All last week, I beat my head against the Tombstone manuscript but couldn’t seem to move forward, even though I know what happens next. I had a feeling there was something wrong structurally, but couldn’t seem to think my way through the problem in the abstract.
After 5.6 novels, I’ve learned that when I get this feeling, it’s time to sacrifice some trees for art. I have to print the manuscript-so-far, separate it into chapters and lay them out on the dining room table. First I pick up each chapter to weigh it in my hand, to feel physically where the manuscript is unbalanced. Then I do the math and find out how many pages each chapter is. Often this process shows me that I’ve begun or ended a chapter too soon: the first section of the next chapter might belong at the end of the prior one, for example. But sometimes I discover that a big chunk of story can be cut entirely, or that it belongs elsewhere in the book.
The chapter I was working last week felt wrong because it ought to come nearly 200 pages earlier in the story. Fixing the problem won’t just involve cutting and pasting. For me, the prose itself dictates how the story unfolds. What Comes Next doesn’t simply arise out of What Just Happened. What Comes Next is also suggested by the sentence I just finished writing. So retrofitting this chapter will require some non-trivial literary carpentry, but I feel better now that I’ve identified the problem.