I’ve given myself a new project for my story. I’ve been working on that project for the last several days now. It has been keeping me occupied, and satisfies my need to write. Sometimes I have to wonder, though, if the entire project is just a really elaborate form of procrastination so I don’t have to write anything new. I guess, even if it is, it still needs to be done.
My story has had 4 parts since I thought it up. The old version and the new both have always had 4 parts. Part 1 follows four people. Part 2 follows two of those people. Part 3 follows the other two. Parts 2 and 3 cover the same time period, but, again, focus on different people in different places. Part 4 brings the four people back together in the same place.
I originally thought to use this format after reading The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien. That book uses this format, and I loved reading it that way. Part 1 follows Merry, Pippin, the men, the elves, and the dwarves. Part 2 follows Frodo and Sam. The stories never merge. They’re kept completely separate, so that the reader can be fully immersed in the atmosphere of each section.
I’ve always liked that. When I break books into parts, I follow that structure. Part 1 follows certain people, or covers a certain time, or whatever. Part 2 is something different. Etc. I like it. There is a downside to this format, though. I discovered that downside the last time I read through my part 3.
Part 3 has a lot of problems. It sometimes rambles. It has two distinct sections within one part. Several new characters are introduced in a short amount of time. I’ve already tried to fix the last by mentioning some of the new people in the earlier parts. At least, that way, they don’t come out of nowhere.
When I read through part 3 last time, I found myself getting bored with the story. Even though I liked the things that were happening overall, all I could see were those problems. It seemed like total crap. It just went on and on and on. Neverending.
It annoyed me.
Months ago, when I told my husband about the layout, he asked if I’d ever considered merging the two parts. Going back and forth. One chapter from part 2, the next chapter from part 3. I said… that ruins the continuity, I don’t like that, it isn’t the way I want it laid out, blah blah blah blah blah. I basically pooped my pants at the suggestion and never thought about it again.
When he and Raine began to read through the story last month, they asked the same question. This time, they could provide reasons why it would work better. The characters in part 2 have disappeared. They’ve gone to a new place. The characters in part 3 keep wondering where they are, or if they’ve died, etc. I guess that isn’t very effective if you’ve already read all the way through part 2 and know exactly what happens to those characters….
So they made a good point. Merging the stories would add more suspense. Rather than break the continuity, which I was afraid of, it would help the story overall. It took my tiny brain a while to get used to the idea of not being able to say “part 2” and “part 3” anymore. They would be merged. Luckily, I gave my parts titles, rather than straight-up saying “part 1.”
So merging them turned out to be an easy fix. Label each chapter with the title of the part. That way, I can keep my titles, which my brain considers very important, while still merging the two separate stories.
I think the merge will help with a lot of the problems in part 3. It won’t feel so much like it’s dragging because it will be going back and forth with part 2. The reader won’t get stuck in all the details. Because, as I said in an earlier post, there’s kind of a lot going on in part 3. It can get a little overwhelming. For now, I’m going to pretend that’s not because it’s poorly written…..
My project, in short, has been to merge parts 2 and 3 in a way that will make the story more effective. Already I’m struck by how nice it is that there isn’t a 250-page stretch of story that doesn’t involve two of the main characters at all. Seeing one group, then the other right after, is working out.
My brain, which really seems to like when things lay out properly, is obsessed with lining up the timeline of each part. So that when it’s the start of May in part 2, the next chapter shows the start of May in part 3. I’m trying to ignore my brain and think of what works best for the story. Because parallel timelines is not it.
I’ve already realized that I may have to have two or more chapters of a part in a row. I can’t just go back and forth with one chapter at a time. For one thing, part 3 is a chapter longer. The first part 2 chapter has to be before the first part 3 chapter, and the last part 3 chapter has to be the last thing you read before part 4. So it’s not just a matter of doing part 2 chapter 1, part 3 chapter 1, part 2 chapter 2, part 3 chapter 2, etc. I need to mix and match and really find out what works best.
It’s hard. I feel like I need to read through each chapter to really see what should come after it. Then once I decide and move things around, I need to scan through again to make sure it works. I am basically having to read through the entire thing, all 500 or so pages of it, to make sure it’s working. It’s taking forever.
Since I have to read through it all anyway, I’ve decided to edit as I go. Get rid of those obnoxious “and so’s.” I’m sorry to say that there are just as many in parts 2 and 3 as there were in part 1. As I edit those, I’m also noticing some odd tendencies in my choice of sentence structures. Rather than using direct statements, a lot of time I will use more passive words to weaken the end of the sentence. I don’t know why I do that. I don’t think it was to get a certain tone, because the tone is weak. Why would I want weak tone? Maybe it’s just how I write when I’m not paying enough attention. I guess that’s what editing is for.
Another tendency is run-on sentences. In my mind, I always thought run-on sentences were okay if they were well structured. In a way, that’s true. But when I change topic four times in one sentence and separate each topic with a comma and the word “and”…. that’s not okay. I shouldn’t do that. But I do. A lot.
Another tendency is to start sentences with the words “and,” “but,” “because,” “also,” or “so.” That also weakens sentences. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. My brain needs to learn the difference.
I use the word “seemed” a lot. “So and so seemed etc.” I don’t need that word. It’s unnecessary, and it weakens the sentence. Why do I do so many things that weaken my narrative? It’s like self-sabotage!
Because of all those things, this project has been very good for me. Yes, I need to figure out the order of the chapters, but more importantly, merging the parts is forcing me to reread and address these issues. I’m realizing that I’m a weak writer. Not necessarily bad, just weak. My tendency is to make sentences weak. I shy away from strong statements. I have no idea why I do that. It doesn’t read well, and it makes me mad to go back through and realize how much I do it.
So if anyone has any advice about these issues – weak sentences, passive tone, sentence structure in general – I’d appreciate thoughts. Until then, I’m just going to keep merging my parts and taking out those stupid “ands.”
Also, check out my family member’s blog, infinitemptiness.