Well, after a new year's resolution (which I almost never make – I like to think I don't have to wait for a special occasion to change my life for the better, I decided to start a new novel this year.
That means finishing Falling, so I resolved to spend a day a week working on it, and so far so good.
First I finished shortening the chapters. I read a Crichton-esque science thriller a few years back called Entangled, and the thing that really stuck with me was the short chapters – only a page or so in some cases.
After awhile it occurred to me it'd be a great approach for Falling. Some of the science if a bit heavy anyway, so I figure more breaks can't be a bad thing.
But mostly it's about pacing. If the story's working, psychologically we're more liable to put it down if there's a big chapter. If we can see it's only a short chapter we'll be more tempted to keep going just to read a bit more, and before you know it you've sat up all night and finished it.
So I wanted to chapters to be no more than around 1400 words, and most of them were, but I had a bit of work to do.
Some scenes - like the Thai dinner at Dale's place where Tim explains the physics behind ghosts and hauntings – were really long.
That made chopping and changing one of the challenges, because I realised I'd written the rest of the book very much for a chapter to end so the action can shift somewhere else.
If you have a chapter break and then just go back to the same scene it just feels like there's a break for the sake of it. The only other way to manage it if you don't have anywhere else to cut to (and with Donald and Barry dead and Dale, Tim and Vicki really the only characters left, I'd run out of places to cut to) is the finish the chapter on a big bombshell or reveal.
Cutting Tim's long exposition up to include two or more bombshells was the only way around it.
Keeping other advice in mind that I'd heard about what's called Deep Point of View, I reintroduced Albert for two chapters. Previously when the train carriage disappeared I'd left the characters to just describe the speculation, media shitstorm and theories about where it came from and how everyone missed it.
By depicting Albert trying to deal with it all in the halls of the city government put it back on Earth, gave it some dialogue and cut it all down a whole lot.
That was actually part of a much bigger reworking of the first half of Part 8.
Originally Dale had come to Tim's house to sleep and there were two major discussions about changing the frequency, the pylon monsters (and Tim figuring out what it was) and the reveal about how it can manipulate – and, with the revelation about the train carriage – create matter out of nothing.
It cut from there to the fishing boat that finds the carriage, the media and government fighting and the theories that arose in the public discourse, and I realised I was taking way too long to say stuff that could be much more direct.
For one thing, Dale and Tim have the first discussion in the kitchen while they're eating, and for the second discussion they're back in the kitchen eating.
There was a whole lot more in there to convey as well, including Dale dreaming about the faraway and nearly understanding what it is and also convincingly giving him a reason to think he has to go back and save Vicki.
I tightened it all up and managed to keep everything in, wrapped it all up into about three chapters less and replaced all the omniprescent exposition with character action as well.
Something else I've been very careful about is anchors. I think of a huge load of something with a tarp wrapped around it, and ropes tied tightly around it to keep it together, hooks either end biting into the canvas to stretch the ripes taut.
Those as the anchors setting something up and paying it off in the story, crisscrossing every which way and calling back to older stuff.
If you just shoehorn something in to call back to something else the audience can see from miles away it's just a cheap plot device you just dropped in to set up something else.
To extend the metaphor above, it's a hook in the canvas with the rope just dangling free, and stands out like dogs balls.
The trick is to go back to where the set-up makes the most sense to the story, so it's seamless. If a character says 'hey, what's this red poker chip in my pocket? Oh well, I'm sure it's nothing, anyway, what were we talking about?' the poker chip might as well have a flashing neon light that says 'convenient plot device'.
Give your Macguffin significance to what's going on right there and instead of a jarring speedbump it'll just be a smooth stretch of road full of details the reader is taking in naturally along with the rest of the narrative.
After all the above, I now find myself at the stage where all the major rewriting is over. The rest of the work is just mechanical.