasonable to ask my readers to slog through two essays deliberately written at approximately the 7th-grade level. And bumping up the maturity level would have basically meant just taking my old info-dump and putting it in the form of an essay without making it any more interesting or engaging, which didn't make sense, either.

But, again, I think chapter 6b is a good chapter. I like the character development of a guy - a bad guy - with a lot of "cool" potential. And the relatively small amount of backstory the chapter conveys is reasonably smooth and entertaining. More, it allows me to take a fairly small scene from the original chapter 6 - a description of a relatively minor historical event that revealed to much of mankind that "things had changed" - and expand on it by getting more detailed and by letting the character comment on it from his own recollection and opinions. So it works as a chapter, just not as a delivery vehicle for key information that I REALLY need to convey in order for my novel's world to make sense. (Note, as an aside, that I don't absolutely have to convey this info in Chapter 6, but it's pretty important that I get most of it out pretty close to that point in the novel. If I wait too long, I really risk confusing the reader about what the hell's going on in the story's world)

Ok, that's it for the Chapter 6b digression. It's a good chapter, but it's not much of an info-dump. So my problem with Chapter 6 hasn't really been solved, I've just added yet another chapter into the mix while still being faced with the need to get 85% of the original chapter 6's key information revealed in a readable, entertaining way. Enter Chapter 6c. Yes, you read that correctly - yet ANOTHER chapter attempting to execute chapter 6's infodump, but in a more readable, enjoyable way. It gets better.

Chapter 6c is effectively done. In a 2nd draft, anyway. I've handed copies out to a few of my writer friends from the roundtable and asked them to critique it for me. Yup, it's done. And it's more than double the length of the original, or of pretty much any other chapter in the novel. Approximately 75% of the original chapter 6s information remains in more-or-less the same format that it was in to begin with. I didn't re-write Chapter 6 so much as I wrapped it in friendlier material. Like a hot dog full of pig snouts and hooves wrapped in delicious cornbread. Yes, I turned Chapter 6 into a corn dog.

Here's the thing - I think that may be exactly what Chapter 6 needed. There's certain vital information that I need to convey. And doing it through dialogue or through student essays or through nearly any other format may make it more readable (or not), but it definitely makes it LONGER. Now it may be that on a further review of the surrounding chapters, I may be able to move some of the more textbook-like chunks organically out of 6c and into one of its neighbors, but probably not a lot. I mean, 75% of the original material from Chapter 6 is still there, so even if I manage to move a third of that, it still leaves a lot behind. But I don't believe that having some matter-of-fact narrative reveal is inherently bad. Lots of good books do it. Some do it better than others, but sometimes the narrator just needs to take the reader aside and say, "Look, if this story's going to make sense, you need to understand such and so. Got it? Good, then let's get back to the story."

I have to admit, I'm still not completely convinced that the original Chapter 6 needed to be re-written. It may end up that at some point down the line, I may end up showing it to an editor and saying "We can go back to this version if you think it works better." Probably not, but it's possible. Still, I'm happy with where Chapter 6c ended up. I took the story back in time to the point where things really fell apart for my story's post-apocalyptic world and I showed some of the collapse through the eyes of two characters. One, as simple farmer, the other a politician responsible for the lives of millions. You get to feel, I hope, some of their anguish at trying to deal with what they see happening all around them.

All of which brings us back around to the last two weeks. Because that's how I've spent them - farting around with Chapter 6, to a point where it's been broken into two chapters of which one is nearly complete and one is complete but swollen beyond all expectation. And that new Chapter 1 I'd mentioned? It's not started. Oh, and Chapter 14, which needs some heavy editing? Still the same. And Chapter 15, which needs to be re-written from a different Point of View? Unchanged. And Chapter 16, the conclusion of the book's first major battle, and a chapter that I'd really been looking forward to writing? Unwritten.


Two steps forward, one step back. Or maybe it's two steps back, one step forward. Either way, I'm still facing the same way and aiming at the same target, it's just a question of how much progress it feels like I've made toward getting there. At the moment, I'm afraid, it does and does not feel like I've made much. Likelihood of finishing this novel before the kids finish school for the summer? Let's just say that I'd be better off playing the lottery than counting on that to happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment