In the last couple of weeks I have been editing The Laws, Last Mayor book 6, and am almost at the final word count. It started off at 107,000 words. That’s a decent length book, bigger than an ‘average’ novel length of 80,000. It has great reviews on all vendors, basically a solid five stars. It may even be crazy to edit it at all – since something about it is working. And yet…
I have now cut it down to 55,000 words. That’s basically chopping it in half. Here’s what I cut, and why:
13,000 words of Drake’s backstory.
This was served up interspersed with another 10,000 words of Lara’s backstory, at an early point where we still haven’t even met Drake and don’t know what threat he represents.
In these backstories I went deep. I went back to Drake before the apocalypse even hit. That’s 12 years ago in the timeline, 5 books ago in the series. We spend some time with him freaking out over a rude waiter on a cruise ship. Then his family flip to zombies, he spends a few days killing all the zombies on the ship with his family last, then he goes to the mainland (Europe) and finds a girl – Myra. They hook up. It goes great, until he starts thinking about repopulating the world. He traps her, becomes a rapist, makes her pregnant, and she dies in childbirth.
It’s not uninteresting. Some parts of it massively drag, though – particularly on the cruise ship. The stuff with Myra is pretty horrible. Not graphic, but graphic enough. We are in the POV of a rapist, basically, and that’s grim even if we see nothing.
So, I cut it out, moved it to the end of the document, and figured I might add it back in at an appropriate point – at least once the conflict is really chugging along. But the problem with that theory is – once the conflict is really chugging along, who wants 13,000 words of backstory? Especially backstory that goes back to a boat 12 years ago?
So trim it to the bone? But then if I start trimming, why keep any of it? ‘Because it’s interesting’ is not good enough, when the actual story is exciting. So what then? Well, my solution is to feed a bit more of it in through it’s effect on the current story. Brief narrative summary – a few lines here and there. The funny thing is – I’d already done this.
Myra comes up again later, and gets a mini explanation. Like people hadn’t already read all about her. So why have the dramatized earlier stuff, when I already have the summary in place later…
10,000 words of Lara backstory
This was interwoven with the Drake stuff – so already that makes it unappealing. It dealt with Lara two years ago on the timescale, events we didn’t see but were referred to in book 5. Essentially – after her coma, what happened?
We already know she had a tough time, and Amo was deep into his guilt trip. These 10k words fleshed that out. But it doesn’t really do anything else, other than deepen the sense that Lara was lastingly impacted by the demon-induced coma.
I can do that way faster, via narrative summary here and there, a line at a time. So I did it. Bye bye, backstory info dump. 23,000 words gone so far.
10,000 words of Lara front story
I wanted this book to be Lara’s POV. I started with her having her hallucinations – she wakes up the night before New LA are moving to Sacramento, and goes for a walk. She hallucinates Cerulean in the sea and swims out to save him. She almost dies.
This serves the purpose of showing how damaged her brain is. But it does take ages. Why not just do this, again, with narrative summary. And actually, while you’re at it, get rid of-
Maybe 5,000 words of Cerulean hallucinations
Weirdly, Cerulean was in the book a lot. I suppose he was a kind of plot bandaid, when I wasn’t really sure how to twist the narrative flow onto the track I wanted. Give Lara a dream of Cerulean pointing the way!
It is dull. So much metaphorical dream stuff is completely skippable. So I skipped it. I think Cerulean gets name-checked a few times now. We hear about her hallucinations of him, but we don’t have to experience them.
So that’s 38,000 words cut. What else?
8,000 words of Anna and theory
There was quite a lot of Anna bantering and exchanging deep theories about the hydrogen line. Really deep, way more than anyone needs to understand. It’s already complex enough, baked down to the basics. We don’t need to hear every step in the logical chain leading from A to B.
Plus some of the banter is annoying. We can cut a lot, so I did. That’s 46,000 words – the rest is random bits here and there. There’s a section where Lara goes off thinking about the Hitler youth. Another section about Ai Wei Wei. both cut. There’s great detail about seeds, and the planting schedule of New LA, and how they chose Sacramento as the new base.
I also added words
The pain of this edit was the amount of words I had to write fresh, so things would make better sense. Now it’s all Amo’s POV until Drake knocks him out around a third in, then it flips to Lara. Much of that is fresh, streamlining Lara’s more baggy earlier POV. Also the cleaner, faster description of Lara’s powers and their development is new.
Then Anna. Her sidestory is confusing. I still have to cut it further. She crash-lands her plane, then goes to the Bordeaux bunker, but why? I couldn’t even remember the reason. It’s not very clear. So I will cut that. She will have to hunker down, and only get saved later by the big change on the line.
Maybe the book will be 50,000 words by the end. Barely a book! More a novella. So why do this?
Because it’s better
It’s definitely better now. I’ve known for some time that people were not reading through the series. They were dropping off at various books – when the pace got to them, or the complexity, or the dream sequences, or the flashbacks, or the technobabble.
By the time I was writing book 6, I was on a roll. It felt like everything I wrote was great. And don’t get me wrong, half of the stuff in this book IS great. Fast, impactful, powerful. I thought back on it as one of the most fast-paced in the series, but then I was selectively misremembering the backstory chunks.
People gave it great reviews, and I love them for it – die hard fans who adore the series. Thank you! But the number of those reviews is telling. 245 reviews on book 1. 20 on book 6. Some drop off is natural, but not that much. People were just not getting that far.
Now they are. Up to book 5 has all been recently reworked, and flows way better. Book 6 will stick in their craw, so I smooth it. Now I have to do 7-9, and I know those’ll be hard too. All the same reasons. Massive backstory dumps, deep theory on the line, dreams, repetition, etc…
But it’ll all be better. I wish I’d had an editor at the time to point this out to me – but the truth is, if they’d suggested these major changes, I wouldn’t have listened. I had to come to it for myself. So – I am always learning. At some point I’ll probably go back over the Wren thrillers and find plenty to cut too!