Genius Time

I looked at Lavender Blue‘s first act and realized it was 46,244 words long.

That’s too many.

I’m not really that fixated on numbers, but I know that readers are going to need to be turned into a new story long before the halfway point. I’m not sure how long this book is going to be, but 46,000 words is definitely the halfway point or close to it. (It was contracted at 50,000 words, but that ain’t happening). I need the murder at the halfway point, end of Act Two, so really, just no on that length.

So I did what I always do. I made a list of the scenes with their word counts, which showed me that eight of them were really transitions, not scenes (too short, no conflict) and then studied the remaining, twenty-five actual scenes, looking for what I could cut (over 10,000 words had to go which was around four scenes).

But the thing was, I really needed all those scenes. Which left me with one solution: Move the turning point scene in that act up 10,000 words or so. In order to do that, I had to move the scene that incited the turning point scene up, and when I was looking for a place to do that, I realized I could just add the inciting event into an existing scene I had. Then I could take out everything down to the transition into the act climax and the act climax; 9700 words shifted into Act Two, leaving me with around 37,000 words in Act One. (That’s still a little long, but I can nickel-and-dime it down in the rewrite.)

The lovely thing is, I think it actually makes the story better. A dinner-with-Mom scene becomes stronger because it’s the aftermath of a lot of shouting at the act climax. Because the turning point is Liz deciding to stay in town a little longer, it also means she’s a little more resigned to being a fixer again, which fuels a scene in which she protects a little kid with a lot more resonance. It shifts the relationship in a scene at the bachelorette party. It puts the first sex scene in the second act, which is really where it should be to arc the romance plot. And it also shifts a high energy scene that I really like but that I’m not sure of its purpose into that second phase of Liz-in-town arc. (I’ll figure out what it’s doing in there when I have the entire first draft done.)

So not only do I have a tighter first act, I have a better second act.

Sometimes I think I’m an idiot, and other times I’m convinced I’m a genius. Today, it’s Genius Time.

35 thoughts on “Genius Time

  1. Definitely genius. You’re the only one that doubts it. I have learned more about writing from you than I have from all the other authors/teachers I have ever studied. And I’ve been studying for many, many years. It’s thanks to you that I know I WILL be published in the not too distant future. So, thanks, Jenny. Thanks for being a genius 🙂 and for sharing your genius with us.

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    1. What Carol said. I can’t wait to go to your workshops at RWA in a couple of weeks. Hopefully some of that genius will rub off on me 🙂

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  2. When it’s you, it’s always genius time. You just don’t always see it–but we do! (And your many, many readers who don’t frequent this blog see it as well.)
    My sister and I are currently going through a reread-all-our-Crusie’s phase, and we’re just enjoying the H out of it.

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  3. I plan to validate you with cash when it’s in the store. I’m told that’s the sincerest form of flattery for a writer. 😉

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  4. Definitely genius. Happy to hear Liz is still progressing and looking forward to meeting her in the not-too-distant future.

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  5. I’m organic in my process rather than analytical. I don’t do, know, or understand “acts,” I don’t count scenes (though I do word-count chapters, so I can combine or split them if they’re annoyingly short or exhaustingly long), I don’t do any analysis of scene beats or protagonist/antagonist negative/positive goals. But I can tell when something’s not working, and I keep circling it until I figure out why… and when I do, it’s often a forehead-slapping moment where I can’t understand how/why I didn’t see the problem or the solution WEEKS ago, it’s so OBVIOUS.

    I do this a lot. Apparently I have an extraordinary capacity not to see what’s RIGHT in FRONT me me…

    Others times, no, the solution really WASN’T right in front of me, and I mentally had to travel to Samarkand-and-back again (maybe several times) to figure out how to make something work or why something still doesn’t work. But it’s a great feeling when you finally find it and realize, hey, this works–and it makes everything else work better, too!

