Revising Web Fiction into a Book

4 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...

Page: 123


  1. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 4 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 4 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 4 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 4 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.

  5. DaringNovelist (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago


    Have you considered doing a collection of the "monster of the week" stories as short fiction?

    Meanwhile, this conversation sparked some thoughts in me:

    Overall, I'm like Chris, especially about TV shows. For instance, I used to love Burn Notice. It had an ongoing adventure in the background, but each episode had its own plot in which the heroes are asked to help somebody. That was a wonderful premise. And every time they devoted a whole ep to the uber-story, I would be a little bored and disappointed. And when they started pushing that uber-story over the premise of out-of-work spies helping people, I just completely lost interest.

    And just in writing that, I think that the problem is this: the story of evil super-spies out to get the heroes is a VERY different kind of story from the story of the ex-spies who solve problems for people. The overarching story is fine for adding a little flavor and interest, but it totally contrasts with the tone of the good guy stories.

    I suspect the problem for that show is like the problem for so many shows: when they play up the uber-story, they gain market share because they are attracting a _different_ audience. And the numbers crunchers don't realize that they don't have a more interested audience, they have two different groups, and they'll lose the old audience if they go after the new, but they will lose the new audience if they work to keep the old. And sometimes they end up losing both by chasing the new audience and then pulling back and trying to get the old audience back.

    What does this say to us? Or to Jim's question/observations?

    Damfino. I guess it's just a matter of being aware that you have multiple audiences and anything you do will cost you something. You've just got to do what makes sense to you.


  6. SgL (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Jim - Isn't this essentially the graphic novel approach for comics? I think this works okay for me (as a rehabilitated comic book reader who is suddenly buying them again). But that's assuming your current readerbase doesn't flip over the fragmentation?

    I think as long as everyone knows the print solution is largely driven by the cost issue and such, I think more or less your current readers won't flip .

    But it's not an approach I could take at this point. Like Wildbow, my serial posts are really basically me writing the novel in order. I could tighten up in some place (i.e., replace dialogue with a quicker blurb) but my feeling is that I'll actually be rewriting stuff that I just want to sound better and I was pressed to push forward because of the deadline. (And it might get even longer.)

    I'm also past 200k. I gave up the idea of breaking it up a while ago. I'm going to shove it into one book somehow :)

  7. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I do intend to put the cut chapters into a collection.

    Actually, I tend to do a chapter from the perspective of the main character's grandfather between each major section of the story. Lately I've also started writing chapters from the perspective of the main character's teammates too. The result is that there's now easily enough for a collection already.

    On the larger issues, I tend to be drawn toward the overarching plot in TV shows and novels.

    As I see it (and those of you who've read Legion may argue with me here), Legion stays focused on putting kids into places where kids shouldn't be. So hopefully there's only one audience. That said, I'm trying to hit a lot of the major superhero tropes (superhero school, intergalactic war/invasion, legacy heroes, godlike beings interfering with humans) so there will be plenty of opportunity to grab and lose chunks of my audience.

  8. Amy Kim Kibuishi (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Oh man, "monster of the week" episodes are my favorites!

    It never occurred to me the challenges of having to distill the serial into a more traditionally thought novel. Even while doing comics, I just plow ahead and things are collected. I guess I'm used to this idea since almost all graphic novels with very VERY few exception are actually collected serials. Certainly 99% of manga is. I think people are used to it, monster of the week episodes and all.

    I'm of the mindset that I would package the print novels in whatever order I published them online. I guess I'll see how this plays out when Rema goes serial starting in book 2... eep. :x

    I guess if you were really unsure you could always poll your readers?

  9. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Focus groups are always a good idea! |)

  10. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    For better or for worse, I'm taking this from the perspective of "Who's my audience?"

    My assumption is that I'm reaching a different audience with the serial than I will with the ebook/printed book. Some people will do both or move from one to the other, but mostly I'm betting that they won't be the same people.

