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paulchernoch

How do you prepare for the end (of your novel)?

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I have previously completed four fantasy novels (three published) and one novelette. Nevertheless, there is always something new to learn. What tips do you have? This is what I am dealing with:

 

Forgetfulness. I am two-thirds of the way through The Loyalty of Trolls.  I put the book on hold for three years while I researched and wrote Job Rises: Thirteen Keys to a Resilient Life, my second nonfiction, about how to overcome suffering by learning from Job's example. Thus my first question is, how do you resume a project you put on hold? Some of the foreshadowing in my manuscript is for events I can't remember! (I did organize my research and plot outline and character profiles well, thankfully!)

 

Self-doubt. I am wading through lots of writer's block. This would make sense if I reread my manuscript and thought, "What dreck! Should I even bother?" On the contrary. My thought is, "How can I continue the story with writing at least as good as that? I am too rusty!" How do you deal with the fear that you can't write as well as you used to? (I am getting older.)

 

Conflict. I normally write from an outline. The first thing I did was toss my old outline of the end and write a new one. I recognized that I needed more conflict. Some is the same, but I added a romantic conflict (the hero turns into a were-goat, and goats are the enemy).

 

Themes. One thing about writer's block is that it can have multiple reasons. I think I have several at the same time. I concluded that I was not sure what the book was about - what is the main moral or philosophical message I am trying to get across? In my wrestling, I found an improved message. Or rather, I had half a message before (the perils of misplaced loyalty), and now I have a whole message (how to transcend our imprisonment to sin through sacrifice for others, putting the focus on my loyalty to others, not their loyalty to me).

 

Complexity. One problem of mine is too many characters. I have fifty characters whose denouement I must manage. They all have a part in the ending. The complexity is overwhelming. I am much better at plot than characterization, but with a cast of fifty characters, even my ability to organize the timeline is under stress.

 

Length. My two-thirds draft is 80,000 words (twenty-three chapters). I still have fourteen chapters to go! That will mean about 120,000 words. I had hoped for under 100,000. I have never been able to write to length, but I would really like to get a publisher to pick this one up. I know that my writing has improved consistently and I want this one to have a shot. Think of my book as the lead up to a complex heist. The heist has to take the whole last third of the book, and I had better not skimp on the action here, because I have been saving the main physical conflict up for this, as well as priming the reader to expect something spectacular. (Trolls, mermaids, were-goats, telepathic butterflies, magical paint sprayers, animated tatoos with attitude, an interplanetary dating service...)

 

POV. I finally figured this problem out. My narrator has amnesia throughout most of the book. He will soon get back his memory - and risk spoiling the surprise. He is not an unreliable narrator (been there, done that), so I had to figure out how to keep the reader (and the other characters) from discovering his motive for doing something that looks so wrong. If the heroes find out, they will help the narrator, which will tip off the villains and destroy the world. If the villains find out first, they will just kill the narrator, and destroy the world. No problem, you say. Just have the narrator omit telling his motive until the end, or switch to a different POV for the end of the book. The problem is that the villains have been working on a mind reading device. I need the narrator to make himself forget why he intends to do a certain thing, while simultaneously ensuring that he believes it is the only course of action he can take. He must be loyal to himself (This above all to thine own self be true). This will then challenge the loyalty of his friends and increase the tension. This cosmic loyalty test will make or break the whole book.

 

Understanding. Most of all, I want to make sure that this book reflects my deepening spiritual journey. Studying Job for over two years changed me, deepened my unerstanding of God and theology, and I want to make sure that there is room within the story I was writing three years ago for a new story about the transformational power of suffering.

 

Revelation. Ten years ago I interrupted the writing of a fantasy novel (A Most Refined Dragon) in order to write my previous nonfiction book on spiritual treasures and worship. When I resumed that fantasy, my writing was deeper. I know it can be done. It is a lot of work. Maybe you have struggled with these kinds of issues yourself. If so, any advice is welcome. These kinds of works come from bizarre places inside of us and are intensely personal. As a teen, I wrote a poem about a locket. Now it is my protagonist. At that time I also came up with the name for the dating service in my book, and wrote a paper titled, "Babel: Should it be rebuilt?" about the push for a universal language. My book deals with the fallout from the Tower of Babel. In my story, I pose the riddle, "Only draw what can be seen." The heroine is an artist who is afraid of being seen because of a skin disease. In order to express her ability, she must bare not only her face, but her soul. Writing is like that. It is scary.

