I mentioned earlier this week that fantasy books could stand to get on the treadmill a little, with page counts that’d make the Oxford Dictionary look like a Battleship instruction manual. I offered that taking a third of the chapters away from a story to see if it still makes sense is one way to shorten length and maintain story focus, harkening back to an old piece of writing advice I received about writing your book and removing the first chapter. If your reader can end up grasping things without that introductory prose, you’re doing it right.
But after I posted this I got to thinking – what about those fantasy books where it doesn’t make sense to excise a third of its BMI? What if crucial information is taken from a book that genuinely needs all that excruciatingly-detailed description of a man walking through puddles for it to work as a whole?
Then I further got to thinking about a solution – use the BioShock Infinite method.
One of the themes of that game (which I won’t completely spoil for uninitiates, don’t worry) is that gaps in memory are plugged by the mind inventing things to fill the empty space between. We all do this; try as you might, you won’t remember everything about that night you were high on ‘shrooms and started at your apartment but ended up sitting in the crook of the giant light-up ‘C’ on the side of the Commonwealth Bank building the next morning. Maybe your brain will invent a fantasy where you leapt upon a luck dragon who drunkenly crashed through the window behind the ‘C’, which would explain the shattered glass at your back.
So try this: take a book you’ve not read before, get to a point of the story and then skip the following two chapters. See if you can derive coherency from this cut-down novel, and if you can’t then try and visualise what might’ve happened in those in-betweeny bits. Perhaps Frodo and Sam ended up at Mt Doom right after leaving Lothlorien because it turned out Sam can concoct a pair of angel’s wings with his cooking utensils. Maybe Ned Stark, instead of being beheaded, was suddenly rescued by one of Daenerys’s dragons who took him away for six books to prepare for the final battle in the seventh. And wouldn’t it be interesting if the reason Jay Gatsby goes from excitable playboy to overly-depressed and maudlin is because he accidentally switched dimensions with Dom Cobb?
Actually, I think that’s how fan-fiction gets started. Please disregard the preceding.