    From my perspective, successfully providing a product of any kind involves meeting expectations. People's expectations with a serial are something along the lines of:

    1. It will update regularly on the day it says that it will update.
    2. It will come to a satisfying conclusion eventually. It doesn't have to be immediate though. Prose serials (like comic books) are all about the journey.

    People's expectations with a novel (I assume) are more along the lines of:
    1. It will have a beginning, middle, and end.
    2. The end may well leave things open, but there will be some level of closure.

    I'm especially sensitive of this because it's likely to be a $12 paperback (which is slightly more expensive than normal). So cost is definitely in there.

    My assumption is that the readers of my serial will basically be okay with the changes. That said, even if they aren't, they're a small group (200-300 people). The main audience for the Kindle/epub/print version is the much larger group of people who will discover the book in various ways on Amazon/B&N/Goodreads.

    Those people aren't going to be saying, "Where's my favorite scene?" They'll be saying, "This chapter doesn't seem to be forwarding the larger story much. Why is it here?"

    My main focus should be on meeting their expectations. Expectations for a graphic novel are different, but since this isn't one, I can't expect people to give me a pass based on the similarity of what I'm doing to that.

    That's my theory anyway. Plus, of course, there's the whole cost thing. If I didn't cut stuff, I'd be trying to sell a $15-20 paperback, and I don't see much of a future in that.

  11. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Keep in mind there is a precedent for very long serial-like stories in genre fiction. Anita Blake's adventures are up to 21 books, and Harry Dresden's up to a respectable 14 novel-length installments.

  12. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    That's true. In fact I've read (and own) all the Dresden books so far.

    I didn't discover the series until well after starting Legion of Nothing, but that's more or less what I aspire to with Legion.

    I haven't read any Anita Blake though.

  13. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    There are definitely challenges with doing something that long-running. I think Butcher's managed to keep the Dresden series on track so far, though there were installments that made me quite aggravated.

    Oh, another author who's done that: David Weber with Honor Harrington. I think right now there are... what, 29 books in that series? If you can even call it a single series anymore, since it's spawned several different lines within it. But there were times when I thought he'd gone off the rails with that one, until the last few novels that were just tremendous vindications of all our patience. That was some fantastic stuff he did there.

    Anita Blake started out good but jumped the shark for me about ten books in. Other people still enjoy it, supposedly? But it stopped having enough plot in it for my taste.

  14. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    MCA: I've heard that sort of thing about Anita Blake--that it kind of devolved after a while. If I remember correctly, the complaint I heard was "way too much sex" after the character got some kind of power? I haven't read it though, so I don't know.

    With Dresden files, I'd agree that it's staying on track (though there are books I've enjoyed more than others), but I'm reminded of what DaringNovelist was saying earlier. The series has recently undergone a big change. At one point, it was most focused on solving real world cases that touched on (or were caused by) supernatural politics. Now Dresden's main focus is no longer being a P.I./wizard in Chicago, and more on being a wizard involved in the big supernatural incidents of the day.

    I'm still happy, but I gravitate toward that sort of thing anyway. Also, despite the change of focus, there's still a mystery to be solved in each book so at core, the series' focus is still the same.

    In my own stuff, Legion starts out with teenagers in high school. The plan is to follow the characters through college and into being graduates making lives for themselves while, of course, the stakes of what's going on around them continue to rise. I'm hoping I'll manage to keep connected both to superheroes and "coming of age" simultaneously.

    Wildbow: The situation with Worm tends to hang in my mind, largely I suspect because I'm reading it as it comes out.

    Turning your serial into a series of books that essentially tell one story might work out despite what I assume the best thing to do is. When I'm reading it online, it works well, and it's harder to read on a screen.

    If each breakpoint is around 100,000 words, that's a little longer than your average novel, but not excessively so. Assuming they were all available as Kindle or Nook ebooks, I could imagine someone reading one after another, much like they do with the serial version online.

    Plus, if you warn people from the beginning that it's one story, their expectations will be realistic.

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