 

Edited by paulchernoch

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"What dreck!" = rewrite.

 

My current WIP is being redone after more than a decade on the shelf.  The concepts, story, and moral underpinnings are are sound.  I know what I have.  The execution, however, was awful.  I have rewritten more than 75% of original manuscript, and added a bunch of elements that were needed to make the story sound.

 

I have pieces of another story that I've let stew for a while.  The concept deals with the nature of salvation.  It answers the atheist question of: if I've been a monster in life, yet claim I believe a second before I die, how can I be saved?

 

In this one the message and heroic arc are powerful,  but I am struggling with story elements.  So it is going to sit.  I have no doubt I will finish it.  I just need some time for stuff to "ferment."

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Also, I learned from the GRRM books that too many characters are bad.  His fans love the depth, but I found all of the mentions and diverse POV utterly annoying.  Its nice that you can read (hear) the book and find a POV you like.  It is annoying having to filter through POV characters you despise.  So it is a mixed bag.

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Paul, I will answer what I can, and leave what I can't to those with more experience. 

 

Forgetfulness: Having left the project for so long, I would actually suggest starting with reading what you have so far. Depending on how much of your memory gets refreshed with a read-through, you might need to write out an outline and take it from there. 

31 minutes ago, paulchernoch said:

How do you deal with the fear that you can't write as well as you used to?

You're going to have start writing, knowing that you might have to rewrite a lot of what you write while you get back into the swing of things. This is why we do edits. 

 

I would strongly recommend writing a detailed outline, including what you already have written. Then, write a bit each day, working from the outline (you mention that you usually work from one). You will soon get back into the swing of writing, and will probably find it gets easier as you go. 

 

Length: Fantasy stories above 110k words are often classified as "epic fantasy". The genre does exist, and for now I wouldn't worry too much about word count. In edits, you can cut a lot of unnecessary words and scenes, which should bring your word count down to 100k or less. But with a cast of fifty, I don't think you'll really manage to get close to 80k.

 

A word on your cast: are you absolutely certain that there aren't some characters you can amalgamate? Maybe you have two or three characters that could actually be combined into one. Don't dismiss this immediately - give it some thought first. A solution will probably present itself to you. And I agree with Jeff - a big cast, while fun, can be bad. Can anyone tell me how the elves in The Silmirllion are related? Without looking at the family trees provided by Tolkien, that is. His much more manageable cast of fewer than 20 in LOTR and Hobbit makes the characters more memorable. 

 

POV: One option you could use is making sure that the course of action your protagonist needs to take is the only possibly course of action. Manipulate the situation in order to force him where you want him to be. That way you get to keep the tension and keep the narrator and readers in the dark. 

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I couldn't put it better!  Let the Spirit lead your writing. Be the instrument as well as the imagination.  It is in the amalgamation, the entwining of our mind with God's that the genius writing emerges. Lose your self a little, to find yourself. 

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Agreeing with Claire. Read first, a couple of times. The outline is a good idea because it saves you having to search through everything when you want to know if such-and-such happened.

 

Write. Whether or not it's as good as the first, just write it. Then you can go back and rework it. That's the process.

 

And believe in yourself. Older does not mean you aren't better. You have learned a lot as the years have passed. So go for it!

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Thanks for all the tips. Character count is the trickiest. The robbers have teams for these functions, with two to four people for each team:

 

  - climbers

  - truck drivers

  - speed boat pilots

  - divers

  - electronics & communications

  - explosives

  - lookout & surveillance

  - boss

 

Plus, I needed at least one member for each sign of the Zodiac.

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@clairetucker - I have done two read-throughs to prep for resuming work. They were invaluable. 

 

Length bothers me because I have read Write Tight three times, apply it a little in my writing, and then aggressively in my rewriting and editing. (When I edit other writers, I make many comments about how to make writing more concise.) Because I have so much experience at shortening, there is less fat in my first drafts than there used to be!

 

Your idea about constraining the hero's freedom is great. My first novel was all about "hero tries one thing, fails, tries another thing, fails, ..." I could have shortened things if I inserted forces to keep him from trying so many things.

Edited by paulchernoch

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