I’m not a fast writer. I have a full-time job, and I’m also pretty lazy. I’d love to be able to crank out two or three full-length novels a year, but that may not be in the offing anytime soon. Consequently, it’s always an amazing feeling when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for a project I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve finally reached that point with my latest novel.
The novel is called Laughingstock. It’s about two comedians who grew up together and began doing standup as a duo while in high school. The family of one of the teens moves out of state (to Fester!), but they continue to pursue their comedy careers. Chuck Marshall ends up as a successful standup in L.A., who manages to grab the brass ring and gets his own network TV show. His pal, Wilbert “Duckie” Dunne, manages to escape from Fester, but languishes in a comedy backwater, working crummy jobs and appearing at small venues in the Pacific Northwest. When Chuck disappears at the height of his success, Duckie goes out in search of his childhood friend. Along the way, he encounters a secret comedians’ retreat, a deceased comedy legend who isn’t as dead as everyone thinks, and the sinister machinations of the head of the Wolff TV Network.
I was about three-quarters of the way through the second draft when I realized, “Hey, this might actually be a story that people would enjoy reading.” It was a good feeling. That feeling was tempered somewhat by the final word count: 165,000 words, which was about a 50% increase from the first draft.
I nominally like to aim for a word count of 90,000 words for a completed novel MS. For Fester, I settled for 110,000 – I’ll probably end up landing around there for Laughingstock as well. That’s the problem with “pantsing,” which is my preferred method of writing. Since I usually start with a premise, a handful of characters and a very general notion of the direction I want the story to go, I always end up with huge manuscripts that then need to be brutally pruned to something readable. It’s fun, however, to kind of wind up the characters and just observe what they do. A lot of the time they end up doing or saying things that I had no notion of them doing or saying. It can be kind of spooky, honestly – but also fun, like a Jaycees haunted house.
Now I have a 592-page brick of a manuscript that I need to cut nearly in half to be workable. I thought about just removing all of the even-numbered chapters, and pushing it as an “experimental” story form, but that would probably only appeal to MFA students who do a lot of hippie drugs. Instead, I will now break out a red pen and proceed to “murder my darlings.” The best approach is to treat the whole project like I’m having to pay by the word for having the thing printed. Given that Amazon is my primary sales conduit, this isn’t that far from the truth.
So off I go with a brand new red pen and a ruthless gleam in my eye to get this next novel out in the world. Wish me luck.