The Rest of the Novel-Writing Iceberg

novel writing tip of the iceberg-892518_960_720The tip of the iceberg is an idiom for the part that is seen, with the implication that there’s much more that is hidden. In novel writing, the tip of the iceberg is the part of the story that makes it into print. The rest of the iceberg is all the material the author didn’t include in the final manuscript.

The amount of material that isn’t included is generally much greater than what’s contained in the novel itself. It can consist of research the author did for the story, scenes that were cut, plot lines which were abandoned, and those “extras” that R.J. Crayton identified as the “director’s cut” of the work.

Authors have different ways of dealing with all this stuff that doesn’t make it into the finished product. Back before the interwebs, I kept physical copies of research articles, photocopies of pages out of library reference books, handwritten notations on index cards documenting sources, reams of notes, and so forth in an expanding file, along with a copy of the manuscript itself. Now I just create a virtual file folder and click and drag whatever I find into it. For deleted scenes and the like, I copy and paste those into an MS Word file I call “dump,” as in, [book title dump.doc]. Not very glamorous, but it works for me.

If you’re looking for a new way to engage new or existing readers, the “iceberg” material could come in handy. I wish I could say that I had thought of this myself, but actually a book club member asked me to give a presentation to a different audience. The book club had read my Japanese historical novel, The Earthquake Doll. This time, the club member asked me to present something to a study group about the research I’d done for the novel. It was easy to put together a PowerPoint presentation using notes from the research and photographs in the public domain.

I don’t see why this couldn’t work for other authors. You could work up something based on your iceberg material for your next book club, convention appearance, or book signing. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a PowerPoint presentation. It could be a handout, perhaps, or a visual aid such as a presentation board.

If your iceberg material includes deleted scenes, abandoned plot lines, minor characters, etc., you might find the germs for a sequel, a short story, or even a new novel. One series that comes to mind is Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire, which contained the seeds for most of The Vampire Chronicles, eleven novels in all.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy came out of a vast amount of material he’d previously written concerning events that occurred in the deep past, even back to the creation myths before the time of Middle Earth. Some of this material was published posthumously in The Silmarillion.

You might discover a special interest like author Mary Doria Russell did when researching her novel, Doc. Dr. John Henry “Doc” Holliday was born with a cleft palate. Ms. Russell has made matching donations and encourages readers of Doc to make donations in Doc Holliday’s memory to The Smile Train, the world’s leading cleft surgery charity.

Have you found other ways to utilize your iceberg material? My advice is to hang on to all of it. It could turn out to be more useful than you realize.

Author: Candace Williams

Candace Williams lives with her husband and beloved rescued Iggys (Italian Greyhounds) in Texas. Her first novel, THE EARTHQUAKE DOLL, was inspired by her early experiences in post-war Japan while her father was serving in the Korean Conflict. Learn more about Candace on her website and her Author Central page.

20 thoughts on “The Rest of the Novel-Writing Iceberg”

  1. Great advice. I like the idea of using it for book club and other presentations where the audience doesn’t need to hear a speech that sounds like a high school book report.

    This material also works well for guest posts on blogs where the host doesn’t want you to use the space for a direct sales pitch. That saved material from one’s research might make a great post.


    1. Guest posts! I hadn’t thought of that – thanks! I think readers (and other authors) are fascinated by “how it’s done.” It’s like those “Making Of” specials on TV for movies.

  2. Neat! I hadn’t really thought about doing that sort of thing. Then again, I rarely have more than a page or so of iceberg stuff per novel. So it’s probably not as helpful for me. But it’s fascinating to see how others do these things!

    1. Ya never know how you might be able to use some of those things, even if there’s a small amount. You could very well find seeds for a new story. Collectively, the papers might inspire you to create a “behind-the-scenes” look on your website for your readers.

  3. I cut two scenes from my sci-fi novels – one was exposition that went beyond the novel’s needs and the other was a great idea, but distracted from the main thrust of the story.

    I am turning the exposition into a “background” short story where the explanation (why there are no robots in my future universe) emerges from the developing tale. Reading it enhances the reader’s understanding of my invented universe, but is not “required” reading. I hope to build a collection of similar “background” stories to supplement the series.

    I turned the other into a completely stand-alone short story which I have just sold.

    “Nothing is wasted.”

    1. Congratulations on selling your short story!

      Combining the exposition material into a supplement to the series is a great idea. I’m reminded of Diana Gabaldon’s eight-volume (so far) “Outlander” series. For Christmas I received her “Outlandish Companion, Vol. 2,” which has everything you’d want to know about the series that just couldn’t be worked into the books.

      I bet your supplementary material will be devoured by your fans, as well. Good luck!

  4. What an elucidating post–a “light-bulb idea” for blog topics. It’s a great way to generate more interest in our books and show how and why we wrote our particular stories. Thanks, Candace.

  5. While I have not done this yet (makes note to self to get butt in gear) this is a great way to get potential readers interested. Wattpad might be one place to do this, aside from your own blog or website. Mark Lefebvre, of KOBO says Wattpad has been working well for authors published there.

  6. So you appealed to the pack rat in me. Hang on to it all, for it could be used later. 🙂 I think it’s good to hold onto those nuggets in an extra file. That way you can go through later and remind yourself of anything you missed or could explore further later.

    1. Yes, I definitely recommend holding onto it all, and keeping a separate file is a more organized way to do it, too. I’m so happy there are electronic folders now because my file cabinets are stuffed!

  7. A lot of the research I did for Strongbow’s Wife went into a website called Hereford and Ireland History which is now part of my author site. In fact, this particular project worked the other way around: I did the research initially for my own interest, and the idea of writing a novel based around the life of Strongbow’s wife grew out of the research.

  8. Thanks for fleshing out half an idea I’d been working on. I wanted to have some bits on a website for my new book that people could go and read if they loved the world it was set in. Snippets of research etc. Maybe I’ll just add a ‘deleted scenes’ page as well. Brilliant, thank you for getting the thoughts flowing. 🙂

    1. Any time, Carolyn! 🙂

      I had to cut some scenes that were “my darlings,” and I’m going to use them somehow, some way, some day! I don’t yet know whether they’ll be in a sequel or on a web page, as you’re thinking of doing.

      Have fun!

  9. As a part of the world-building process, I did a lot of “iceberg” work long before I really began writing The Year of the Red Door, and well before publishing The Bellringer (the first volume of the tale). I put all of my notes together within a single long document so that I could use it and update it as part of my “reference” materials. It was tremendously helpful, and I still use it. I later reformatted the material into what I call “The Reader’s Companion to the Year of the Red Door.” Besides material that did not make it into the story, my “Companion” contains stories and backstories, chronologies, an extensive glossary, maps, and other materials. I hope to publish some of it later this year (maybe when Volume 3, A Distant Light, is released), but did I use parts of it on the story’s website (

    Granted, something like this might be overkill for a lot of authors. However, The Year of the Red Door is a very long story (5 volumes). So, as I said, I found having the material a great help during the writing. It helped me eliminate material from the main story that wasn’t needed, and it “informed” me about material that I really needed to include or elaborate upon within the narrative.

    1. Excellent! I was just talking about that in another comment, above. If a reader has invested in reading an entire series, then I am certain, from personal experience, that they will love to read the companion volume(s). I always say that a book with maps, chronologies, or especially family trees, just has to be good.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: