First, I officially finished the (now) second-to-last scene of this episode, and am sitting proudly at 43,952 words. It actually took rewriting the entire previous scene to kick me back into gear, but I’m so glad I did. I was never happy with the point of view I’d selected for that scene, and it’s much better from Iolië’s point of view.
The next challenge was deciding how much to show and how much to summarize in the next scene. This is already going to be a long episode compared to the first one, and while I don’t want to adhere too rigidly to a word count, I also don’t want to leave any room for arguments about whether my readers are getting shortchanged compared to the previous episode. If one episode is 30k words compared to the previous episode’s 20k words, that is definitely a place I don’t want to be. I think 25k words is about as long as I want to get, and this episode is already at 23,863 words. Episode one was 18,245 words.
I am not going to contemplate that right now, this is about summarizing. So I wrote the first draft of this scene and it was too long, over four pages before I even got to the last little bit, and it’s because there are so many people to talk to, so much information to extract, so many plans to be made. Part of the problem is also that I can’t just let Marrok be an inexplicable genius; I have to show how he comes to his conclusions, the hints he picks up, and I think I err too far in that direction sometimes because I don’t like characters making the correct (unlikely) choice for no reason. If Marrok manages to logic his way onto Iolie’s trail, then I need to show how he gets there, in my mind. If you drag out that logic process throughout the whole episode, while also constantly feeding him new information on which to speculate, that can snowball quickly. It’s even worse when you have politics churning in the background, which also play into that decision-making process.
Ultimately I ended up eliminating one interview, showing one, and summarizing the third. The same information is given to the reader, the characters are distinct, and I think I left the reader with a good idea about where Marrok is going to go next, why, and in the end, how he’s going to get there. It was also important that there be some payoff for getting to his destination, and I think I provided that. I was trying to show the state of the Empire in general, the danger that they’re in, how deep the rot goes. That’s the key. Marrok is seeing the rot at the heart of the Empire. Acknowledging that makes me want to go back and make sure I wasn’t too subtle.
All of this was kind of an exercise for myself in making the rewrite shorter than the original; usually it’s much longer. And I succeeded. I’m tempted to go back and read it now, especially in view of my conclusion about what I was trying to show, but I’ll let it sit til tomorrow and read it with fresh eyes.