Possibly Not the Kitchen Sink

Last night I made stirfry because I had a bunch of food that was about to go south, and you can put anything in stirfry. So I did. It’s not bad–just had some for lunch–because it turns out if you pour enough tamari and sesame oil and garlic on vegetables, they always taste good. But it was lacking direction. There’s so much stuff in there that I just added chow mien noodles and concentrated on the tamari and the crunch. I mean, it has to be healthy–green beans, peas, mushrooms,bok choy, celery, scallions, half a tomato left over from my sandwich, garlic–but there wasn’t any there there. I’m thinking that’s what happened with the first draft of Nita.
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Questionable: What’s the Rule on Acts?

Jeanine asked:
I’m assuming from what you’ve been doing that 1) you think your acts should all have about x number of words and/or 2) you think all acts in a book need to have about the same number of words to feel balanced. So, given that, could you, hypothetically, split act 2 into two acts and have five acts instead of four? . . . . Is there a rule of thumb about the number of acts one can have in a book like yours? I feel like I’ve seen different numbers of acts used in different literary works but perhaps I’m missing something obvious due to the fact that this is not the kind of writing I do.

There is no rule on acts.

They’re just a tool that I use to structure. So here’s my theory of acts–ust mine, nobody else’s, not a rule, merely a cheat sheet for me, the lousy plotter:
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Questionable: What’s With Your Obsession Over Word Counts?

Andrea asked:
I am wondering where the word count requirements originate. Is that an industry standard? Is it what you yourself have developed as the best structure? A mix of the two?

A mix of the two.

Word count is usually stipulated in the contract. In this case, my contract says 100,000 words, which is my natural length anyway. Legally I can go 10,000 words either side of that, so 90,000 to 110,000, although as I remember Fast Women was 116,000.

The act counts are mine because I write in acts to arc the plot. And because I want the plot to escalate, I try to make sure each act is shorter than the last one so that the turning points/big moments come faster together as the plot progresses. That’s just my thing, nothing contractural.

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Act Two is Killing Me

Here’s the problem with Act Two: It’s 45,000 words long. Even with allowing it to go to 30,000 (usually my second and third acts are within spitting distance of 25,000) that’s still 15,000 words I have to cut. That’s sixty to seventy pages. That is not something you can do by just dropping scenes. That’s rewriting. And because a book is like a machine full of cogs, every time you delete/change/add a new scene, another cog in the book moves somewhere and changes something else. Acts One, Three, and Four are in good enough shape that once I get Two done, I just have to read from the beginning and find out where all the cogs slipped in the rewrite. But Act Two is being a PITA, so I must go in and rewrite now. (You can stop reading now because the rest of this is just a description of what I’m doing, mostly so I stay on track. Do not expect brilliance.)
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Cutting Nita, Act Three: Where the Hell Was I Going With This?

Before anybody asks, no I haven’t cut Act Two yet.  I’m fairly happy with Act One, and Act Four is going to need very little rewriting and no cutting because it’s already short, thank god, so it’s Act Two and Act Three that I have to cut anywhere from seventy to eighty pages from.  Each.  As Button would say, Crap.

Act Two is going to be the real bitch, so I skipped ahead to Act Three, thinking it would be a piece of cake since it could be divided into the Three Faces of Nick: 1858, 1934, 1981.  And if it were Nick’s book, it would be easy. But it’s Nita’s book, which means that even though I can keep those three divisions, they have to be about Nita, not Nick.  I even broke the damn act on the wrong turning point.  I had it the scene where Nick collapses from being poisoned, but Nita doesn’t find out about it until several scenes later.  So the scene where Nita realizes Nick isn’t Nick any more and she’s alone again, is the turning point.  Except I never really wrote that scene, at least not that way.

So now I must rethink this act.  

Crap.

The rest of this post is me thinking out loud, and you know how that goes: disjointed and boring.  Feel free to stop reading now.  

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I Can’t Quit This

Executioner from Arthur Rackam’s 1007 illustration for Alice, and my spiritual editor.

August 5, 2019, 1:19
So I got all ready to cut the home invasion scene and chickened out.  There’s stuff in there that I don’t know how to do elsewhere–the first horrified mention of Button, the entrance of Joyce the Cat, Nita taking the fall for Button and beginning their relationship, Frank as an important character–plus without this I have pages of Talk.  I like Talk.  I’ll spend my entire story just doing Talk if nobody stops me, but Talk Kills Story, so I need action, bodies in motion, Aristotle insists on it, so . . . 

Damn.  I know Faulkner said to kill your darlings, but have you read Faulkner?  Darlings all over the place.  

So today, I find something else to cut in that damn first act, so I can do the second act tomorrow.  Think of this as a live blog of the Reduction of Act One.  Not that that’s not what the whole blog has been about for weeks.  Argh.  But first I have to eat lunch and take the dogs for their Carl Moment. (Carl is the neighbor who lives two doors down who has a darling Yorkie named Jackson and who gives them cookies and pats and tells them they’re Good Dogs.  It’s the high point of their day.). But then, we’re cutting Act One. BRB.

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Echoes and Sharpies

Krissie bought me a pack of colored Sharpies the last time she was here and I’ve been working them like crazy, trying to track the echoes in Nita.  “Echoes” is not a technical term, but “motif” isn’t right for this and repetition is too general.  What I’m talking about here, folks, is a scene that recurs, shifting each time to arc a character or plot point.  For example . . .

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