Counting beans (now with more numbers!)

I’m not one for math–anything more complicated than my checkbook and I break into a sweat, and even the checkbook is a chore I’d much prefer to avoid–but I have always been fascinated by numbers.  Ask me to prove anything with them and I’ll freak out and slip into a coma, but ask me to play with them?  I’m on board.  I love numerology, I love our planet-wide obsession with the number 12 and all its variables, I love counting the years I’ve been married (a little more than 8 ) and the years I’ve known my wife (almost 13), the number of chapters in, say, For Whom the Bell Tolls (43; the events in the Metallica song based on the novel take place in Chapter 25).  Before there were the loads of obsessive explanations and musings that exist online today, I once wrote a lengthy and absurdly complicated essay unpacking the mathematical gymnastics of the numbers in LOST (4 8 15 16 23 42), not for an assignment or even a public blog but just because I was fascinated by them.

Right now I’m knee-deep in revising a novel that has long frustrated me, including numerically.  For complicated symbolic reasons I won’t go into right now, I have divided my novel into 3 “Books” and a total of 12 chapters.  But as soon as I’d got through a 1st draft of this thing, I noticed how lopsided it was–the 1st 4 chapters, making up Book 1, took up nearly 1/2 the novel, relegating Books 2 and 3 each to just over a 1/4 of the text.  Consequently, what should be the last 2/3 of the book move along far faster than the 1st 1/3 and feel rushed, sloppy, and amatuerish, while the 1st “Book” is sluggish, equally sloppy, and amatuerish in an entirely different way.

One of my goals in revising this novel was to tighten up the 1st 1/2 and expand the 2nd (by which I mean tighten up the 1st 1/3 and expand the other 2/3–such is the confusing nature of math and/or my novel).  Today I checked my page count:  In the 1st 2 chapters I have managed to add–not delete–a full 20 pages to my novel.  Right now the total count sits at 293, yet, just a few pages into chapter 3, I am currently working on page 92.  By page count, I am 1/3 of the way through my novel, but by chapter count, I am just over 1/6 through.  I’m not saying all the chapters or all the “Books” have to be of equal length, but I’m a fan of balance if not symmetry, and I’d like each section of the book to carry similar weight.  Which means, if I’m going to pull that off in this revision, this novel is going to have to wind up a little over 500 pages by the time I’m done, with the bulk of the extra 210+ extra pages showing up in chapters 5 through 12.  Or I’m looking at yet another revision to follow this 1, in which I strip out all the fat from Book 1 and clean it up like I’d originally intended.  Which might be what I have to do.  Not just for the sake of the numbers, but for the sake of the prose as well.

UPDATE: I’ve finished revising (for now) all of Book 1.  As it stands right now, Book 1–the 1st 4 chapters–total 141 pages, out of 298 (that’s up from an original page total of 271).  The word count for Book 1 is around 43,000; the word count for the whole novel, so far, is 91,300.  So, by chapter count I’m exactly 1/3 through the book.  But by page count and word count, I’m almost 1/2 (47% by either page or word count).

The good news:  if 141 pages is what roughly 1/3 of the book is supposed to look like, I’ll only have to add 125 pages to round out the last 2/3, which is considerably less than I was first counting on, and 400+ pages actually doesn’t sound too unreasonable for a novel of this sort, though if a final revision can squeeze that down to, say, 350, I’d be happier.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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