Ooooookay, so I’m doing an exercise typing out a published novel word for word to “feel” and study the mechanics of it.
Why? To try to work out some pain points I’ve hit. I read about this technique somewhere on the internet and filed it away in the gray matter. If I can find the (or a) link again I’ll update this post.
What? I picked a “snack-sized” (about 50,000 words) romance so it wouldn’t take long to type. Also a romance because I also want to see if I can replicate “that there romance formula” and crank out some for potential self-publishing income while I work on the other novels.
Goodness gracious, it is painful, let me tell you!
Character Overload. In the first scene alone — about 2,875 words in length — six (6) characters actively participated via action and dialogue and eleven (11) other characters were mentioned, often multiple times. That’s seventeen (17!) named characters across 2,900 words, or an average of a new character introduced every ~170 words. I’m exhausted just keeping up with who’s who. I’m trying to justify this character soup in my head and the best I can come up with is that the specific line requires strong family and friend involvement/support system so the author packed it in starting with the first few pages.
Telling, telling, telling. There’s so much telling, it’s so hard for me to type it as is and not edit. Trying to turn this into a positive, trying, trying … hmm maybe this will help me learn to just type something out without editing as I go so I’ll get more of the story down before going back to make my tells into shows. I could maybe live with that. I probably couldn’t not mark the areas so that I DO remember to go back and fix them later, though. It also might be partially a necessity due to the length of the medium? 50,000 words really doesn’t allow for too much showing? Maybe? Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm? No, I’d like to think that a deft hand could show and still be concise. Will I be able to do so? Ha ha ha ahhahhahaaaaa. (<– that’s self-directed mockery there; a.k.a. “maaaaaaybe, but gotta buckle down and prove it”)
Disconnects. I hate to bash because, well, this has been published and I’m just a wanna be, but this is the most painful part. Best described with a for instance, methinks. For instance: the story starts with the lead reflecting in a nostalgic manner on how much he misses performing and longs to be doing it again only to find out a few short sentences later that he’s actually on stage, performing, right at that moment. What?! A few easy tweaks to tense could have fixed that, or a few extra words to show that actually performing again was making him realize how much he had missed it. Or something. Anyhoot, how it started, it continued. Every few paragraphs in the first chapter had me going “huh?!” and stopping to reread and consider. At least it points out to me something to try to avoid doing so that’s a positive.
But, they also packed a LOT of other good stuff into that first 2,875 words.
The Heart of the Matter. We already know the lead male is a musician from a ranching background, he is struggling to make a musical come back to support his daughter who means everything to him, he considers himself the disinherited black sheep of the family, his parents are dead, he has four brothers, and he has to be the deciding vote on whether or not to sell the family ranch he abandoned 10 years ago when he eloped with his now-dead-of-cancer wife whom his father-in-law disowned upon their elopement and refused to come see even on her death bed but now the F-I-L is now dying and wants to see his granddaughter and BTW the female lead is the dead wife’s sister and acting foreman of said ranch in her dying father’s stead.
Ah. That’s also a lot to convey in such a small amount of words.
Especially with so many characters and other (potentially irrelevant) info bits having been introduced along the way.
In the next few chapters, these things did get better, making me think the first scene (which was also the entire first chapter) might have been cobbled together after the fact specifically to info dump.
So, anyhow, it’s been a great learning experience so far.
No pain, no gain, right? Right?
Regardless of my nitpicking here (for that’s what it is, extreme nitpicking!) the author has put together a story that others want to read, and therefore is light years ahead of me in that regard. I fully respect their ability to produce that finished work and get it through the entire publishing process.
This exercise has made me slow down and really look at the mechanics of a novel without also trying to create at the same time. I tell myself I’m stepping back and critically evaluating when I’m reading my favorite authors’ works, but let’s be honest, they’re my favorite authors for a reason — precisely because I can lose myself in their stories. When I’m reading their books I simply don’t take the time to pick the text apart like I’m doing now.
Here’s hoping I someday can have my own work ripped apart by others. :0)