How to revise a novel that’s in 12 pieces?

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  • #200325
    crimson_angel
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    • Topics - 16
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    Some of you may remember my novel Survivor from 2YN 2004-05. I was going along smoothly until I hit chapter 10, where everything went off the rails. I started writing each plot thread separately and non-linearly. I ended up with 12 documents total. This was the only way I could finish this novel, and I did in 2009 (it’s around 250k).

    Well, been thinking about picking it back up and revising it. But with those 12 pieces, I haven’t got a clue as to how they fit into the overall narrative. I’ve considered doing it by POV – Amber’s Story, for an example, with most of her POV stuff in there, followed by Anna’s Story, with hers, and Laura’s Story, which would be in Laura’s. They would have to converge toward the end.

    I have note cards made (Super Notecard) so I have almost the entire thing that way (except the last 50k. That’s where I stopped notecarding). So I thought maybe I could try to put them in some kind of logical order.

    Currently, everything’s in one massive master document and not at all in any order. I know that won’t work.

    Sooooo any suggestions besides kicking myself repeatedly for being this stupid? I love this story and I want to do it justice, but the sheer work involved in untangling everything makes me twitchy.

    #219759
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 473
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    Scrivener might help. It has a function where you can create notecards and write the scenes to those notecards on the “backs” of those notecards (this is not how I use it), which would enable you to reorganize the different stories into one cohesive, linear whole, then export it into one document as a Word or RTF file.

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "Just love me, fear me, do as I say, and I will be your slave." ~ David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #219760
    Wandering Author
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    • Topics - 34
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    I don’t know the story, but my own instinct, faced with a situation such as you describe, would be to do one of those books where the story switches back and forth between characters in chunks. Then, you would just have to do a lot of cutting and pasting to assemble the chunks in the right order – and, of course, go over the result to revise it. I’m trying to recall the name of a book that does this, so you can see what I mean. (On that, I suggest reading through everything you have, taking semi-detailed notes, inserting distinctive bookmarks you can easily purge later at every obvious break, and including the “code” for each bookmark in your notes. Then, you can go over the notes to put things in order, and use the bookmarks to pull the right pieces out quickly. It will start out slowly, but go much faster once you get used to the process. Yes, I’ve done it…)

    Well, the first one that came to mind was Lord of the Rings. Yes, I know it only does this once the party splits up – but that was the structure which worked for LotR. Use whatever structure works for your book. It seems to me, if you couldn’t go on writing the story in one coherent narrative, there was a reason for that. So figure out the reason, and use that to help you decide the exact structure. Sure, you might need to “weave” the beginnings of some threads together, or split others out earlier than you did, but I don’t think it would be as much work to do that as to write it into a single story. Of course, it will still be a single story, but presented differently. Domesday Book by Connie Willis does a bit of that, telling two different stories by switching back and forth. It is true this is most common with books where the characters are separated by space, time, or both – but I’ve seen books where the situation wasn’t so clear cut, but different characters’ stories were still told like this. I just can’t think of a good example right now. I’ll go to bed tonight, and it will come to me… :P

    #219761
    Linda Adams
    Participant
    • Topics - 38
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    Try redrafting it, rather than revising it. This is something I’ve gone to on mine, and I’ll tell you it’s a lot faster. I already have the story in my head, not the broken parts on the page to be fixed, so I type new words instead of trying to fix all the broken ones.

    #219762
    JuneDrexler
    Participant
    • Topics - 16
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    I don’t know the details of your book. So, this may or may not be helpful. In the off chance it is, here goes.

    I sounds like you have not chosen a ‘main thread’ or storyline for the book. I would look at your 12 story arcs and decide which is the biggest, best, most compelling. Which, in essence, is the MAIN story.

    If you can identify a main story, you make that the trunk (imagine a tree) and see how the other storylines attach to it. This might give you a sense of what the structure of your novel should be.

    –June

    #219763
    crimson_angel
    Participant
    • Topics - 16
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    JuneDrexler – That’s a really good idea. I’ll give that a shot.

    Linda Adams – I was hoping not to redraft it, but it might turn out better. After all, I’ve really improved as a writer since writing it.

    Wandering Author – That is something I’ve been considering. :D

    Ashe – I’ve tried Scrivener, but it really doesn’t work for me. I do have notecards in a program called SuperNotecard.

    Thank you for your feedback! It is a big help. :D

    #219777
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 473
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    You’re welcome! Sorry Scrivener didn’t work for you. Good luck with your revision!

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "Just love me, fear me, do as I say, and I will be your slave." ~ David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #219778
    Wandering Author
    Participant
    • Topics - 34
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    crimson_angel wrote:
    Ashe – I’ve tried Scrivener, but it really doesn’t work for me. I do have notecards in a program called SuperNotecard.

    It has its limitations – and you have to figure out your process, because there is no “one path” to use it, but I like Liquid Story Binder XE. It gives you an incredible amount of flexibility, and if I had to tackle a project like the one you describe, it’s what I’d be firing up. Which isn’t a guarantee it would work for you, of course. Tools are very personal things. But there is still a 30 day free trial – which only counts the days you actually use the program. So, if you start trying it out and get sick for two weeks, you won’t lose any of the 30 days. (At least, there is no news of a change to this. That’s how it has always worked, but I’ve owned LSB for years now…) In other words, if you’re not sure, there isn’t a lot of downside to giving it a try, other than the time you invest.

