Sometimes you’re going to write something and right from the start it’s going to be amazing! Other times you’re going to write something which will require a surprising amount of time and effort in order to make it readable.
Life is about balance, I guess.
My first draft for The Six Elemental clocked in at 118,000 words. For someone who used to have trouble writing anything longer than 5,000 words, that’s a BIG accomplishment and well worth a pat on the back. Unfortunately, it still needed work.
The second draft was about the same length. I added a few things, but I also got rid of these made-up quotes I’d put before each chapter. The quote idea fizzled out two-thirds of the way through the novel anyway, and since I couldn’t keep it going I figured that I might as well get rid of it.
The third draft was when I decided to create a major secret, which would only be revealed when it was most shocking!
The fourth draft was where I got rid of the major secret idea, because it wasn’t working out AT ALL*.
Advice from a beta-reader led to the fifth draft, which is when things really started working out. The story got more focused and the pacing picked up. I also cut a lot of stuff. Two main characters got cut entirely, and at least two minor characters. Another minor character turned into to a one-line mention. I lost some stuff that I liked, but as William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”
I must have taken that advice to heart, because The Six Elemental currently clocks in at approximately 78,000 words – 40,000 words fewer than the first draft.
Sometimes, though, when you’re making a lot of cuts, it can be hard to know when to stop. At one point I was ready to cut an entire page worth of stuff, but when I ran the idea past my editor she told me that I should leave it in, and gave me a bunch of reasons why it worked (thanks again, Erin!).
Never underestimate the value of an opinion from someone who doesn’t reside inside your brain.
Another difficult part of editing is accepting the changes to your story. In the original there was a character who died half-way through the novel, but during the re-writes that character ended up living. I literally spent a week trying to figure out if there was some new way to kill them so that I could bring balance between the two drafts. However, I didn’t want to go all Joss Whedon on the character, so when I couldn’t make the death work I had to accept that the world had changed and abandon the idea.
But just you wait until next time, character.
Just you wait…
*Sometimes you’ve got to write a lot of wrong to figure out what’s right.