11.03.2016

In the Long Run

While you are reading a novel, you can gauge its sweep. Scenes unfold within a timeframe limited enough that you can see the story’s progression. The author who pens those scenes, though, does not have the same view. Each scene is a struggle that elapses over a period of days, and finishing merely one may take several weeks.

So it is not surprising that authors develop tunnel vision. If you have drawn up plot notes before starting off the novel, you may put them in play too early. You are, in effect, inserting them in the book based on your much shorter horizon. This can result in, say, a suspect for a crime being identified by page 50 and firmly planted in the reader’s mind as the probable perpetrator by page 100. But you end up writing a 300-page book. What is that guy going to do for the last 200 pages?

If this occurs in an early draft, you have several possible remedies. The first step is to move the key scenes back further in the book. That forces you to consider what the suspect—to run with that simple example—should be doing prior to the key revelations. You will have to write new scenes for that character. Maybe you decide that some misdirection needs to be inserted. So you think through that skein, expanding your vision of the character’s role, making the twists and turns more complex.

The other component of this added complexity is creating alternate suspects. If you put forth only one person of interest, the reader has no guessing to do. If you put forth three, and assign pieces of business for them to do, the reader can’t settle in. What was a foregone conclusion is now only a guess. Again, you will have to add new scenes to create these alternate scenarios.

After you’ve done that, you may be worried that the book is super long now. That’s not a problem, though. What went wrong in the early draft is that your later scenes with the character started to become repetitious. So take out those scenes—and insert the new ones in their place. You see, in the revision process, your horizons have been raised as well.

Exercise: Adding such texture aids any type of novel. If you are writing a love story, you may decide to add a second love interest, or at least someone who looks shiny and attractive for a while. That way the reader doesn’t have to slog through the middle of the book, knowing all the while how the story will turn out.

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
—Alvin Toffler

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine

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