Revising with a Plan

So I got my part of Act One done on Rest In Pink, and now I’m looking back at Lavender. In particular at the Act One there which is sloooooooooow. The first act of Pink is 35,321, which is also too long, but this is rough draft, so close enough for now. The finished Lavender Act One? 38,579. Attention must be paid.

A quick look down the scene list with the scene word counts pretty much shows me that Bob is not the problem. Bob’s writing is compact, almost terse. No, I’m the problem. Five thousand words out of my stuff, not his.

So the first thing to do is update the scene list with word counts of the scenes. That’ll show me where I lost my grip. And sure enough there are four scenes where I went over 2500 words. That’s not a magic number for scenes, but for me that’s where readers get tied of reading.

But it’s not just word count. Bob is doing the heavy lifting on the mystery so I’m doing the romance. And to make that work, I need Liz and Vince together as often as possible. And there are six scenes in Act One where they’re together, sometimes only in passing. Three scenes when they’re together for the whole time and focused on each other. How many scenes are there in Act One? Twenty-two. Three scenes out of twenty-two to sell my romance. No.

But there’s also the story to consider. There are a lot of subplots here and Liz’s romance plot interacts with Vince’s mystery plot; I can’t just jettison everything but Liz and Vince (tempting, but no).

So to figure out how to fix this, I need to condense what I’ve written down into sections/scene sequences.

So Scene Sequences for Lavender’s Blue, Act One. It reads like a synopsis but there are no spoilers beyond the first act.

1. Liz meets Vince.
The first scene is Liz and Vince alone together on the edge of the highway. Good introduction to the romance, 2587 words which is a good number for an establishing first scene. The scenes should get shorter gradually, but that’s a good start. It’s just one scene, not a sequence. Bob added something integral here at the last minute, and it got longer but it also got better, so this stays.

1. Vince takes Liz to the Porters and leaves (MORE VINCE IN THIS SCENE) 1355 words
2. Liz goes to Red Box with Molly and they catch up, 3540 words
3. Liz tells Will she has to be in Chicago, 860 words
4. Liz finds out that Patsy wants her to stop the wedding, Anemone is introduced, 3090 words.

For those of you who have been here awhile, the problems are obvious.
1. There are two scenes there are over 3000 words. One of them is back story. The other is discovering something that could be explained in a sentence. There are massive cuts in the futures of these scenes.
2. There’s almost 9000 words here and almost no Vince. (Please note, there are Vince PoV scenes I’m not including in this analysis because they’re fine as it and I don’t have to cut them; this is Liz’s PoV plot we’re talking about.)
3. This whole sequence is pretty much Liz finding out things, not doing things. It’s also one scene after another of Liz saying “No.” So looking at it from the point of view of story, this sequence has to
• Introduce the Porters and their relationship to Liz (they’re going to be very important in all three books)
• Introduce Molly and her importance to Liz (more important than the Porters)
• Introduce Anemone and her importance to Liz (more important than Molly)
• Establish the central social conflict of the story–the wedding and all the people invested in it–because that’s where Liz’s personal plot dovetails with Vince’s mystery plot.
And then somehow
• Make all of that part of the romance plot in which Liz is active and is somehow with or linked to Vince.

It’s not unusual in a first act to have a lot of introduction and set-up, first acts are mostly set-up, BUT you have to keep the central story going, too, it’s even more important than set-up, and that’s Liz and Vince. Vince is in the story in his own scenes doing his own thing, with the occasional thought about Liz, but they’re not together. So I have to cut the hell out of this while making sure those four things are established AND get Vince in there somehow. How, I do not know yet. Especially since he’s pretty much missing from the next sequence, too.

1. Liz deals with Mom, 2153
2 Liz deals with Aunt, 1420
3. Liz talks to Molly about Mom and Aunt, 1320
4. Liz goes to bar and talks with Duff, Cash, and Vince, 2236
5. Liz deals with Faye, 2919

So this has to be whacked way back. I’ll try to synopsize Liz’s conversation with Molly (3), and cut Mom’s back to echo Aunt’s although I’m going to check Aunt for repetition, too. The bar stuff is actually good, although I can cut it back some. Vince only comes in at the end, but it’s good, and Bob picks up on that in his scene that follows, so that keeps it going. That scene with Faye? That’s going to get to trimmed WAY back. It also established Lavender, so it’s important, but mostly we need to get back to Liz and Vince. This is all family stuff that has nothing to do with Vince. That fourth scene is back to Vince at the end and it actually sets up a lot of the romance, so I’ll keep most of it. But really, more Vince.

