This blog is part of a series chronicling the process of splitting my 250k-word novel into shorter novels for publication. The first installment is here. The featured photo (above), from the National Park Service, is of the Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park, which inspired the haunted manor in both of these stories.
In earlier installments, I described the two parallel stories of Adam and Gaia, an old priest and a young girl who don’t know each other, but who each begin tragic and difficult journeys after chance visits to an old, ruined, lakeside manor house full of creepy paintings and religious artifacts.
I set out to write this book in the Game of Thrones style — rotating POVs, lots of interconnected stories, intrigues within intrigues. But I don’t have Martin’s patience and the book quickly started to resolve along two major plotlines, with a few side intrigues sprinkled in. By the second half of the book, I was almost writing two books simultaneously and alternating chapters.
This is sort of an ideal situation, and if you’re coming here looking for tips or encouragement on how to slice apart your 5 MC behemoth with overlapping POVs, this is about the part where you realize you may have wasted your time, but hopefully some of my experience will still resonate.
Step 1 – the Rough Cut.
I work in Scrivener, as many writers do, and am overly-anal about arranging my chapters in folders, so I can have as many options as possible for compiling. That’ll be another blog post. Maybe.
To kick off my surgery, I duplicated my novel and went through, identifying what was Adam and what was Gaia. You can see, in this one section, I have a few of each timeline, and one question mark — a side-intrigue that doesn’t entirely belong in either book.
So, I start by deleting (in copies, not the original) every Gaia chapter (for the Adam book) and every Adam chapter (for the Gaia book). For now, I leave my question marks in both chapters.
Hold on, Scrivener has this thing called “Collections” where you can collect disparate chapters into one group for compiling. Why don’t you just make collections for each one?
I tried that, and for a rough cut, it’s not a bad approach. But, it becomes really obvious, the minute you start reading your rough cut, that you are going to want to change things in the separate novels that you don’t necessarily want to change in the full novel. This brings me to…
Step 2 — Kill the Patient
I spent about three months fiddling with my two rough cuts. Maybe it was line edits, maybe it was a whole chapter rewrite in a new POV.
With each edit, I found myself going back to the Full Book™ file and replicating the edits, or replacing a whole chapter with the edited version. I was doing twice the work. I was still creating two new novels, but I was also improving the original, combined version. However, keeping an eye on the original version was creating mental resistance to making necessary changes in the separate novels.
For example, in the Full Book™, we meet Gaia’s father, Elt, well before we ever meet Gaia. We get to know his background, his motivations, a hint about the father he despised and the parent he wants to be (you can just skim it).
His father, who worshipped the King’s Gods, had begged Elt, on his death bed, to deliver half his fortune to the Temple of Epinyres. He hoped, perhaps, that by the exchange of coin, his name might be chiseled into the walls of Kingsfaith temples here on earth, and on the hundred-handed god’s scroll in heaven. But before the man died, Elt abandoned the Kingsfaith and confessed for Talfar. He hired priests to chant Talfari prayers day and night over the agonies of his father’s death throes, and when the elder Piper expired at last, Elt buried him in a pauper’s cemetery, beneath an unmarked stone. He had not always reviled his father. As a child, he spoke the man’s name with pride to the servants of the household, to the children of other guildsmen, even to the foreign tutor who taught him to write in illuminated letters. He rejoiced when the man would come home from his day’s business, and wept bitterly when he was called away. He said wretched things to his own mother whenever she dared to raise her voice to him, and he cried when the red cough killed her, but only because of how sad it had made the man. Always he cried. He cried when tea was hot. He cried when rain went on too long. He cried when he was not permitted to taste his father’s brandy. He cried when the man finally let him taste it. How quickly that love had turned to hatred. Is a child’s love so fragile that it can shatter thus, he wondered, or are some blows simply too mighty? Whatever the answer, Elt would never again let his tongue taste brandy, nor the whisper of his father’s name.
Even though Elt dies a few chapters later (uh sorry… spoiler alert), I like letting the reader spend some time with him. They’re gonna spend a lot of time with his daughter, and I want to leave them with his perspective as they consider her growth throughout the book. Besides, in a big epic, characters you get to know for only a short time are par for the course.
But Gaia’s story, separated from the big epic, is now mostly a single-MC adventure, and it’s a little weird not to introduce the MC’s perspective for 5 chapters.
And so we snip, and focus on getting to know him more through Gaia:
“Are you sure about camping in that place, Father?” she asked. “Your men don’t seem to like the idea.” “Indeed, they do not,” he answered, resting his hands on the rail beside hers. They were becoming less the soft hands of a guild minister and more like those of the crew, coarsened by sun and rope. “But what do you say, Daughter? You’ve read everything ever written about that place. Should we camp there, or weigh anchor and take our chances in the water?” “That body in the reeds — was it Omruk?” “So you were listening?” He raised an eyebrow. “Sometimes Daughter, I forget whose child you are. When your mother and I lived near the Fisher’s harbor, she could count the vessels from our bedroom by only their sound. That’s Toelgian wood against the pier, she’d say. That is the ruffle of Ennyki hemp…” “… And that is the whip of Gleistian cotton… Father, you’ve told me this story so many times it is almost a Warding tale itself.” He sighed. “Sadly, child, you inherited my own poor talent for grace and sentiment, instead of your mother’s. And Warding tales are for what we fear, not for what we love.”
Sure, it loses a little, but I’d rather lose some side character’s backstory than lose the reader.
But the important thing here is that this is a change that can’t go back into the original, 250k-word combined story. Elt’s chapters made perfect sense in the original novel with rotating POVs, but now they don’t. By rewriting this part from Gaia’s POV, I’ve officially killed (or at least shelved) the Full Book™, and given birth to The Work of Warding, the first of two standalone companion novels.
The upside is that, since that point, editing The Work of Warding has been a lot easier. If I find a typo, I no longer worry about fixing it in the Full Book™. If I end up needing to go back to the Full Book™, it will need its own editorial process, but there’s no reason to do it now.
I guess the point I’m making is, when you’re chopping a novel in half, the sooner you pick a direction and commit to the surgery, the less painful it will be.
So does this mean you’re giving up on rotating POV?
Heck no. I LOVE rotating POV. I’m letting lots of side-characters and even some villains have their own POV chapters along the way, once I’ve established my MC. The plan is to allow some rotating POV, but let the MC hog the microphone, or the good game controller, or the weed — whatever metaphor you prefer.
Next, we’ll talk about the other sibling, Brother Adam’s story, and give some thought to our publication strategy.
Thanks for reading?