An Authors Dilemma
I wrote my first book titled "For Lorne" back in the spring of 2012. The original theme was a young man that inherits his grand father's farm and finds a spaceship hidden in one of the barns. I even had a couple of chapters written and a couple of the main characters defined. It was going to be titled "My Grandfathers Spaceship". Catchy title don't you think?
But, the story had a different idea and kept teasing me to change focus. Then came my first decision on where the story was headed all based on my first sticking point. Sticking points, you know, those things in a story that just reach out like thorns behind the roses and keep jabbing at you.
Anyway, I changed direction and decided to tell the story behind how the spaceship came to be hidden in the barn. Maybe it was left there by aliens and the grandfather vanquished them? Naw, that won't work. That's just an example of some of the thoughts that went through my mind before settling on the present storyline; an ancient alien machine buried in a mine on Engineer Mountain near Durango, Colorado. I picked the setting mainly because we have family living near there and I knew the perfect spot for the setting.
As the story developed, the spaceship became a smaller utility vessel from a larger ship of alien manufacture and its placement meant that it had been buried there for thousands of years; but what circumstances led to its being there?
As those questions mounted up, I added another dimension to the story; the vessel they found actually contained...but that would give away the story! So, along with a sense of closure for what was found inside that vehicle, I created a series of chapters explaining it all.
Now comes the next dilemma; do you devote the whole first part of the story for just the explanation on how the vehicle and its contents got to be where it was found, or space it out amongst the chapters of the main story? I picked the latter, interleaving the chapters to reveal the contents of the vehicle at the same time as the main characters find about them. That was a premise of not giving away a secret until its time.
For those of you not keeping up at this time, the vehicle is discovered by a person who has died before the main story starts. His son later on discovers what his father had uncovered before he dies from a heart attack leaving his whole estate to his favorite nephew; who isn't really his nephew at all. Are we convoluted enough for you yet? Anyway, that's how my first novel titled "For Lorne" came to be. My major critic didn't like the story jumping back in forth in time between the different story lines; but I forged ahead anyway.
Extremely pleased with the outcome, and feeling that the story wasn't really over, I immediately wrote a sequel which I titled "The 5th Agent". Actually the title was my grand-daughters idea after I told her what the story was about. This story also jumps back and forth between the main characters and a shadowy group of people bent on finding out what they had discovered in the mine. Eventually the two story lines and characters converge near the end of the story. There were some threads left hanging from the first novel, which are wrapped up in the second one. After that, they all live happily ever after; or do they?
In writing the first novel I had cut some lines about the early life of one of the main characters. After thinking about it, while working on another project which was published next, I decided to expand on those few words and consequently wrote the next story called "Little Ann". Although not exactly long enough to be considered a novel, it is a complete story in itself and not really science fiction but more of a ghost story. It tells the story of the early life of Ann Lyndes who plays a major role in both books.
There was also another section of that first novel that didn't quite fit. It was more of a branching storyline going in its own direction and not really contributing to the overall purpose of the book. Since I don't throw anything away, it became another story in the same vein as the lead in part of "For Lorne" but occurs after the critical point featured in the first book. I titled it "Colony"; and that is what the core of the story is about. It is roughly about 10,000 words long and unfinished as yet and still sitting on my to do list. "For Lorne", "The 5th Agent", and "Little Ann" have been published as eBooks on Smashwords.com since 2012.
The dilemma continues. I did some thinking, while working through several other projects and always gets me in trouble, and rewrote "For Lorne" pulling all of the alien culture chapters to the front part of the book, dividing it into two separate sections; the first called "Empire and Flight" and the main story becoming "Discovery".
The "Empire and Flight" part ended up being too short in comparison, so I added a whole new section that leads up to the building of the ship and what eventually happens to it and why. This means new, almost unrelated characters to the existing ones, more intrigue and in general telling the story of what really happened to the For Lorne, and pushed the size up over 110,000 words. I published the rewritten novel under the title of "Across the Chasm of Time" in 2013; thus evoking the title of the series.
The dilemma rears its ugly head, again!
I guess I can't leave it alone. After "Across the Chasm of Time" was published, I found myself unhappy with the result and pondered what to do with it next. Itching in the back of my mind was the grand idea to combine "Across the Chasm of time", with all of its additions, and "The 5th Agent" into a single volume. The resultant project took two months to complete and the combined size far exceeded 160,000 words!
I already had the title, "Beyond the Chasm of Time"; even though I waffled a lot, I couldn't come up with anything better and I didn't want it to seem to be a rehash of "Across the Chasm of Time", but a work of its own. It was easy enough to combine the two in the word processor, but then I had to sew them together!
To accomplish that, I rewrote the first section of the second book to form a smooth transition covering the four year interval between where the first book leaves off and the second book begins. Strictly speaking, I just didn't see any need to do any rewrite of the second book beyond that, and the same for the main story in the first book; just edit out the little mistakes and it would be good to go. But what to do with the beginning? Empire and Flight had become an ugly monster that no longer fit well with the rest of the book.
For that I talked with a few people that know about these things a lot more than I do. The key is to draw the reader in with a good beginning, well defined characters but not too many of them, keep the action going, and don't make it too long or the reader will lose interest. Too big, too long, less than 80,000 words, seriously? I believe that a story is as long as it takes to adequately tell it in your own words. There are many stories that span several separate volumes and they work just as well as the shorter ones do. Consider that the movie "The Fly" was adapted from a short story, and then look what they did with Tolkiens "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
I still needed to keep some aspect of the original lead-in story, but decided to strip as much of it as I could and focus specifically on setting the stage for the main story to work from; just simple two dimensional characters, more shadows than anything else, just enough to get the job done.
Again, I don't throw anything away; the pieces cut out had a great story line with well defined characters. I had 10,000 words to start from, but it needed more. Well, the title was easy, "Under the Double Suns" works and its coming along nicely at the moment.
While researching editors and publishers I came across a website that said they would evaluate my book for free. There was much more to the offer, but aside from that I learned many things from that evaluation other than what they told me. I had just passed on a similar arrangement with one of the major publishers of SF. All they wanted me to do was submit a manuscript, 80,000 words minimum, single sided, double spaced, 14 point Times New Roman font, and mailed to them for evaluation. Do you have any idea how many pages that amounts too? I did the math, somewhere in the area of 250 pages, to which they would probably only look at the first few chapters. I deemed that a waste of paper and moved on.
Yes I know, I think too much! Remember I mentioned a story line that was still sitting on my to do list? Yes, that one, "Colony". What if I take all of the pieces that I stripped from the beginning of "Across the Chasm of Time" and "Beyond the Chasm of Time", and use them as a lead-in to what is already written in "Colony"; what would I have? I already knew where the story was going, just hit a temporary writer's block. I'd keep the same title "Colony", and the added stuff already uses the same characters. It seems like a slam dunk, don't you think? After all, they were together to begin with.
Now I'm waffling again. What about if I separate the two original novels from "Beyond the Chasm of Time" back to their original titles? Now why would I do this? I don't know; maybe I think about it too much! At this point I don't know if the readers, if there are any, are confused with my work or not; but it is my work and I love every little piece of it; but for some reason I just can't let this one go.
M. L. Humphrey