You’ve written your grand masterpiece. It’s a huge chunk of your soul, it’s your life’s work, and represents all that you love and cherish in this world. It’s also a 9000 page novel with many twists, turns, and a double digit cast of characters. Eventually (after your fourth or fifth edit) you realize this gargantuan body of art needs to be chopped because you know that the last time Tome’s were in vogue you’re pretty sure Monk’s were copying them by hand in between bouts of pretzel invention.
Let’s look at when it’s time to chop or break apart your epic.
Everything in this work is perfect, nothing can be left out!
During the writing process I often go through one of these phases where most ideas would germinate from: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this happened too?’ I like to add a lot to mythology, it’s simultaneously one of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. The problem is that every writer (myself included) falls in love with their own mythology at some point. Instead of streamlining something to make it readable we like to add every sort of character, setting, origin, and every result of a brainstorm we can think of and end up bloating a story.
Hopefully, during an edit, the writer will realize themselves that they’ve created something that just won’t track well, or loses its punch because the pacing is now longer, and then the creative process takes over and we get a better snapshot of a larger body of work.
If the writer doesn’t catch it hopefully they have a support group of editors and beta readers that will offer that much needed advice that helps book/comics/scripts drop a few necessary pounds.
When it doubt, do it like episodic television.
When I got the idea for Inherited I spent a majority of those first weeks writing tons of back story, character profiles, in-universe bibles, story rules, and all of that architectural frame work that goes it to building an on going story. The obstacles that come up when sitting down to write a story where you have all that source material and an ultimate ending in mind become the logical steps you have to present to get there and what characters are you going to use to move that story along.
What you then need to do is isolate your massive body of work into readable chunks that are thematically similar, the only difference being that in a novel setting you may decide to not establish or return to a status quo. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels do this particularly well. Each novel focuses on specific historical ‘beats’ in his fictional world that march inevitably to both in-novel endings, and an over arching ending that he does a very fair job of mapping out along the way.
Comics kind of do this naturally, whether it’s writing for the trade or pitching a maxi series. I think Clevinger’s Atomic Robo writing style is the perfect example where each volume of Robo could be considered a ‘season’ of television that’s part of an over arching ‘series.’
A lot of new writers will generally be the most stubborn when it comes to chopping material, or breaking their work into small chunks. As one starts to writer more material, and more importantly consume more material, the realization becomes that it’s really the audience that determines the story more so than the creator.
In closing, a reader of the site commented on why I don’t make writer’s corners longer. My response to him sums up this article pretty well… people don’t come to Paperkeg to read a self aggrandizing writer go on about the ‘process.’ If someone came across a long form article about some of these topics it might sit in their instapaper for days/weeks/forevers. Instead I choose to write one or two pagers that can be consumed fairly quickly and offer a general insight, because that’s what I perceive the reader’s want. Plus I’m kind of long winded.