1. Flirts with Vince in Bar 2236
2. Gets hit by a rock, calls Vince 1462
3. Hospital with Vince 1097
4. Car with Molly and home to Mom 1340

This is the real start of the relationship. I think the fourth scene can be cut back, but the rest of it stays. This is what a romance reader is looking for. The problem is, did she keep turning pages to get to it?

1. Liz has lunch with Lavender and says no to being Maid of Honor 1213
2. Anemone forces Liz to stay and be MoH 2327

These scenes are the button on Act One. They can both be cut back. The important main plot consequence is that Liz is going to be in town three more days which gives her time to see more of Vince, in every sense of that phrase.

And while I’m wrangling this, Bob is setting up the mystery in the six Vince scenes that aren’t included here. Yeah, fifteen Liz PoV scenes, six Vince PoV scenes. Once the murder happens, he has a lot more to do, but mostly he’s serving and protecting the town, establishing a back drop for the murder.

So here’s the sequence for Liz falling for Vince, the beginning.

1. Liz Meets Vince, first connection
2. Liz copes with the Porters trying to get out of town
3. Liz endure three bad mothers, with a two-minute interaction with Vince.
4. Liz and Vince, second connection
5. Liz gets trapped into the wedding.

So my work today is to figure how do I keep a romance reader reading through 2 and 3 to get to 4 where she’ll get a lot of the two of them together plus some snappy patter and a rescue? And also go to Home Depot and throw out half this house.

Yeah, I’m still thinking about this. Bob keeps saying, “Leave it, it’s fine,” but it’s not fine. Gah.

20 thoughts on “Revising with a Plan

  1. Well, I’m thrilled as punch (?) that you’re working on books plural at the moment because I have missed your books. But I’m missing something. As a reader, the thing I really want to know very soon into a book is how the main characters feel about their world. And when I say feel, I don’t just mean what they don’t like or what they’re avoiding but what they care about and why.

    Then I’m happy to read about the giant anvils that fall out of the sky on their plans, and who or what they’re up against and why, but if I don’t get a clear sense of who the main characters are inside, I just don’t feel like finishing the book.

    So who is Liz? What does she respond to in life? in Vince? What does she want for her future? I’m not hearing those things enough.

    (My two cents, which is not worth a whole lot.) 😐

  2. Oh gosh. What have I done? Where are the rest of the punters? I feel like I must have said something horrible that shooed everyone else away…. 🙁

    1. You woke up early? I dunno 😛 I just saw this. Really liked the commentary, though!

      I concur it’s a little hard for me to suss out the issues when I haven’t read these parts yet, though. But from what I recall, Liz hates Burney, so that’s in there, right?

    2. No, honey, I’ve just been busy and haven’t read the comments.

      Basically, I think you’re saying you want them to have goals, positive things to protect and go after.

      I don’t think that’s going to show up in an outline though. Outlines tend to be based on actions.

  3. You know, you can really see the problem in the verbs in that last list of five.

    The two “connects” are fine.
    “Copes,” “endures,” and “gets trapped” are not.

  4. I am, as always, fascinated by your WIP analysis. But I haven’t read any Lavender’s Blue draft material so I don’t have an educated opinion. Based only on the above:

    As a reader, I choose romance over mystery in about a 25:1 ratio, and even my mysteries had better have some romance. I would automatically read a new Jennifer Crusie novel simply because it’s you. But I would expect and want fairly rapid submersion into the romance, and I really dislike small-town in-your-business people dragging my protagonists down like crabs in a bucket. So – restating that my opinion is uneducated – is there a way to have most of these small-town demands land on Liz in a single scene from which she can escape with Vince’s aid? Or during which he helps her deflect? Could the back-stories emerge as she says, with escalating exasperation, ‘NO’ and then tells Vince why she’s saying No? Because he’s sympathetic and she likes his face and also he’s not invested in all that ancient-history bullshit, i.e. predisposed to join the crabs?

