Improving Slow Reads

Some time ago, I was told the beginning of my novel read slow. I wasn’t sure how to address it.
I removed many unnecessary scenes and combined others. Still, I didn’t think I did enough. After spending the summer strictly doing reviews for the Saturday morning writing group, I acquired a new perspective.
I needed to change the style of writing. It was filled with many complex sentences, full of multiple dependent clauses adding information. These clauses needed combined, and sentences broken apart. It was a good start, and while I did it, I realized that there were three chapters within the first eight that needed to be reframed.
All of these chapters suffered from the same problem: the viewpoint character does little to no interaction with other characters. He/she spends his/her time planning, observing, and thinking about events and circumstances. While all of the information is important, and I find it interesting, it isn’t as compelling as it ought to be.
So, what do I do?
I reframe the Arnold chapter where he prepares to go to Earth to hire an archaeologist. Instead of Arnold ruminating about Chuck’s orders, I’ll reset the scene fifteen minutes earlier where he can interact and react to Chuck. See, Arnold is Chuck’s employee and a spy for Chuck’s competitor. As written, this scene is interesting. Having them interact, could make it compelling. I have yet to write this, but I know how it’ll flow.
I reframe the chapter where Frank chooses Gretchen to decipher the symbols in the Martian cave. Originally, the scene involved Frank dealing with two problems: his breaking up with Erin because she refused to marry him and him performing computer searches for archaeologists and reacting to the results. There wasn’t a line of dialog. Now, Frank still tries to come to terms with his breakup through exposition (though I trimmed it a bit), but his decision to hire Gretchen is handled in dialog with Chuck, Frank’s boss. I wrote this today, and it works better. I’ll write a second draft, but it’s going in the correct direction.
I reframe the Gretchen attending a concert chapter. The rewritten scene has Gretchen in a club before and during a concert with her friend and co-worker, Ashley. This chapter was the test case to see if the reframing approach would work. (If it wasn’t apparent by now, it did. 🙂 )
I took the result to the Saturday group. I have to give them a lot of credit—they critiqued the chapter, knowing very little back story. For instance, they didn’t read Gretchen’s reaction to receiving her husband’s notice via email that he wasn’t going to renew their marriage contract. They didn’t read about her crying and realizing that she valued her career over her relationship. They didn’t read of her isolation in Antarctica, unable to even vidcomm with her husband because of their outpost’s limited bandwidth.
Unfortunately, I swung the pendulum from near-total exposition too far into dialog, which sacrificed much of Gretchen feelings about her circumstances. That was simple enough to solve. I added in ~400 words of Gretchen’s thoughts and feelings. I pulled a chunk of Gretchen’s reaction from a prior chapter into this one.
After speaking with Ashley and listening to the concert, she needed to realize that she had to balance her career with love. She does and determines a course of action to follow. It sounds good. Unfortunately (for her), I’m not going to allow her execute her plan in a straightforward manner.
Moreover, this chapter has to accomplish other things. It has to show some of normal Earth life. People eat within a ration governed by their NutriCard. Men wear suits and women wear dresses to concerts. It also has to establish that Gretchen is not only an aficionado of multiple genres of music but also a musician herself: an enthusiastic amateur guitar player. This information is vital for the resolution of the symbol issue. This is really Chekov’s gun. I show the gun in chapter 2 and chapter 7 (I even moved this chapter up a slot!) before Gretchen uses it halfway through the book. In short, the chapter may look like fluff on the surface, but everything in it is vital.
I feel comfortable rewriting the other two chapters. This was an excellent exercise, and the group’s comments help refine it into something closer to my vision.
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