I have approximately zero traction getting any agent to consider The Forge. To make things worse, I’ve been uncomfortable with a “rewrite from the very beginning” approach to second (and later) drafts.
And this conflict between an unsellable MS and an unwillingness to rewrite is a personal failing as a writer.
What can I do?
Software and non-fiction proceed through a strictly linear sequence of stages from outline to publication. The outline that’s pitched initially is essentially a commitment to the final form of the work. The non-fiction process doesn’t apply to fiction, and I can’t stomp my feet and hold my breath until it does.
Ellie Sivins says split the screen — blank pages on one side, first draft on the other, and retell the story. Avoid copying and pasting from one to the other — the job is to rewrite. Since this is nothing like non-fiction, it seems like too much of the wrong kind of work.
Marissa Meyer does an initial draft in MS-Word and then rebuilds the entire thing in Scrivener. This includes color-coding the sub-plots to make sure they have the right level of emphasis. Each original scene (literary beat) becomes a Chapter document in the Scrivener tool. This seems like it’s too much flexibility to me.
I had started down the road toward processes like these, but, I’m not all the way there. I do start using Omni Outliner were I can write a lot text and produce a mountain of details. The rearranging of sections — for inexplicable reasons — seems easier in Omni Outliner than it does in Scrivener. I then copy and paste the outline and notes to Scrivener where I complete the draft.
After over two years of wringing my hands over The Forge’s rejections. (Has it really been that long?) I think I have begun to understand why the 125,000 word budget turned into 160,000 word product. While I’m not happy with an 80,000 target for a debut work, there’s really no choice here.
Even after a lot of rewriting, what I have is best described as an “early” draft. (Somewhere after first, but not close enough to final.) I’m energized by the Shawn Coyne's post on story beats https://storygrid.com/story-beats/. I think this will focus each chapter more narrowly on a specific conflict and it’s horrifying outcome (“resolution.”) I’m trying to call these “literary beats” to distinguish from cinematic and theatrical beats, which seem to be smaller.
I think The Forge may have had about 160 or so literary beats. Compare this with suggestions to divide an 80,000 word debut novel into 1,500 word scenes, leaving me with about 56 separate literary beats. See https://www.savannahgilbo.com/blog/plotting-hero's-journey for details on the 12 key beats spread across tightly-written 1,500 word scenes.
I see two paths forward:
Drop the chapter structure I have now. I can then cleanly separate each beat and clean up the synopses. With this, I can refactor the beats into a better pair (or trio) of books. This path follows Meyer’s advice and may preserve the early draft’s energy. I like this route because many elements of The Forge tie into later books; some parts of the story cannot easily be changed.
Create a better beat sheet outline with the 56 beats of a novel and refactor the two parts of the story into those beats. This would pare things down from 160 to 112 beats more-or-less. This path follows Sivins advice: split the screen, and rewrite The Forge using The Forge as notes. I think I’ve gone too far for this to be effective any more.
I think I’ll use my “Working Title” next book — about an earlier Great Mage’s duplicity and downfall — as a place to empty my head of ideas that crop up but don’t belong in the The Forge specifically or Tales of the Red Ranger in general, but are part of the world overall. This has a properly design beat sheet going in with character sketches for Protagonist and Antagonist and some of the stack of sub-bosses and their minions.
The resolution to this beat? A lot of work on my part.