Shortly after the last post about the novel, I realized I had some plot issues that needed resolving before I could move into the 3rd act. I was surprised to find that, while I had a lot of good stuff, it didn’t all fit together as neatly as I thought. There was a lot of dithering, scene bloat and one major character who had a death grip on the idiot ball. Basically, the plot all hinged on one character simply not telling the others what they knew. This makes for a lousy story. But I caught it early and set about fixing the issue.
There were also stylistic problems. This book really wanted to be a Silver Age revival adventure novel. The problem is, I don’t much care for writing pointless action set pieces and found myself uncomfortably close to writing a dumb action movie in prose form (and with way too many guns for my taste*). Usually I veer more towards a dreamlike suspense/absurdity with a touch of existential anxiety. And while it’s good to stretch as a writer, it’s possible to stretch too far and no one wants to read the literary equivalent of a pulled hamstring.
So I started pulling the manuscript apart and salvaging the pieces that worked. After some massive plot restructuring and throwing out half the MS, I’m closer to getting the novel I want, a more introspective sci-fi mystery. Also, It’ll be a much more marketable 90K words than the bloated whale corpse I was kicking, which was approaching 120K words before I even started Act 3. And really, if you find yourself passing the 100k mark and not yet hitting the 3rd act, that means you have a some dead weight in that manuscript and it’s dragging the ass of your manuscript through the mud.
Oddly enough, what set me on the right track was, as is often the case, sitting down one evening and watching an old movie. In this case, the great, often overlooked but highly recommended masterpiece of 70s paranoia-malaise, Capricorn One. Worth watching just to see a young Sam Waterston (and staying for Hal Holbrook’s turn as one of the more understated villains you’re ever likely to see).
So, lessons learned:
- If you can’t tell a compelling story in 90K words, you’re doing something wrong.
- Don’t be afraid to torch half your manuscript.
- Watch old movies. They’re awesome.
- relax, it’s only fiction.
*It doesn’t help when you lock yourself in the office all afternoon, writing a gun-heavy action scene, only to find, when emerge for a break that a gunman has just shot up a mall a few miles away. I’ve really started to examine the role violence plays in our entertainment and question the reason for much of it.