Act I Problems / a Five Year Writing Project

Writing a novel isn’t always a team exercise, but it can be.

While I’m doing 100% of the labor and 99.99% of the decision making on this novel, there are a few trusted voices I’m listening to:

  • a writing coach I’ve retained for a few hours of consultation
  • a line editor
  • a friend and fellow writer who’s working on her first novel

Recently I’ve started to realize that Act 1 of book 1 is slow. It’s not terribly slow. I like big vast worlds and multithreaded books (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Directive 51, etc.) and these kinds of books often do start slow. It’s almost inevitable: a motorcycle can rev and be doing 60mph in a few seconds, but a 200 car freight train takes a bit longer to get up to speed.

…but that said, something to draw the reader in in the first ten pages is good, drawing him in in the first five pages is better, and capturing his attention on the very first page is best.

A few people told me that the book started well enough, but “well enough” wasn’t – well – well enough for me.

So the four of us put our heads together and came up with this.

Facts / Problems

  • the pacing problem is largely in Act 1
    • the Earth governments don’t burn the lunar satellites until 15,000 words in (60 pages)
    • the Earth governments don’t hijack a expat ship until 33,000 words in (132 pages)
  • the book is dense with long-fuse plot elements, most of which are lit in Act 1, but don’t pay off till late in book 1 / middle of book 2
  • Mike’s personality is mostly defined by his reactions to long fuse plot elements, so he becomes better defined late in book 1 and in book 2, but because there ARE no short fuse plot elements in act 1, Mike has nothing to push back against and is rudderless as a character
  • much of Mike’s drama is sitting in a boardroom writing memos and arguing with people, which (a) is not suitable for a man of action, and (b) doesn’t show the reader that he is a man of action

Action Plan

  • we need to speed things up in the first 33,000 words
  • …via need a short-fuse plot that starts, builds, and resolves in 33,000 words
  • it should involve Mike, so that
    • we see that he is the hero of the novel
    • he gets a chance to demonstrate his personality
  • the short-fuse plot should be out in Aristillus, not behind a desk
  • some hand-waving ideas on how to work in the new short-fuse plot
    • make room
      • cut up to 10% of the scenes in Act 1
      • condense the word count of the remaining Act 1 scenes between 0% and 33%
    • insert plot
      • add up to 10% new material to 5 existing scenes
      • write 5 new chapters

In addition to all of this my line editor has come up with a list of about ten other issues. She was very kind, telling me that this is the best thing that she’s edited in a long time. That’s good for the ego, but does not change the fact that I’ve been laboring over this project for 3.5 years and had hoped to have it finished before the calendar turned to 2015.

It’s now looking like that won’t happen, and the book will spill into a fifth year.


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5 Responses to Act I Problems / a Five Year Writing Project

  1. Max Lybbert says:

    I’ve seen the results of your previous editing, so I trust that you’ll make things better. Presumably, you’re learning, so the next time you do this it’ll be old hat.

    Anyhow, I will continue to wait, excitedly, for a publishing date.

    • Travis J I Corcoran says:

      Max, yes, every revision does make the book noticeably better, and I know that this next one will too. No one is more frustrated than me that it’s taking so long, but I’m working hard. Thanks for your continued interest / enthusiasm.

  2. Lee says:

    One word: Deliverator

  3. Lee says:

    I come back to your blog every few months looking for updates. Every time I see this post, all I can think of is one word. It’s been a trite trope for years now but it’s all I can do to not to say it aloud while sitting at my computer, just to feel the joy of it on my lips.


    • Lee says:

      Ha! ha! After making my comment, I was (apparently) automatically logged in, revealing my last comment from some 3 months back. I am forgetful but I am not a liar.

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