I’m on Page WHAT?!

I wrote a fun scene the other day. One of those BIG scenes–when things turn in a different direction for your hero. When your hero turns things in a different direction. It was rough. I knew I still had a long way to go to turn it into the scene it ultimately needs to be (not like I can’t say that about EVERY scene I’m writing these days!). But I’d made one change in how my hero was approaching the moment, and it felt like the right change. It felt like I was putting something important on ground.

So, happily, I printed out the scene & stuck it in my binder and backed up the file. And then I happened to take a look at the page count. (I know, word-count is cooler, but my brain still wants to wrap itself around the placement of scenes in the pages I turn in a printed, published book.)

145 pages.

Okay, sure, it felt good in a way. 145 pages is a nice, little pile. It’s a good way into a project. It’s proof of productivity.

It’s also WAY too far into the story for this scene to be happening. We’re talking YA here–which means 145 pages is, unhappily, over halfway through the book. And this scene does NOT take place halfway through the book. Or it shouldn’t.

No, I don’t have the scene in the wrong place. It’s not that I need to mix things up and rearrange. It’s that I am facing the fact of how much cutting I’m going to be doing in the next draft.

I’m not panicking. Not yet. Not really.

Well, maybe a little.

I’m still writing forward, and I’m not going to stop. But I’m going to do a few things along the way, too.

I’m going to get back into reading YA, and I’m going to take a page from Kelly Fineman’s book of rereading. I tried to find the post I’m remembering, but couldn’t–that’s okay, you should be reading Kelly’s blog, anyway, so you can go hunt it down if you want! But, SOMEWHERE, Kelly talks about rereading, which she sometimes does the minute she’s finished a book. The point, though, is that she rereads for many reasons, but the one that I think is the most important for me to take away is that it helps you see HOW the author is doing something. You’ve got the story down, you just read it, so you’re less immersed in what’s-going-to-happen-next and more available to wow-how-did-she-get-all-that-into-a-four-page-scene. (Or in the case of Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s wonderful soon-to-be-published A Diamond in the Desert, a half-page!) Kelly, if I’m getting this wrong, come slap some sense into me in the comments! ANYWAY, I’m going to pick a few well-done YAs with short chapters and do some studying. Not copying, people, studying. I want to find a structure, a voice, a way of telling that works for me and Caro.

And if anybody has any titles to suggest for this exercise, please drop them into the comments…with my thanks!

I’ve opened up a Scrivener folder in my Draft 3 project called BIG PLOTTING STUFF. So far there are two cards in there: ACCIDENT and QUITS. (Yes, I have more on my actual cards, but you don’t get the secrety things until the book is published!) And I’m going to add some bulleted steps for cause and effect to each of these cards. For instance, you might see this on one card:

Boy mentions party.
C decides to go to party.
Mom says no.
C runs into street.


C is hit by train.
Boy brings chocolates.
Mom weeps.
C wins Olympic gold medal.

No, that’s not what you do see on my card; again, it’s what you might see. You know, if there were any Olympic games in my WIP. I’m just going to try and get an idea of what leads up to each big event and what each big event causes to happen afterward. Each of those lesser events might turn out to be an entire scene, or they might all get blended into one scene. I don’t know. And I won’t know for quite a while, I’m sure. But it’s going to start me thinking about what’s smaller and what’s more important, and how much time I need to spend on it all.


Oh, you know, this may just be another way to procrastinate, to try and get control of something that needs to remain nebulous for a while longer. But maybe it’s me coming at a tricky project in a new way, applying a process I haven’t tried before. And maybe it’ll help.

We can only try, right?

Do you tend to write long or short in your early drafts? What do you do when it’s time to cut or expand?


  1. I’m afraid that I’m writing too long. But am slowly working/tweaking my way through the first revison, hoping that I’ll stumble across scenes that can be deleted. If you discover how to figure that mystery out, please share.


    • beckylevine says:

      If I discover how to figure out this mystery, I’ll be shouting it from rooftops! I think, honestly, it has to do with combining events–making a lot more happen together, rather than in sequence. But that might just be for me. And that doesn’t really tell either of us HOW to do that!


  2. Honestly, I guess I write both long and short on the first draft. It’s usually too wordy and riddled with ideas that aren’t working. But it’s also usually lacking in areas – characters aren’t fully fleshed out. Threads are dangling and I simply fail to explain some things clearly. So mostly my first drafts are a mess. And the second and third ones too.

    I can so appreciate your sentiments and i need your upbeat attitude right now. Thanks!


    • beckylevine says:

      I think you’ve said it Joyce, it’s a lot of too little here, too much there. And I do know that it’s part of figuring out the characters & story, but that doesn’t keep it from being a bit scary! The upbeat comes from at least having scenes flowing, even if I know they’re not right. It’s when I stall out completely, that I get NOT happy. 🙂


  3. hmmm…I’ll keep that scene combination idea in mind. Thanks!


  4. Jenn Hubbard says:

    YA with short chapters? Look at Laurie Halse Anderson. Also Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND has some short chapters. I think there’s a thread on Verla Kay’s blue board on this topic, if you want to hunt for suggestions.

    I write short, and always have to expand. And still my finished books are only around 200 pages.

    If my writing style were visual art, it would be pen-and-ink sketching rather than a photorealist oil painting. I like to use one line to suggest a richer world.


    • beckylevine says:

      Jenn, I’ll look at those & the thread, too. Thanks. Plus, I think I need to put your book back on my re-read list, too.

      I WANT so much to do pen-and-ink. I worry that I’m ending up with the blobbiness of overdone oils!


      • Jenn Hubbard says:

        But we each have our own natural style. It’s natural for me to write “sketchily,” so to speak. John Updike did the equivalent of the photorealist oils–and I love to read that, but can’t write it myself. What’s your natural style?


        • beckylevine says:

          I’m not sure I have a natural style. My MG mystery was what I’d call light & funny, although probably too long! And the picture book, too. But this book is so different for me, I don’t feel natural at it yet at all. Still learning! But I’m loving tight, spare historicals, and I don’t like the dense ones as much, so it’s something to strive for.


  5. Oh, you know, this may just be another way to procrastinate, to try and get control of something that needs to remain nebulous for a while longer.

    I certainly have a tendency to muck around with index cards and outlines for long enough that I worry I’m only procrastinating, but when I finally do get around to revising, I always find that all that planning was valuable and necessary. My first drafts are usually too long… well, no, they’re too long in some places and not long enough in others. I do a lot of re-plotting between drafts to figure out how I’m going to get things closer to the way the story should be. Good luck, and have fun with it!


    • beckylevine says:

      That’s what I’m hoping, Lisa–thanks–that procrastination is actually learning and focusing. 🙂


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