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Serial Killer

24 December 2016


Sometimes you have to kill.

Kill your darlings, kill your babies. This well-worn, oft-repeated advice comes in various forms, and in fact, 'murder your darlings' is likely the original. But in whatever guise, it amounts to the same: the killing a writer must do for the good of the story. It might be an extraneous sentence or paragraph, an entire passage or scene, even a character; words and ideas that are likely well-researched, perhaps well-written, and almost certainly well-loved. But if it doesn't add to the story - or more to the point, if it detracts from it - it has to go.

Every writer has to kill.

By all measure, 'Eight' is a hefty tome. In this age of electronic publishing, there's a perceived Goldilocks Zone, a magic length of between 40,000 and 80,000 words. 'Eight' is the better part of 138,000 words. I'll note here that earlier versions were even bigger - over various rewrites, I've killed up to 20,000 words; plenty of time and effort went into those 20,000, but you're aiming for a faster, leaner beast, and trimming the fat goes with the territory. 

That said, after all the editing, all the rewrites, there remained a pretty decent-sized book.

At this point, you consider serialising (actually, on reflection, I should have contemplated this much earlier). But anyway, once the decision to publish was made, I weighed my options. I could split the book into two - or even three - parts, released within a few weeks of each other, followed by a final release of the complete version. It made sense. I could keep the parts coming and hopefully build reader interest. These days, everyone is time-poor, and there's a suggestion that readers prefer smaller-sized stories they can get through quickly, in a couple of hours or in a single sitting. No-one has time for a larger book.

By splitting 'Eight' into bite-sized chunks, I could satisfy busy readers, and maybe encourage more of a following. I debated it long and hard.

But let's get back to what's best for the story. The writer kills for the good of the story. The writer does everything for the story. And the most basic concepts still apply, not least the essential story-telling formula of beginning, middle, and end. Even a serialised story is governed by this principle, with each part possessing the three crucial components. Sure, I could carve 'Eight' into two or three portions, concluding each with a suspenseful cliff-hanger, but would each of those parts satisfy the formula? Beginning... yes. Middle...yes. End...not so much. Okay, a cliff-hanger is an ending of sorts, but the last thing I wanted was to annoy or frustrate the reader, or worse, leave them unsatisfied.

As 'Eight' was a completed work, offering some form of satisfactory resolution at the end of each part (even if there was only two) would be impossible in its current form, and to rewrite for the sake of serialising would only alter the fabric of the story. So there was the deal-breaker. Because I couldn't offer a satisfying resolution at the end of each segment, I had to tender 'Eight' in its entirety.

Knowing the final word length, if I was starting over and writing 'Eight' from scratch, I'd consider serialising, ensuring a suitable ending for each part. I'm certain there are convincing arguments for doing this. But while I'd consider it, I doubt I'd do it. I like the story as it is. I've written what I wanted to write, about things I love, and along the way, I've killed for it. My aim was to give readers an entertaining, satisfying ride, and with any luck I've achieved that. I hope you enjoy 'Eight' in all its unadulterated glory!