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    1. I don’t do chapters. This is why I always say, “Many roads to Oz.” Any way you can get to the end of the story is a good way.
      And yes, it’s always obvious once you see it. But it’s hard to see the outside of a story when you’re inside it. It’s the travel back and forth that’s the key.

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    1. Shhh! You’ll jinx it!

      Definitely genius, though. “All the geniuses I ever met were so just part of the time. To qualify, you only have to be great once, you know. Once when it matters.” -Bujold, _Komarr_

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  6. I’d love some advice, please, on how to structure an “ensemble cast” novel versus a single protag one, if you ever have the chance and interest in discussing that! Thanks!

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    1. I usually do it by sticking with the single protagonist and then giving the other characters subplots to be protagonists in. Although one of my side projects is still the episodic fantasy which has one protagonist and her one goal, but then the episodes usually have a one-off plot with a supporting character protagonist. I’m loving that. And Toni and I have put our collab on hiatus for the moment because both of our lives went haywire, but that’s two protagonists in one story, like most of my collabs. I do think that’s dangerous, that a story really only holds together when there’s one main protagonist, but it can be done.

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      1. Thank you – this was one of those “needed to hear this at this exact moments” lines. Helped me solve something I’ve been noodling with in my head in a way that works on paper.

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  7. What a fab Friday post to kick off the weekend. Genius & generous:)

    This is yet another reason you’re an inspiration to many writers–you share tips yes, but you also share your process. That’s much harder to do & of such great value. Thanks muchly.

    Knowing you can wrestle the beast is inspiration to all us writers when we face our own tangles.

    Plus, this story is sounding better with every update so the reader in all of us wins too:)

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  8. YAY! I love it when genius happens. (Especially if it means we get another Crusie book.)

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  9. I always appreciate you’re writing posts, but I’m REALLY appreciating them right now. I’m trying to do big revision for the first time, and it’s helpful and fun to hear about what you’re working on.

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  10. Love, _love_, LOVE! So excited! I love that you’re a number’s wonk. I love that you’re teaching me something (even though I’m not writing fiction at the moment; I’ll digest it or read it again when I need it. But I really love that you had a breakthrough on this! I got so excited I just skimmed and focused on “better” and “works” and “stronger” and “lovely.” Yay You!

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  11. Sometiimes genius flows so smoothly, it doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes
    you have to hack your way clear with a machete just to get to the path. Either way, same as the children believe in Tinkerbell, we all believe in you.

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  12. While I’m a reader, NOT a writer, I really enjoy “seeing” your process. And when I get to read the final result, I love seeing the ultimate in your characters and story. My 21-year-old kiddo, though, wants to write, and I have pointed her to your site, so she can learn story structure, character arc, and all those goodies. She can only learn from the best!!

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  13. By this time, Liz is one of my best friends. I’m in a situation now where I’m called on to act as fixer, for me not a natural fall-back state. So I ask myself What Would Liz Do. Situation may not be cleared up, but I’m handling it better in a new grown up fixer way.

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  14. I am also fascinated by your process, though, as a non-writer, I don’t always understand the mechanics. The “this here, that there and viola!” is universal and exciting.

    You might consider plopping the stuff you are deleting “Then I could take out everything down to the transition into the act climax and the act climax” into a post here, so we would get to visit with it one last time before it goes. One of my favorite Crusie lines of all time was in the first version of the jewelry store robbery scene you posted here a long time ago. I would have been sorry to have missed it.

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    1. I just moved almost all of it into the second act. It’s still in the book.
      Although outtakes here are always possible. So far, I’m keeping it all.

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  15. I just had to say, DUH, of course you are a genius. We’ve known it all along. While I’m not a writer, I love reading about your journey with each story. Your aha moments and your frustration at other times are inspiring.

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  16. (-: Muria stole the “you only have to be a genius when it matters” quote that I was thinking about. The thing is, you are a multi-field genius — writing, teaching, crochet, suitcases, dog-rescuer, and who knows what else? You’re a genius when it really matters!

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