For the past year or so people have been asking, “How’s your book coming?” referring to my novel, If a Butterfly. I had been telling them that the first draft was done, that I had to clean up a few issues, and polish it, and do some cutting to trim it down to size (it was up to 280K at one point), but the truth was that the first draft actually wasn’t done. Not to my mind, at any rate.
There were still holes to fill, minor unexplained gaps of time, and details that were either incorrect or a bit sketchy. Back in January I read the manuscript all the way through, and it was coherent (a good sign), but there still were problems. I created a character frequency chart to give me a sense of how often each particular character appeared. Have a look at the two versions of it if you like (widen your browser as much as you can, not for smart phone viewing).
The chart in January 2012 (only partially filled in).
With nine characters to juggle I didn’t want the readers to forget about any of them, and I also had some chapters that were extremely long (too long, too detailed). I used the chart to help me restructure and trim the story, and also wrote a chapter by chapter (very brief) description of what happened in each.
The first 100 pages of the story had been reworked several times, the final chapter was absolutely finished, and all of the events of the story in between were written (still too long, but written), except for one. The Storm.
The middle section of the book culminates with several of the characters being affected by Hurricane Isabel (September 2003), one married couple is driving through it; another character changes her travel plans, and leaves DC to fly to Houston; another has a flight to DC scheduled, but doesn’t know if he will be able to get there, etc. I had been researching the storm for years, and had interviewed weathercasters and people who worked at the National Hurricane Center, but I kept putting that section off because I still couldn’t figure out how I wanted to write it.
I finished it early in June, and spent a few weeks concentrating on rewriting and practicing my pitches for Butterfly and Jagged Man, preparing them for the WLT Agents Conference. The feedback I got at the conference convinced me that Butterfly needs more work (because a character-driven novel of this length, with multiple characters will be extremely hard to sell). It’s still the novel I believe in the most, and I’m not giving up on it, but I’ve been spending the past few weeks trimming it down, chapter by chapter (and I’ve reduced it by about ten pages – out of the first eighty). I’m going to keep doing that for the next few months, but only a couple of days a week. From now until the end of the year, I’m going to work on The Jagged Man, a thriller about an 8,000 year old sociopath.
The point of this extremely long post (apparent evidence of why my novels are so long – I can’t stop once I start) is that after telling everyone my first draft was finished, now it actually is. The holes are plugged, the huge storm in the middle is written, and I know what else I need to do to finish the book.
So the milestone is that a week ago, I felt comfortable enough with the shape of the book that I could feel right about saying it was done, so I finally added – 00 – to the last page.
More to come, and more details about The Jagged Man are forthcoming (somewhere down the line).