The Almost-never Ending Story: Or adding 20K Words (Two Years After the Book is Finished)
I’m going to skip a week in the MICE is Nice series and bemoan a slow muse. You see, I had other projects to work on, alpha and beta reads to do, and assorted matters to attend to. And the Muse grabbed me by the hair, dragged me to the computer and informed me that “No, Against a Rising Tide is not done yet. The ending is not the ending. Start writing again.”
The third Powers book, as first written, was only 69K words long. That’s too short for the story, but I wasn’t certain where I needed to add what. Yes, there is an almost ten-year skip in the book, but that did not feel like the place where I needed to add material. The body of the novel likely needed more detail in places, plus polishing and clarifications. So I tied off the loose ends (I thought), proclaimed it done, and set it aside to revisit just before I got ready to send it to the editor. That was in 2015.
Apparently my subconscious needs a long time to sort problems out, because it was in late December of last year, 2017, that my Muse shook me and said “Hey, there’s a massive plot cable hanging in the wind and unless you tie that down, the book will be too short and your readers will be seriously ticked.” And I face-pawed, because I had specifically highlighted and underlined that plot point in the second and third books, and then moved on. Chekhov’s gun was hanging on the mantle, loaded and cocked. And still hanging when the last page turned. Not good.
The good news was that tying off that plot point would allow me to wrap up a secondary story and have a better, more satisfying book. The bad news is that I had to write that additional ending, which proved to be about 20-25K words. And required a little more research. I did manage to slip in one foreshadowing of the Cat Among Dragons books, and an Easter-egg for Cat readers. But my muse was not done, and the ending I had sketched out? Yeah, scratch that. My subconscious added a few characters, some more danger, removed a bombing raid, and generally wreaked havoc on my plans.
I also had to go back and work in stronger foreshadowing, as well as adjust the original ending. And I may have a bonus short story to add after the main ending now, just because I think readers will want to know “OK, what about [major secondary character]?”
The book is now around 80K words, and will probably get a little longer as I go back in detail and sort out and clarify words written in the white-heat of story telling. Characters who disappeared into the sunset in Version 1.0 will need a little mention in Version 1.2, or readers are going to growl, “What a cold hearted jerk!” about the protagonist. And if reading something makes me scratch my head and say, “Huh. What’s up with that,” I know it will throw readers out of the story unless I add details and clarify things. And the new ending needs to be polished, details added, at least one scene filled in to explain why a bit-player does what he does.
The ending makes sense and does not feel as abrupt as it once did. The story ties into “real” history better, making the alt-history a bit of an ox-bow in the river of time, at least in the Cat Among Dragons series time line.
So what is the point of all this, other than grousing about my subconscious?
Be Ye Not Afraid of Revisions.
If your gut, or your alpha readers, or especially both together say, “Um, what’s going on?” or “And then what?” don’t be afraid of re-working, re-writing, ripping and taping back together, and doing what it takes to make the story work. The last Cat book, currently in edits, had three chapters cut out completely and three new chapters written and added in, with the required revisions, modifications, and tweaking in other places as needed to make them fit. I had to go from “Don’t make me change my poor book! I like it this way!” to “OK, this is now the end of the series. What plot arcs must be brought to a conclusion lest readers hurl the book across the room?” And so I lopped, trimmed, grafted in, polished, and still wonder about one chapter, if I should remove it, or at least cut out a major scene lest I really upset readers who like orcas. My gut says cut the chapter. I’m still on the fence.
Now, oh muse, can I go back to working on the sequel to Of Merchant and Magic, please?