    I know there must be later-revealed plot reasons for all these people to be dragging Liz back, immediately, into town life – including a wedding! – even after 15 years away. But I feel like (again, uneducated) a Jennifer Crusie heroine who really didn’t want to be in a place would find a way to get out of it after the third inappropriate demand. She wouldn’t hang around waiting to be manipulated and coerced. And if she really doesn’t like a place, she probably doesn’t care about nefarious happenings; she just wants to GTFO and get on with her work-related business elsewhere.

    Is there *anyone* else in this town who’s an ally? Or is it Liz and Vince against the world? OK, I’ll shut up now. I need to read some draft. 🙂

    1. I think I read a draft back in the day and thought the same, any Jennifer Crusie heroine, trapped somewhere she hated merely due to car trouble. with somewhere she needed to be, would have left the car in the garage and got a ride/taxi/bus/rental/hitchhiked and left the town in her rear view. Anything or anyone trying to stop her would have her footprints from where she trampled them on her way out. The only thing that would stop her was if someone really needed her.

  5. Actually, she has a lot of allies in town, something my editor pointed out when she saw the first draft over ten years ago. Her best friend is there. The family of her ex-boyfriend thinks she’s swell. The local bartender is a best friend from high school. Her ex-boyfriend still likes her a lot. His best friend from high school still thinks she’s great.

    Yes, this needs much work.

    I think the thing that’s really driving me to rewrite this, besides the fact that it’s all wrong, is that the second book has none of these problems and it just zooms along. It’s this first opening that drags.

    1. maybe you should leave it till you finish the second book? by then you’d know for sure which pieces of the backstory really need to be on the page. 🙂 I love to think of you zooming along.

      1. Oh, I’m zooming in Pink. More details in next week’s posts.

        But I have to fix that first act in Lavender. It’s so slow, it’s clotting.

        1. I remember the first time I read some of your drafts on here. Then you started talking about cutting this and that. I thought why – I love every word of this.
          Then the book came out. And all your cuts were perfect.
          I completely trust your process!

  6. I think you’re on the right track with trying to trim down the scenes that are basically Liz saying no/resisting getting sucked into town drama. I get why that makes sense for her character, but since as a reader I expect all the good stuff will really start when she gets sucked into the drama and starts saying yes, I want that part to come as soon as possible.

    Also, I’m taking notes on your cut-down-act-one process because my own act one has ballooned past 33,000 to 38,000, and it’s not even done yet. There’s going to be some drastic editing come September.

  7. Hello Jenny, This is not actually related to the newer stuff but more a question, plea, perhaps even a small bit of begging to find out if you will ever revisit Agnes and Shane from Agnes and the Hitman. Truly one of my all time favorite books and one that I have re-read at least 5 times and especially when I have been having a terrible week (like this past week).

    I would love to find out what happens with Agnes and Shane, Lisa Livia and Carpenter, Evie and Xavier and of course whether Agnes ever got her column written. I was just trying to imagine the chaos that would happen if Brenda escaped from the asylum and tried to come back to visit.

      1. I love Shane and the Hitwoman by Bob Mayer. And I assure you, no damage is done to any of the characters or couples from the original book.
        He introduces a new character – Phoebe – who is wonderful.
        It’s the first book in a series for him – The Organization series.
        Book 2 comes out in November. I think it centers around Phoebe and I can’t wait to read it.

  8. Negativity/resistance does tend to slow down story progress, as a wise teacher once taught me ;-).

    Can she have a short-term goal (best friend needs something, someone has a problem she thinks/knows she can fix) that is compelling enough *to her* to make her decide she must stay until it’s resolved? That keeps her there by choice, even if she hates it at first, makes her proactive, and can reveal her identity (fixer, iconoclast, whatever).

    I can also seeing her say, “I’m here to fix x, so nope, I’m not doing y,” and then under more pressure changing to, “ok, I’ll do y while I’m here, but not z,” etc., as she gets pulled in deeper and deeper. But always with her eye on the prize of x (or at least until solving the murder takes over as her primary motivator).

    1. I think what I forgot was to make her keen on getting to Chicago to finish the book for the book’s sake; she’s invested in it and the woman she’s writing it for.

Comments are closed.