Cutting crap out of one’s novel is a reality that we embrace at the earliest stages of our hobby. We know that a lot of those “cool” ideas or thought-provoking passages in your first draft are going to end up being chucked away into depths beyond your imagining. But one aspect of this that we as writers are reluctant to accept is the possibility of having to kill an entire plot arc.
Which is exactly what I had to do this weekend.
So before you start asking how in the right mind I came to such a bold conclusion, let me fill you in on the details. In my current writing escapades, I’m in the process of crafting the sequel to my first story. Now, now, me being the industrious, ambitious, and forward-thinking youth that I am (not), I decided I’d up the ante.
I love big books. My favorite genre is Epic Fantasy, and coincidentally, I write Epic Fantasy. Who woulda thunk it? So, in my all-abounding wisdom, I decided I’d make a book that was at least 100,000 words longer than my previous one. Yes, I’m fully aware that this was a dumb idea.
As a result, I came to the conclusion that the only way to properly execute this would be through the creation of three separate POVs. And that was just what I did. I drank my morning coffee, I wrote an outline with the three branching storylines, and I got to pounding out words in my book. Fun, right?
WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!
Day after day, I was witness to the foundations of my story crumbling under their sheer weight! I watched as some of my favorite characters morphed into unrecognizable mannequins that struggled to even have a single dimension of personality! And I saw myself contradict the world-building I did in the previous book on countless occasions!
My characters were out of whack, my plot started resembling a Saturday-morning cartoon, and I’m just barely starting to heal the emotional scars. But why was it that this happened in the first place?
It was all due to one simple thing really. I had my attention spread out over two different plot arcs that were unrelated to one another. My rivers of creative juices were branching out into rivulets instead of disembowling into the oceans of my imagination! In my attempts to make a grand story, I had stripped that same story of a lot of the depth and substance that all good yarns require.
Fortunately, I was able to realize this before finishing my first draft. Granted, I’ve already written more than half of the book with both of those plot arcs intact, but there’s still a decent portion left. So I have a little hope.
But other authors, they might not be as lucky as I. So I figured I’d give three signs of when you might want to Amputate an Arc!
1. It’s unrelated to the over-arching narrative
This is something that I was aware of since the beginning, but never bothered to act on. When I first placed that POV in my book, I told myself it would make sense later on. And this was for a variety of reasons.
Mainly, I wanted to set up a storyline for a later book. The characters that I planned to develop in that POV were meant to change drastically over the course of the series at large, but my problem was that the other POVs were geographically isolated from this one. I had one group of characters out on fanciful adventures with a healthy dose of merriment, while the leftover POV was doomed to stay in the capital city of one of my nations for the whole book. And it just so happens that the former is the group involved in the main narrative.
Now, that isn’t to say that geographic isolation can’t work with mutiple POV stories, it certainly can. But firstly, I’m not the kind of person that can work well with them, and secondly, the real problem is that both plots had nothing to do with each other.
I had a harder time nailing down the themes I wanted to get at in my book because it was hard to find common ground between both of these plots. So in my attempts to find a message that permeated the whole book, I was left grasping at what amounted to absolutely nothing.
So what does this mean? Before you consider attaching another POV to your work, ask yourself what kind of grand goal are all POVs in the novel working toward.
2. You’re losing precious time to develop characters
This is another one that I figured out early, but my mind decided to remain ignorant. One of the things I started to notice when these POVs started expanding was that the time I could allot for characters to have conversations and interactions with one another was limited. This was to keep up with the pace of the tale.
I couldn’t afford time to just let my characters have moments to stretch their limbs and relax. Even worse, I didn’t have time to let them enjoy each other’s company.
I always had to have them doing something that was in relation to the plot itself. They had to be discovering something, fighting an enemy, or being told about another aspect of the world. And for the style of writing that I have, this wouldn’t cut it for me.
One of my joys in writing is the opportunity to write character banter. I feel that one of the most underappreciated methods of developing character is to just let them sit back and talk to each other over a round of drinks. One of my favorite moments in any piece of fantasy is when characters congregate around a campfire and just speak with one another.
It doesn’t have to be about plot or even anything relevant to the world. I just love seeing them act like friends under a starry sky, with flickering flames lighting up their faces. But moments like these can take up space for plot-development in the book, and can slow the pacing down to extreme levels.
And because of that, I’ve yet to write a scene like that in this book.
I was always in a rush to keep a consistent progression in my novel, and the multiple POVs ended up taking my attention where character development should have been occupying me instead. So even if banter sounds like a part of the book that could just be cut, think about it twice. It’s more valuable than you’d expect.
3. You struggle to identify a binding theme for your story
I talked about this for a bit in the introduction, but this one hurt me the most. When I wrote my first book, my perseverance was due in large to the fact that I had a clear idea of the atmosphere I wanted to portray. And that was one of friendship.
I was tired of watching all these edgy and Grimdark fantasy novels being lauded as “realistic” and “deep”, while other classics were looked down upon for being too “lighthearted” or for having more traditional views on morality. The fantasy environment that I saw was one in which themes of genuine friendship were seen as cheesy and cliché.
So I set out to change that.
I wanted to create the kind of book I would enjoy reading, and that theme of friendship was what kept me writing. When my prose went south, I reminded myself of the bonds being formed by my characters. When my plot started going in the wrong direction, I steered it back on track with this in mind.
But that only worked because my story was focused. And that is the exact opposite of what was happening with its sequel.
Because my sequel lacked unity, I was unable to find a binding concept that brought it all together. And it’s not even meant to be an extremely complex theme either. Simple things, like love, family, faith, growth–those were what I looked for. But I couldn’t even find that.
The moral of this post is, that we’ll end up cutting things from the book at one point. Maybe just sentences, but in the worst cases, it might be as bad as entire plots. But in either case, you just have to suck it up and go through with it.
As we speak, I think of ways to reverse engineer my novel to try to find its new focus. With this troublesome POV out of the picture, I have to rethink everything from the ground up, but I know it will be worth it. So how about you? Have you ever made a massive change to your book? Was it something dragging your story back? Did you regret it? If so, do us all a favor and share your experience!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.