Revising Web Fiction into a Book

9 years ago | Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

So I guess I'm not asking for advice with this exactly. This is more of a comment.

I'm in the process of revising the second section of Legion of Nothing into publishable shape. The first section was easy. Basically it was a self-contained story that lasted about 80,000 words, which easily fit into the standard novel length of 50k-90k.

In the second section, I had the following brainstorm: This is something of a homage to what I've enjoyed about superhero comics, right? Why don't have have each section be more of a self-contained episode, and build incrementally toward a big finish?

Well, you know what? I did exactly that.

The result was that I ended up with a two and a half year long story that amounted to 240,000 words. I never really thought that would be a problem, but at the time, I thought I was writing a serial instead of something that would be adapted into a novel.

One difference between the two? A serial can sprawl all over, and people aren't too bugged. With a novel, you've got less space, and things have to be tight.

So, maybe you're wondering what I'm going to do about it?

First off, I'm dividing it into two books. This is easier than it sounds because there's a point in the first half which is more or less a climactic moment. Second, I realized as I went through it that I could cut whole chapters.

I don't know if you watched X-Files, but if you did you remember that the show alternated between investigating "monster of the week" problems and investigating an alien/government conspiracy. Well, what I'm doing is much like chucking all the monster of the week episodes, and only keeping the ones with "The Cigarette Smoking Man" (an ominous figure who was directing the conspiracy behind the scenes).

That cut literally thousands of words.

So now I've now got two novels. The first currently has 87,000 words, and when I cut one more scene, it'll be 82,000. That'll give me some flexibility--which I'll need--as I have to tie certain episodes together more noticeably, and make one subplot more prominent.

The second novel is still at 115,000. Honestly, I'm not going to deal with that until the first one's acceptable, but I'm still thinking about it. Basically, the first book is largely rising action for the second.

Comically, it actually works out as a fairly typical trilogy structure. The original Legion novel sets up the situation, but ends fairly happily. The second (the first half of the second section) expands on the results of the first, and adds complications, ending with some obvious dangling threads. The third book wraps a lot of stuff up.

So that's okay. That said, the second book contains high school aged characters whose prom will end in violence. I am still mystified as to how I managed to come up with something *that* breathtakingly original, but so it goes. That's the most natural break point. Hopefully the book as a whole will be good enough that people won't think, "Hey, that's in every end of senior year story ever."

My basic attitude toward this is to imagine that the book is to the serial as a movie is to a book. Basically, the book version has to distill the essence of the serial, but not every single incident has to appear.

My general guidelines:
1. Everything that doesn't directly further the plot must be cut.
2. Despite that, keep as much unchanged as I can.
3. Add what's needed to make the finished novel feel like a cohesive whole.
4. Allow for the possibility that someone hasn't read the preceding book, and make it possible for that person to figure out what's going on.

I'll be reporting back how this goes. Hopefully it will allow you to avoid my mistakes.

Anybody else ever done something like this?

Read responses...

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  1. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    See, my issue was that I didn't want to really have 'monster of the week' episodes. So every chapter of Worm contributes -something- to the overarching storyline. Every chapter, as I wrote it, I wrote it with the idea that it tells us something about the characters, develops a character relationship (or several), tells us something about the setting or it pushes the story forward. Ideal world it does two or more of the above. I think this is part of Worm's appeal.

    This is part of the reason why I definitely have a definitive ending in mind for the series. At a certain point, you lose the ability to keep developing relationships or exposit on the lesser known details of the setting without 'spinning in place', as it were. Or you devolve into a Soap Opera dynamic where lots happens but nothing ultimately changes. I want to avoid that, while maintaining the tempo and developments. So I know I'll eventually run out of stuff to build on and if I do it right, that'll be around the same time things start to draw to a close.

    But yeah, there are a few chapters I can cut, but they primarily exist early on.

    To kill later chapters, I have to identify the little things that I included and find room for them elsewhere.

    I'm still not sure how I'll eventually form -conclusions- out of the climaxes/break points. I've got 885,000 words written, give or take a few thousand, and that's roughly 9-13 books. 8-12 break points, not including what I've yet to write.

    'Sprawl' is right. I'm resigning myself to the idea that I might not be able to carve this up into a literal book series, and that I might just polish it and release it as a megahuge ebook or a series of episodes with no pretense of being standalone.

  2. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    You know what's funny? If you'd asked me before I started, I would have said that I'd put something related to the plot or developed a relationship in an important way in each section of the story.

    I still think I did. It's just that in some cases what happened is something that can either be skipped or moved to another spot. I don't know if you ever noticed this in comics, but often writers put a small thing into each episode that pushes the bigger story forward. In novels, it seems like each chapter includes more than one thing.

    Right now, I'm finding that I can change more than I thought. I didn't see it until I started asking myself how I'd make this smaller.

    That said, Worm may well be tighter than Legion the whole way through. I haven't tried to go through it with a fine toothed comb (like I'm having to do with my serial right now). Still, you never know, you might be able to change more than you think.

  3. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Hi Jim,

    On the topic of the X-Files, I remember the monster-of-the-week episodes as being the best of the series. The alien conspiracy arc was, at best, tiresome. ;)

    I'm not saying that applies to your story, but I don't think you should discount the enjoyability of the smaller stories. Maybe put them in a collection?


  4. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    My opinion is that they really screwed up the alien conspiracy arc by never making the backstory clear. Instead, they made it mysterious for the entire run of the series. This meant that there would ultimately never be a satisfying ending to the arc. It was very annoying.

    By comparison, the monster of the week stories always had a satisfying conclusion.

    I've always had an ending planned for Legion, so I'm hoping to avoid that problem.

    With regards to using the removed chapters as short stories--yes. That'll happen.