Writing: About Lengths and Words

I’m a concise writer. I know that.

I’ve learned to slow down my writing over the years because at times it can be at breakneck speeds, and there are rumors about that some readers like to stew in the words of a story and not have to gulp them all down from the end of a fire hose.

Who knew?

So length and word count are always on the forefront of my mind when I’m writing. That’s not always a good thing. I’ve heard that the best length of any story is precisely the length it should be. Some stories are meant to be short. Others long. Many others somewhere in-between.

The general standard (some would dispute this) for length is above 20,000 words is a novella and above 50,000 words a novel. If you are well below 20,000, you’ve simply written a short story.

As I’m narrowing in on the ending to my trilogy, I’m finding that volume three is feeling shorter than the other two. Is that bad?

Well, it all depends, and this is where it gets messy and subjective. This is where a fresh pair of eyes and a good editor can help guide you.

I want an ending that’s satisfying but doesn’t drag. That’s well developed but not too short that the reader feels shortchanged. (As a side note, I know that not all readers think alike. Some will never be satisfied no matter the length, but that’s another post.)

How do you navigate your story so it’s exactly right? You can’t. No story is ever exactly right. But you can make decisions which will help guide in the right direction.

First, don’t fret on word count. If the story arc and development leads you to 40,000 rather than 70,000, then please leave it at 40. No one wants to read 30,000 useless words.

Second, make sure your story development delivers on all accounts. Characters. Have you satisfactorily shown their development? Do their decisions in the book make sense in a chronological way? Have you shown the readers what they are desiring and why they do the things they have done? If not, expand. If yes, move on and don’t say anymore. In regards to subplots, are they all necessary. Yes, you might be able to expand your novel another 10% by telling us a backstory or weaving a secondary thread through the plot, but is it necessary. Completely necessary to show characterization, so show foreshadowing, to bring the plot to realization?  If you can’t answer yes to all of these, then nix it. Perhaps write it a short story instead. Don’t bog down the storyline in unwanted information.

Third, slow down and let the language simmer a little more. You always want to keep your language short and concise, but don’t be afraid to expound a little. I’m writing this especially for me. Add that description–especially amidst the dialogue. Because I just love dialogue and I can write some of my draft chapters almost like a play. Not cool! Think of the reader. Show what happens. Describe the movements. Describe the scenery. But don’t feel compelled to write twenty pages about the topography of the protagonists hometown. (Please no! Keep it moving, remember)

A good editor will help you with all of these because, honestly, it’s so hard to judge one’s own writing.

How about you? What helps you in your writing endeavors?

Come to think of it, I was always a writer – Part II

In my last post, I took a personal journey, surveying my entire life and making an amazing discovery – I always had the heart of a writer. I was always interested in creating and doing things that made people look peculiarly at me – and yet, when implemented  they always worked out in the end. My drama kids do that to me all the time. “What were you thinking when you wrote that?” I always answer, “I have no idea where it came from.” But for some reason, it just works. I can’t explain it. So on part two of my journey as a writer, I look at my secondary writing phase. This one really laid the groundwork for the productive current phase I’m in now. So here are the crazy things I was doing back in the day.

Come to think of it, I was always a writer – Part II: 1990-2006

Plays of Cows and Ho Chi Minh (early 1990s): I wrote the script and even the songs for a VBS presentation we did, including the smash-hit “Roman the Cow.” Corny? Absolutely, but the kids loved it. I even named my own production company: Roaming Cow Productions. Around the same time, when we were doing training with a teaching organization, readying ourselves to go Vietnam to teach English, I wrote an off-the-cuff skit that our team had to perform, using the popular at the time motion picture “Forest Gump”. In the skit, I brought Forest to Vietnam – discovering the conical hat and even inspiring Ho Chi Minh to become a revolutionary. I, in one of my few stage acting roles, actually played Forest Gump in the skit. It was such a hit that we were asked to do an encore for our banquet before flying out.

The Vietnam Years 1994-2003 (and beyond): My creative juices didn’t stop during my time in Vietnam. These are the years where I had a blast being creative with my kids. I wrote several movie scripts which I produced and directed with my kids being the stars. It was an incredibly fun way to chronicle the lives of our kids. My first “major” production was “Jasper’s Quest” set in Biblical times around the time of Christ’s birth. Then came my movie epic “The Song of the Golden Buffalo” where my older daughter played a dual role of two different singers who were competing in a famous music festival in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam. (It was fictional, ok?) We used everyday life in Vietnam as the background to the story. It was a ton of crazy fun filming scenes all over Thai Nguyen with countless bystanders looking on, wondering why foreigners are so strange.

My “movie career” continued as I wrote the ridiculously silly “Commercial Broke” that we filmed with my kids’ cousins, “The Recipe for Love,” & “Silly Band” – the last of our kid movies and the only one filmed in Malaysia (2006).

The Vietnam years also saw me starting a monthly newsletter about Vietnamese language and culture which I kept active for nearly four years. My reading and writing about Vietnamese and Asian culture really laid the foundation for many of my written works which were yet to come.

My Vietnam years also had me attempt something previously untried – writing my first novel. I failed miserably. I wrote a few pages and didn’t like it. I was discouraged, set it aside and thought I would never come back to it.

Little did I know that that forsaken idea would bloom into my third novel in 2013 – ten years later.

More on that in Part III.