    #219781
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 473
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    I own LSB, but no matter how hard I tried, I could never comprehend the different aspects of the program and use them the way I intended. The learning curve for it was just too high for me. With Scrivener, I’ve been able to go in and figure out how to get what I wanted done without getting lost or driving my temper into full blown tantrum-status (as happened with LSB more than once before I realized what was happening and forced myself to abandon the pursuit of whatever I was trying to accomplish with it).

    My inability to work with it is why I didn’t suggest it. I should probably stop assuming that because I can’t work with it, nobody else can, either.

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "Just love me, fear me, do as I say, and I will be your slave." ~ David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #219764
    crimson_angel
    Participant
    • Topics - 16
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    Ashe & Wandering Author- I tried LSB too, and had trouble with it. :( I seem to do better with just OpenOffice. And thank you for the luck! I need it! I do appreciate your suggestions!

    #219782
    Linda Adams
    Participant
    • Topics - 38
    • Replies - 217

    I looked at LSB as a trial download and wasn’t impressed enough to pay for it. I can usually pick up on software very easily, and it just looked like I was going to spend my time hunting for stuff instead of creating.

    #219786
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 473
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    I could find the components I wanted to use, just couldn’t figure out HOW to use them. None of them ever seemed to do what I thought they should.

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "Just love me, fear me, do as I say, and I will be your slave." ~ David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #219779
    David Bridger
    Participant
    • Topics - 25
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    crimson_angel wrote:
    I was hoping not to redraft it, but it might turn out better. After all, I’ve really improved as a writer since writing it.

    I’ve found the same thing recently. Earlier this year I got the rights back for a novel that was published a few years ago, and decided to change it from adult to YA. It needed a substantial rewrite. It was the very best quality I could produce back then, but now it’s a much better book. Not just new characters and setting and action, which is what I planned, but a deeper theme emerged and it’s just… well… better writing. :D

    #219765
    jhmcmullen
    Participant
    • Topics - 35
    • Replies - 353

    I don’t know anything about your book. So keep that in mind as I talk about thinks I wot not of.

    Am I correct in understanding that, because there are 12 threads, there are a dozen different characters you are following, and they don’t cross over again until the last 50K words?

    Second question: you’re trying to get this shorter? Or just recombine it?

    Because the implication is that it has a dozen characters to follow. That’s kind of a lot for certain types of novels. (For others it isn’t, so what I’m about to suggest might be off base.)

    Assuming that every character has the same, that’s..uh…a little less than 21K per character, which seems like somebody might be get short-changed. Actually, everybody. I mean, think about it: could you tell this story as a series of connected novelettes? (If you can, things just got easier…but I’m assuming you can’t.)

    Kind of what June and Linda where suggesting, can you look it over and designate, oh, a single Primary character, a few Major characters, and the rest Minor?

    Again: for something like a sprawling generational saga this is totally not the way to go. But if the story concept is amenable…

    The plot of the Primary character becomes your through-line. You’re going to start and end there. (Who do you end with? Who did you start with? Is that who you think is most important? You can cheat with things like epilogues, so nothing here is gospel; it’s just an idea.) Usually your Primary character gets the most wordage because they are probably the character(s…you can manage two, but more than that and it’s not really Primary) that the reader is most invested in.

    And again: certainly there are situations where this isn’t true. I’m talking about a strategy, not the strategy. Mangle and apply as you need to work.

    All right. Given whatever happens in your Primary character’s plot, are there any resonances? Are there places where other characters face symbolically the same choices? Can they happen when or before where the main character has to make that choice? Because then it provides some foreshadowing for the Primary character, makes it a little deeper.

    Oh, to use a hackneyed modern example: you have seven women, and let’s say that the Primary decides to quit her lucrative job for the sake of love and move across the country. Do any of the other characters face the same or a similar choice: one where they have to give stuff up for love? Do the choices reflect what might have happened? (That’s not going to be totally true: different people, different circumstances. But we’re looking for resonances or echoes.)

    Or is there a lengthy chronology that determines what happens when? What if you split it up that way? What happens if you look at the notecards, apply dates, and see what happens when?

    Just some ideas.

    John

    Great at theory, terrible at practice.

    #219766
    crimson_angel
    Participant
    • Topics - 16
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    jhmcullen – Thank you for your feedback. Um, I want to make this story shorter and more streamlined. There are approx. 12 threads, but there is a main one, and I’m considering getting rid of at least 2. Maybe more. There’s a major character in each thread if that helps.

    I don’t think I can do this in novelettes. It’s a rather complex story. I like the idea of doing it by date. I’ll see if that helps. :D

    David – Absolutely! That’s another thing I’ve been wondering, if it’s just better to rewrite it from scratch.

    Linda Adams & Ashe – I recall having issues, too, with LSB, so I pretty much dumped it. I always end up sticking with Open Office. ;)

    Thank you everyone. You’ve really helped. :D

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