An update on my contracted epic fantasy novel, Waking Beauty: this past weekend I got the recommendations for areas to edit back from my awesome publisher, Steve Laube of Enclave Publishing. And now, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, we are going to perform a show-stopping literary magic act.
Let me explain.
Once upon a time, when I first started writing Waking Beauty, I conceived it as a single book. I set a goal of 100,000 words, mainly because that was the high end of the word count I could find in Writer’s Market.
When I say I “set a goal,” I mean that was my max. I have no problem hitting word minimum. I was the only child in English class who consistently got points taken off for running long.
A few years ago, I stuffed my car trunk with a suitcase and an unfinished manuscript, which by that time was projected to reach 140,000 words. Off I went like a brave pioneer to my first writers conference. I received all kinds of wise advice from great mentors. And more than one, Solomon-like, suggested we cut my baby in half. Make it 2 books.
I played the role of the true mother. “No, no! Spare my child!” *hand to forehead. Faint*
But after about a year, I decided their advice was spot-on. For they had also recommended a change in audience: Young Adult. In my cheeky way, I had envisioned myself as a kind of J. K. Rowling. Not in fame or talent, but in that both youth and adults could read my book and get something out of it.
My mentors politely pointed out the first book in the Harry Potter series was short. Only when she was famous did Jo get to break the length laws. Turn Waking Beauty into 2 Young Adult books, they said, and no more than 80,000 words apiece.
I spent the next two years turning my one-hump camel into a 2-hump camel.
“Ok,” I hear you asking, “Why camels?”
- Camels are funny. So is my writing. (I hope.)
- Their humps are full of fat. So is my writing. Until I edit it. (I hope.)
- My plotlines get hairy.
- Figuring out what to cut makes me want to spit.
- The real reason:
Look at the humps as a representation of a story arc. I remember my English teacher (the same one who took points off for my inflated word count) drawing these funny camel humps on the blackboard.
In other words, a camel hump.
I’m simplifying the illustration here. My teacher made them look like mountain ranges, but they all followed the above basic shape.
In any series, you have a decision to make. Does each book have its own camel hump?
No matter how many books in your series, for the purposes of this discussion, you are a single camel. 4 legs, 1 tail, you just have a differing number of humps, or story arcs.
The Babysitters Club or Nancy Drew, these are multiple camel hump series. Each book can stand alone.
Other series keep a single camel hump, no matter how many books are in the series. I remember the first book I read that used this model. It was a 2-book series by Stephen Donaldson about mirrors: Mirror of her Dreams and A Man Rides Through (Mordant’s Need). I don’t know if you can rightly call 2 books a series, but for the purposes of this conversation, I’m calling anything 2 books or above a series, even if “duology” or “triology” is a more correct term.
When I picked up the second book in Donaldson’s series, it was literally like a continuation of the same book. There was no refreshing our minds on character or plot or location. The assumption was, if you are holding this book, you’ve read the other. If not, shame on you, go buy it now.
Most telling, there was no separation of dilemmas. The story continued with the exact same plotline. There was no lessening of tension, we just kept riding right on up that story arc. It was a 1-hump camel, even though it was 2 books.
Some series are a hybrid. Let’s go back to Harry Potter. Each book has its own storyline. Uh-oh, Harry’s godfather Sirius Black escaped prison! Uh-oh, Harry’s name was entered in a dangerous wizard tournament! But at the same time, we have a single Voldemort plot that arches over all 7 books, with the tension ratcheting up the further we go.
Hm, here’s the Harry Potter camel:
So, there I was, trying to turn my one-hump camel into a two-hump camel. My first solution was to fold the camel in half, like a paper doll, and cut. So wherever the midpoint of the 160,000 words was, break there. I shifted it forward or back a few chapters, to test things out. And then I started adding or subtracting bits from each hump to make them more distinct. Like an amateur artist slinging clay around.
My mentors politely reiterated the fact that I am not J. K. Rowling. I did not have distinct humps, plus an overarching hump. I had this:
So last month, when Steve sent back my edits for book 1, he said, “Cool, but we have to fix this ending.”
Me: Ok, let’s shift some material from hump 2 to hump 1.
Steve: Please stop torturing your camel.
Actually he said no such thing. Steve is way more polite than that. But he did point out it wouldn’t resolve the problems.
See, even though he’d only ever seen it pitched as a 2-book idea, I guess I never completely fooled anyone. I was still trying to pass my one-hump camel off as a two-hump camel.
So guess what? We’re combining them back into one book.
It took me a week to consider the notion when Steve suggested it, but now I’m pleased with the decision. We’re no longer marketing the book solely to Young Adults. And epic novels are more and more acceptable. It still means I have to cut several thousand words and fix my camel. The vivisection of the past three years can’t be undone by simply removing the back cover of book 1 and the front cover of book 2, and shoving them together. We have to rearrange some internal organs. I had written an entire chapter only for the purpose of reminding readers of the characters and plot at the beginning of book 2.
I seriously won’t miss that chapter. In fact, if I gave my chapters titles, that chapter would be called,
In Which Our Hero Stares at Walls.
By the time Waking Beauty comes out in 2015, it will once again be a lovely (and robust) specimen of a one-hump camel, as originally conceived. You won’t even know it’s been through reconstructive surgery.
(Isn’t all editing reconstructive surgery?)
Writers of series out there, what does your literary camel look like? Send me a pic and we’ll start a caravan.