Playing Leapfrog

phil7.1.12With Knock Softly (KS) finished, it’s time to clean up. But first, the statistics.

With “The End,” KS crossed the finish line at 128,814 words, 448 pages in manuscript format, in 44 Chapters. It took 21 months to write and I compiled 28 pages of notes, plus a thick folder of printed articles. There are four main characters and four support characters as well as a cast of over two dozen doctors, nurses, lawyers and the like. There are two main settings and a couple of side trips. And two dogs. And one mysterious friend who seems to know everything. Done.

Then I played “Leapfrog” with the novel, only going backwards. I re-read chapters 43 and 44, then re-read 41 and 42, then 39 and 40 and so on, until I finished back at chapter one. This allowed me to know where I was going and to be sure each chapter led clearly and succinctly to the next. It also allowed me to “kill my darlings.” I’ve spoken of them before; those cleaver little verses that seemed so cute at the time. But in leapfrog, they appeared as obstacles that only got in the way of a good jump. I also identified areas that needed shoring up for what comes next, and those I marked with an “R/W.” I did not rewrite anything, just cut and identified what needed more work.

The manuscript now weighs in at 120,090 words, 429 mms pages. It took seven days and produced another page and a half of notes. Twenty pages went into the dust bin, 8,800 worthless words. Bye, darlings.

Now comes the real fun part; I get to play God! I will start again from the beginning, only now knowing all, I will tighten the read, heighten the valleys and smooth the jagged edges with that last chapter, last page, paragraph, the very last word, in mind.

Some of the things I will be on the lookout for are, first and foremost, character development. I want to be sure my folks develop on pace and keep with their persona. I was amazed at how many times my characters cried. I didn’t set out to make weaklings but that’s how they appeared in some scenes. I noticed a lot of character movements when a simple he said, she said, would work better, faster. Even after leapfrog, the characters are still smiling 148 times, sighing 48 times, and mad or angry 51 times. Not to mention all the tears. I’ve still got work to do.

You don’t see these things while writing first draft because you are wearing each character’s hat and navigating them through uncharted waters. Your adrenalin is flowing and you just want to keep the action moving forward. You forget they’re human, that they need to breathe, too. I don’t how much more there is to cut. I don’t have a target word count or anything. I’m letting KS sit for a few weeks before I come back to it with fresh eyes.

Am I happy? So far. Satisfied? Not yet. Eager? Yep!

Next month, we’ll take a look at correctile dysfunction; the author’s inability to line edit their own work.



Seoul40  Freya40

Seoul Legacy, The Orphan’s Flu is available in paperback on Abe, and on Amazon in paperback & ebook.

The Freya Project is available in hardcover and limited edition from the author. Quantities from Countinghouse Press.


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    • Barbara Pattee on May 25, 2016 at 9:16 am
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    Phil, I needed to reread your blog to remind me that it takes a lot of work and time to finish a good book. Congratulations on completing your novel.

    • Claire Murray on July 3, 2015 at 12:04 pm
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    This is helpful. I never thought about these things in connection with writing a book. Lots to think about.

    • Karen Kittrell on June 23, 2015 at 10:52 am
    • Reply

    Great term – leapfrog. I will try it. Thanks.

    • Wendi Knape on June 23, 2015 at 10:07 am
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    Nice to see your finishing technique, Phil. I can’t wait to read it when it’s polished and published.

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