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  1. #1
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    Newbie questions

    With my goal for October in mind, I have a question I'd like to put to the group. First a little background. This is my first attempt at writing a novel and while I have the whole thing plotted out, now that I'm starting to do the actual writing its getting out of hand. : )

    I've got multiple characters in my story. They and their stories will converge eventually but until then I'm using the various sub plots to show the world I've created. In my outline, I plotted out their stories individually and then showed the various intersections of those plot lines. To me, each of these characters is fascinating but by starting most of their stories in chapter one (because I've got so much planned for each of them) I've got 11 different plot lines (in various locations) being introduced in chapter one. I may have gotten a little carried away.

    So, what I want to know is....how do each of you break up your stories? Are there conventions that I need to be aware of?

    With 1 1/2 characters story starts left to write I'm at 16783 words....for chapter one. Giggle. That's a novella. : ) It's a first draft so it's likely than as much as half of it might get cut when I clean it up but I've got 20 chapters planned and I can't think how to keep the story tamed. I'm also not certain if I should even worry about that at this point. I'm a little concerned that if I try to censure myself to conform to a set length that I might end with a shallower story.

    So, do you worry about word targets while writing or do you deal with them during the editing process?

    Thanks in advance for any and all replies.

  2. #2
    Registered User Jaigon's Avatar
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    I don't have any advice since I haven't written any novels (working on one right now). But I must say that I had the exact same problem as you. My original novel was going to be a multiple POV high fantasy, with intertwining stories. I got about 20k words in and found that my story became about 90% different than what I planned. Things changed so much I did not even know how to proceed.

    Instead I scrapped that idea and am working on a simpler novel, only 3 intertwining stories instead of 10. I'm not sure whether your an experienced writer or not, but I think these kind of works should wait until you can handle a basic novel. I still want to do something epic, but I know I must improve my craft first.

  3. #3
    I struggled with this problem with my first novel. After speaking with another writer, one of the things I realized was that I spent a ton of time building all these backgrounds to these characters to the point that my inciting incident came nearly 70 pages into the book, which is a long time to expect the reader to sit through background. I wound up scrapping about 75% of the background, having found that I referenced most of the back story and backgrounds of each character throughout the novel anyway.

    That's how it shook out for me. My advice, such as it is, is to make sure you've got those detailed notes and that you know your characters THAT intimately so that when you write your story, your reader comes to know them as well as you do. Most importantly, don't make your readers wait too long before you drop your plot on them.

  4. #4
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    Well, this being your first novel and all, I'd say just keep writing and don't worry about plot, characters, or length. This is going to be a first draft, and you should treat it as such. Once you've shaken out the entire story from your head, you may find yourself staring at either several novels or perhaps a lot less characters.

    Worry about plots and such in your following draft. Sort of like slapping a log on a lathe and working it into shape.

    Should you introduce eleven characters in a single chapter? Uh, not in my opinion. The hapless reader will have a hard time figuring out who to empathize and bond with. Remember that a good story is one where the reader joins with the character.

    Should you have a first chapter longer than some novellas? I think you figured out for yourself that the answer is also "No.". I've found that something between fifteen and thirty pages is great for me. Not a fan of a chapter every three or so pages either.

    None of this is something for you to worry about now. Just get the story out.

    My thoughts on the subject, of course. Your mileage may vary.

    Kerry

  5. #5
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    What kmtolan said is great. All I'd add to that is to think about a chapter (or a sequence of chapters) in terms of movement. Break chapters and scenes down to their principal parts, and if they don't show movement (for characters, plot, etc.), scrap it. If you want to change POV, ask yourself, did you the last character and story in a satisfying place? Our stories always need to be moving forward.

    And another thing. New novelist tend to over to it. I did. Learn how to write a simple story first. If you want to write an epic, fine. In that case, as others have said, just get the story out on the page.

  6. #6
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    Thank you all for responding. I've mulled over your comments and I think I have a firmer grasp on some of my problems.

    My story hasn't changed much from my original outline but as I write I find that I'm filling in plot holes. I'm not organized enough to keep all of the various aspects of my world in my head and so I'm writing them down. Most of what I'm writing probably doesn't belong in the story. If I scraped about 75% as Sarunus did I'd be on target. I don't have the skill yet to do that on the fly so I'll carry on and hopefully I'll gain some skills as I go.

    It's been a long time since I've roughed out a blank on a lathe but the analogy highlights another problem. I haven't decided whose story I'm telling yet. In the past, I've tried to force myself to pick a character but it's always left me doubting my choice. That's another reason to carry on and see who the strongest characters turn out to be.

