Growing Your Book – A Christmas Metaphor
Posted December 28, 2011on:
I’m told that many new authors write too much. The first time I edited my first book I was told I hadn’t written enough. This can happen, of course, too much here and too little there. But since so many people blog about how to handle book bloat, I’m not going to bother. Less well covered is the problem of book anorexia. Unfortunately the solutions to this problem are far less clear.
In my case, which was in my novel Unbinding the Stone, I had a scene in which my MC, Tarkas, had been accidentally brain-blasted, his mind disintegrated, and he was taken to a healer god to be fixed. Things get…complicated, but almost certainly not how you think. As a result of these complications, other complications ensue and eventually the whole course of the book and the story was wildly altered. In fact the story grew to overflow one book and even a second. It’s still growing.
The problem was that I, in my youthful enthusiasm, assumed that all of my readers would see all the little clues I had put in, and deduce all the proper deductions. I really hate putting in unnecessary text, so I didn’t. My editor at the time, who had somehow missed all the unnecessary text elsewhere, felt that this whole sequence had no place in the story and should be dropped. Since this would have been disastrous to the whole course of the story to come, I took the opposite tack and added text, to make the little connections that I thought were obvious, more evident.
When I was writing St. Martin’s Moon I had a similar problem, although in this case I didn’t have any plot to speak of, and was simply following my characters around. The story was small because I could only portray what they were doing. Here, I was aided by the many episodes of revision, which forced me to read the story multiple times. Each time I would suddenly think of some little comment, maybe even a whole sentence, that flavored the scene far beyond the plain little meal I had started with.
My short story Bite Deep also has a bit of this problem, mainly because it was constrained by a word limit in the first edition. When it was later reprinted I expanded it a bit, and the story benefited from that. I mention these examples in the hope that you will be inspired to go and read them.
The problem is poetry, or in these cases the lack of it. My writing technique is to spin the story out of the characters’ own logic. What would Tarkas do here? How would Joseph Marquand (or David Broder) react to this development? Character logic can be thought of as a fusion of more straightforward logic and poetry. Logic is pretty syntactical, defining relationships between abstract entities. The usual example is ‘All things that are X are Y. Some A is an X. Therefore some A is a Y.’ If we assume that the first two statements are true then the third statement must be true.
Poetry deals with the meanings of words, basically all the parts that logic doesn’t, much like philosophy deals with all those aspects of human experience that science doesn’t. If logic is the string of lights on our tree, poetry is the set of ornaments. The lights illuminate the tree, but the ornaments enhance the light. They have to be hung, but logic will not tell us where. We have to use our judgment, with some guiding principles. All the red balls don’t go on the same side, that sort of thing.
The business of growing your book is maybe adding more lights, because maybe the amorphous tree-shaped object you’re trying to illuminate is larger than you thought. Perhaps it has crannies and hollows among its branches that you didn’t see when you were picking it out. The author defines the tree in the way he lays out the lights, but too many is as bad as too few, and they have to be visible.
Or possibly you need more ornaments. To be an author you’ve got to have more balls than most, in a greater profusion and variety, along with all the other weird stuff your parents left you, or that caught your eye on a vacation. But don’t feel you have to use them all, otherwise they block the lights. (This is the kind of metaphor that only makes sense at Christmas, when ‘trimming’ means ‘putting stuff on‘.)
Don’t get me started on tinsel.