Before the ACFW Conference, I’d been on a roll with my work in progress, Riding Herd, the sequel to Give the Lady a Ride. I was nowhere near finished, of course; I’d just crossed over the 10K marker and had a clear vision of where I was going from there. Knowing where your WIP is heading is a wonderful, satisfying experience, something I’m sure outliners get to revel in on a regular basis. Folks like me, who sketch out only a few scenes at a time before committing them to the manuscript, don’t always know what’s going to happen after those few sketched scenes. Don’t get me wrong: I know what is going to happen in the book itself, in each major point throughout the book. But the action that brings me from one point to the next is often contrived at the last moment.
After a week in St. Louis and another week in Bryan with my sweet mama, and a week in between to recuperate from St. Louis and prepare for Bryan–in other words, three weeks after I’d crossed that 10K mark, I picked up the manuscript again.
There’s a trick to writing sequels, a balancing act that I need to work on. How much do I need to include from the last book to bring folks up to speed in the new one? How much is too much? How can the book be both a continuation and a stand-alone without disappointing anyone?
During the “week of recuperation,” I began reading a friend’s sequel-in-progress, and since I’d read the first in the series, I realized she had included too much of some things, not enough of others. She felt the need to explain, to re-present old news, to re-introduce absolutely every character so the new readers would feel up to date. Problem is, the new readers wouldn’t make it through all the backstory–which is what all this old stuff is–to get to the new story. I suggested that she pick out from the first novel only what was important to the plot and theme of the new story and gently weave it in.
I need to heed my own advice.
When I reread Riding Herd this week, I realized I’d done exactly what my friend had done. I felt the need to explain, to re-present old news, to re-introduce absolutely every character–along with some new ones–so my new readers would feel up to date.
I’m introducing a new character, Aunt Adele, in Riding Herd, and I felt I had to explain how and why she fits into the plot. She’s the cactus thorn that pops Patricia and Talon’s love balloon, and she comes with her own backstory and psychological baggage. Her characterization is rough right now; she’s a little too sharp. Readers probably won’t like her as she is right now and will wonder why Patricia puts up with her, but that’s a problem I’ll deal with after the story is written.
Problem is, setting the stage for her and resetting the stage for the new readers put the action off too long. Way too long. Even though I know I’m not supposed to edit until after I write the entire manuscript, I just couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t add on to the story knowing that the first half of what I’d written so far would have to go. So, I pulled up my granny panties and went to work.
I’m not talking surgical precision here. I took the ax and hacked away at it. Then I took the scissors to the discarded parts and rescued scenes and dialogue passages I liked to weave them back into the remainder of the story. Over five thousand words hit the cutting room floor, and just over a thousand were rescued from the incinerator.
And that is how I can now sit here and proudly tell you that I have over 6000 words in my 10,000-word work-in-progress.