    When I first started this project each scene was like a mini story, complete with a tidy ending. Now, I'm working on ending my scenes with a bit of tension to keep the flow going.

    I may give some more serious thought to the short story threads. I'm still trying to make time for writing and so haven't wanted the distraction. What I need to do is look at those as practice/exercise instead. I'll mull it over some more before I commit myself to Nov/Dec.

  7. #7
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    What's happening to you is normal. Do not fight your brain. It's a first draft, let it go whereever it goes for a bit. The reason you are doing so much information is that you are figuring out your characters. You may have felt that you already had them figured out in outline, but you did not. Now you are asking your right brain to come up with information about them and your right brain is having fun. Do not put on your Editor's Hat too early and keep your right brain from having fun. It will pout. Instead, just have your left brain keep sorting, refining and keeping track of information, good and bad, and then you can sort through it later. It is very likely there will be many plot changes and some of the material may end up as entire whole novels.

    Here is a recent blog post from fantasy author Jim C. Hines which may help:

    http://www.jimchines.com/2014/10/perfection-vs-art/

  8. #8
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    Facing... I am actually kind of in the same boat as you. I have seven characters, subplots, meta plots, and an enormous story to tell. One of the things I have recently been considering is slowing my story down a little and spreading it out. What I mapped out as one book might actually turn out to be the plot of two or three books. As I draft I have been having the feeling that I am just rushing things, forcing the plot along at light speed. Action is good, clutter is bad. Maybe considering spacing things out a bit? I spread my intros out to about one group/character per chapter and am considering spacing some of them out through the first book (which would probably end up causing huge story restructuring for me, but if that's what I have to do.)


    On another subject you raised: I have a doc labeled world building, one labeled plot and notes, another labeled "Systems of Magic and their Histories on Karth", and more; each document laying out details in an easy to read format so that I can reference them later. Especially for epic fantasy or a huge book in general I think it is good to have everything laid out so you can check as you write. Not to mention laying out my notes really helped me add detail and nuance to my own understanding of my story-verse.

    Good luck, Neighbor, and may the story be with you. :P

  9. #9
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    Thank you for your advice and support. I just finished chapter one and will move onto chapter two tomorrow. Yippie!

    I really enjoyed the blog post and knowing that this is just part of the learning curve is very reassuring. I've got loads of documents in a world building folder but so much of it is far back story. I think it is recent back story that is sneaking it's way into my story right now. In writing the last scene I can see where my timeline will change a bit and I'll either introduce this last character I was working on later in the story or I'll write some of his past adventures and use them as a catalyst for the border raids (that I currently don't have a precipitating event for) that will take place soon.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Facing View Post
    T I've got loads of documents in a world building folder but so much of it is far back story.
    Are you sure your not a runaway alter ego of mine? I have about 40 documents in a folder, filled with scenes scattered across the entire history of my world. Most of it, in my case, is actually further on in the story, but I see where your coming from on this.

    As somone in a boat of the exact same size, description..and even color, if you ever need to hash anything out or a reader Facing, let me know. Anything I can do to help.

  11. #11
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    I agree with what most people have said already. From experience, my first novel was a piece of convoluted trash. The plot lines did not match up AT ALL and the character development was lacking. When I say lacking, I'm being gentle, but I think this is normal. Consider it a learning experience. Furthermore, it might be best to go ahead and get it out of your system. Your second novel or the rewrite of the first one will be much better. Don't let it stop you from writing!

    Also, I remember reading advice from a well known author (G.R.R. Martin is his name I think) where he said that short stories are the best way to prepare for novel writing. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the man is a high successful writer so I would listen to him! Perhaps breaking your story down into short stories might help clear the confusion and simplify the story arcs. You can always create scenes to bridge the short stories together. This might actually be a viable solution especially considering you have characters whose plot lines will converge. In any case, good luck with your first novel!

  12. #12
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    Hobbles - I don't have anything worth reading at this point but I'll keep your offer in mind for a later date. I'd also like to extend a reciprocal offer. I'm here if you need a sounding board etc.

    With respect to short stories, I know I have to write more. I currently have two out and a third I need to review (just got it's second rejection) and then look for another possible home for. One of the things that first brought me to this forum was the idea of the short story contests. Hubby participates in a photography forum with weekly assignments and it has really improved his work. I'm hoping participating here will do the same for mine. All I have to do now is get over my cowardice.

    One step at a time.

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