Thursday, February 12, 2009

Breakthrough on Ch. 3

Come on NYTimes. You said the Ken Ken puzzles were going to get progressively harder, Mon-Fri. Is that the best you can throw down on Thursday?

I slept like an old man last night and woke up late and cranky. Resumed work on Ch. 3. I was really stuck for awhile. The problem in this chapter is that there are many many events in it that are a little bit important. But no one big even to carry the chapter, apparently. I've tried several different endings over the last few drafts, essentially chopping it off earlier and earlier, on the theory that this and that piece weren't critical. It's true--none of them were critical. But I wanted them in there anyway for different reasons. They just weren't going to work as the climax. But plotwise they come later, so they can't really come after the climax of the chapter . . . .

yada yada. Round in circles, I went. The process for solving this kind of problem is fairly obvious--identify the right focusing question (e.g. What major thing needs to happen here, that happens no where else in the book, to complicate the character's struggle or raises the stakes?) and then hold up everything in the chapter against the standard of that question.

But making one's mind stick on that isn't always easy--at least not without the right balance of sleep and coffee and no other worldly concerns on one's mind. I sit there trying to focus on my focusing question and then my mind wanders to cleaning the dust on the book shelf I'm staring at and to the traffic outside and where will my in-laws park when they come to visit this weekend, etc.

You know what I did? I put a blanket over my head. Really, you'd be amazed to see the physical contortions I go through while I'm writing sometimes. (I crawled under the bed once to try to get in the frame of mind of one of my characters who does that and to imagine what he he's going to do next.) I sat under my blanket like a caged parrot and tried to block it all out, and after a minute the answer to my focusing question came to me and then the technical solutions of what to throw out and where to fold in what I was keeping came to me.

The great news is that (on my printed draft at least) it amounts to about 16 pages cut from a 40-page chapter, which gets it a lot closer to reasonable.

With that and lesser cuts in Chapters 1 and 2, I think I have about 25 pages cut out of the first 125. So 20%. Keep up that average, and I should cut about 108 from 540 to get to 432.

So I think I'll call that my target number in the next draft. 432 pages. I won't really know if I'm getting close until I type in all my changes on the computer, which will be awhile. I figure a couple more weeks of working on the paper copy this way.

No comments: