This month I started editing Identity and Birthright a sequel to Names and Secrets, the book I submitted for publication in October. This week I made a hard decision about the book: I’m splitting it into two manuscripts.
During the editing of Names and Secrets, I made the hard choice to leave several chapters on my desk because the natural endpoint of the book occurred earlier than the chapters did. If I kept them in the first book, it would either be too long for my audience or too rushed to tell a pleasing story. So, I left them on the desk and put the end of that story where it belonged.
In November, those rushed chapters gave me source material for the second book, and I felt better about the story I was telling. Except, again, I felt like things were getting rushed. When I started editing the manuscript, it felt rushed. I could develop things, but I was still struggling to give everything the attention it needed. And there was another natural break point, about halfway through…
The hard part is that the ‘natural break’ in this book was about halfway through a 53,000-word manuscript instead of roughly 50,000 words into a 60,000-word manuscript. So, I told myself, “this is just the first ½ pass of the first 1 ½ pass edit, let me work up to that ‘natural break’ and I’ll decide then.” It was a good, but scary, decision.
I started the deeper ‘full pass’ part of the edit, and sure enough I could identify a three-act structure within the first half of the book. And I have good reason to believe there’s another three acts hiding in the second half of the manuscript.
The first ‘half’ of the book (at least the first act of the first half…) got longer as I added some detail that had been skipped in the rush to get moving and get to where I thought the book was going. But I if I broke things up, I would still be dealing with a 33,000-word manuscript and a 28,000-word manuscript. Since I want 50,000+ words in each (and don’t want a lot of filler) that felt like a lot of work.
The next question, the real question all along, was “what’s good for the story?” I really was rushing. I was pushing toward where I thought the story ended and allowing things that should have taken time to build up to ‘just sort of happen’.
There was a two-day lag between books (in the story there are two days between the books). Sometimes a time gap between books makes sense. Noir detectives and police investigators might want to stop off at the bar between cases (or at least go home and see the kids…); classic fantasy adventurers probably want a little down time too. There are a lot of reasons for a time break between books. But not in this case!
My hero and heroine are 11 and 12 years old respectively, have just lived through an exciting adventure, had significant life changes they’re trying to come to terms with, and are currently living in a nomadic camp on the brink of war! Two days would feel like an eternity in that situation (at least to me…). So, I picked up the new story the next morning.
I then realized one of my villains could even start earlier, creating an overlap. I also discovered this villain should have more backstory knowledge on the situation that my heroes don’t have, or at least haven’t noticed, stuff that can help the reader understand what’s going on and get them invested in the story (and maybe feeling like they know more than the characters do…).
So, is splitting the story scary? Yes.
Does it mean a lot more work for me? Yes!
Should I do it? YES! In this case (but not always!)
It all comes back to that question, “what’s best for the story?” As authors, we should write things that people will read, stories that entertain and works that teach. If we’re not doing that, then why are we doing this?
Anytime you’re working on a first draft, there are things that need to be refined. There are places where things need to be added and things that need to be removed. There are things you want to include need to be removed, and places we might not want to go (places we didn’t go in the first draft) that we have to go. Often, those places are the ones that make a story interesting for the reader.
Consider this a bit of a case study dear reader. As writers, we all face hard decisions, eventually. Our solutions to manuscript problems can make or break our stories. So, we have to ‘go there’ even if it isn’t easy.
Good luck with your writing decisions dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.