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Words left behind October 16, 2017

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It takes a lot of work to write a novel.

All authors say that, but how can a reader understand what that means? Some authors throw out numbers like it took X hours of work, or X months or years. And yet, as a reader, one might look at one author who releases one book every five years, and another who releases a dozen in the same time, and wonder why the first can’t match the second. Especially with series. The world and characters are already established, right? Shouldn’t it be easier?

I think the true measure of what’s involved in writing a novel is in all the work you don’t see. Agonizing for hours over a single word. Dialogue rewritten ten times or more. Entire backstories, enough to write short stories or even other novels, for characters who appear only in one chapter. Characters, scenes, entire plot points that an author loved that had to be scrapped. The way it’s constantly on your mind – on a bus, at a grocery store, at a party, at your day job.

For Enduring Chaos, I wrote over 300,000 words that ended up in the trash before it came to the point it is now. At this point, the tally for the series overall is at least 400,000 deleted words. The first book went through three complete, start-to-finish drafts of which nothing remained in the published book. At least two scenes in the final draft were completely rewritten four or five times.

Hours upon hours of research, probably enough to fill a full-time job for a week at least. Conversations with half a dozen different people just for information on horses – some for no other reason than to determine a particular horse’s size, merely for the sake of a single comparison in the book. Research on weaving and weather patterns and etymology and much more. An hour-long conversation with my resident expert, along with taking over a page of notes, about the behaviour of a character who has exactly one spoken line.

I have pages of notes keeping track of the timeline and the distances characters have crossed. I have my own private wiki for notes on the series – characters, locations, artifacts, and more. I have notes everywhere – on my computer, my tablet, my phone, a notebook by my bedside, the cloud. I have pages of notes written for a single scene – and I’ve done that multiple times. I have pages of notes about the backstories that inform each character’s decisions. I even have pages of notes I never kept – writing down dialogue or actions as I was working it out, only to delete it when that conversation passed, or never even happened on page.

And then there’s the unwritten work. Character sketches and maps. Planning out movement during battle scenes. Those thoughts always on my mind. Hours of conversation with my husband about aspects of the book. Hours spent in so many sessions of staring at the screen, working out in my mind how a scene will go. Determining the impact of a certain event upon a character. Thinking. So much time spent inside my own head.

How do you quantify that?

Well… you don’t. A reader only gets the finished book, and a writer has to accept that that’s all most people will see. Sure, you can discuss the writing process at conventions or meet-and-greets, bemoan the struggles of editing with other writers, friends, family, or other witting or unwitting audiences, or write how-to articles or blog posts about it, but the truth is, no one is really going to appreciate the scope of how much work went into your novel except you.

As an author, it’s just part of the job. Writing means rewriting, and it means a lot of writing that will never be seen, not necessarily because it’s not good enough, but because it’s not necessary. We do this and we suffer through deleting words we adored time and again because it’s part of the process.

Because we love writing.

But don’t mistake that for meaning it isn’t hard work.


On writing… and writing, and writing January 16, 2013

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How long should a novel be?

One could ask a hundred different people and get a hundred different answers. Perhaps you would get answers by word count, or page count, or something even vaguer – longer than a novella. Some websites give their estimation of an ‘ideal’ novel length, some might simply give numbers to avoid going too long or too short. Some might cite Dickens or Tolstoy – or Martin or Sanderson, to use modern examples in my preferred genre – or they might lean more toward Stevenson or London – or Scalzi or Collins.

But the fact remains that all those authors were published. There is precedent for novels from 100 to 1,000 pages. Those vague answers, frustrating as they might be for someone who genuinely wants a guide for how long their novel should be, are more accurate.

Enduring Chaos, the novel I am currently editing, has always been a little on the lengthy side. Not, perhaps, for fantasy – I’ve read plenty of books I estimated to be over 200,000 words long, based on random page word counts – but in some way or another, each of the three drafts of this book have taken a bit longer to tell than my other novels. Admittedly, it has gotten shorter with each incarnation; the first, unfinished draft topped 150,000 words, the second was complete at 115,000, and the current sits at 109,000, although I’ll admit I’ve added 6,000 words already in this round of editing.

I don’t have much experience to say how long my novels tend to be, given that this is only the third book I have written to my satisfaction enough to publish it. While I’m not particularly interested in writing 600+ page epics, nor do I ever have quite enough story to fill out that much writing, I do like drawing a story out and taking its time getting where it’s going.

That is precisely what happened with my first published novel Aurius, which ended up being the second longest thing I’d written at 125,000 words. The book was about the main character Jake’s journey, and there was plenty of that to cover. My second novel, the scifi Halcyon, was notably shorter at a little under 80,000 words. It was a faster-paced story and got where it was going much quicker without quite so much character exploration along the way.

As for Enduring Chaos, it is a different beast altogether in that it is the first book of a trilogy. (However, each installment, of course, is a story on its own.) But it still has always taken a little longer to tell.

What made the first draft so long?

In short: meandering.

Truth be told, I created the main character and started writing the story on a whim without knowing where it was going. Several chapters passed before I even determined what the ultimate goal of the story was, and I spent much more time exploring the shared world in which I wrote it. Even when I did finally address the true conflict, it took the story a while to get where it was going, as the characters underwent various side quests along their way. Rather than a novel, it was more episodic, chapters like episodes – or occasionally scenes – of a TV show with a main story arc but more focused on the events that happened along the way.

The second draft of the novel was notably better planned, and although there was still a little meandering, it was a much more cohesive story. So why did this draft end up the length it did?

In short: filler.

I do like taking my time getting where I’m going with a story, at least with fantasy or any slower-paced novel. This was very much true for the second draft of this novel, which spent a bit of time either going into characters’ back stories or otherwise drew out the story to emphasize the length of the journey they undertake. I wrote in page-long descriptions of places or events that really had no relevance to the true story, partly because I wanted to draw the story out and partly because I was learning at the time how to let my characters dictate the story, rather than the other way around.

As for the current draft, it is better planned still, though that’s not why it ended up shorter. There is certainly a lot of story to fill out the current rendition of this novel, and with five separate points of view, there is certainly room for plenty of material. Brevity was the name of this draft. The reason why is another post entirely, but it is something I’ve abandoned in this round of edits, hence the addition of so much already. Although one particular plot point is going to be cut, I wouldn’t be surprised, with what I’ve been adding to the story so far, if it ends up longer than the previous draft in the end. I certainly don’t anticipate it surpassing the first draft, but it will end up a little on the longer side, at least generally speaking.

So how long should a novel be? Ultimately, a novel is as long as it needs to be for the story to be told.

Day Sixteen: On Track, If Barely November 16, 2010

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, nanowrimo, writing.
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An eventful past few days.  Thursday did indeed prove fruitful, not only in advancing word count, but in tackling something I had never attempted writing before: a sex scene.  It may not remain in the final version of the book, but it was an interesting exercise.  Friday was slightly less successful, falling just 100-something words short of the daily goal due to packing and traveling out of town to visit family over the weekend.  I did not touch my netbook once, an attitude that stuck with me through to yesterday, thus depleting my surplus word count and bringing me to precisely where I should be by this point in the month.

I’m not disappointed, even though I only wrote 100 words today.  As Chris Baty said in the latest pep talk e-mail, pressure is the sustaining force of NaNoWriMo, and it simply isn’t as captivating when hitting 50,000 words no longer presents a challenge.

Tomorrow, however, I need to pick up the pace.