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?

Advertisements

Plotting or Plodding?

Humph! Here’s the real truth about writers: sometimes we have no idea how it’s all going to turn out.

I mean, really, what are we doing? What am I doing? What is my plot doing?

Sometimes it feels like I’m playing a giant connect-the-dots while blindfolded. Are these two dots really going to connect in the end?

This is an issue with any type of writing – including a stand-alone novel. But with a series, humph! Plotting seems like plodding at an ant’s pace.

I’m working on the final segment of The Forgotten Child Trilogy, and while I’m currently on chapter 19 – more than half way finished, I am starting to wonder how I’m going to tie up all of these strands. Yes, I like strands. Perhaps too much. Maybe I should have stuck with the third person limited. I did that once with the novel A Love Story For a Nation and I must admit it was freeing because every scene whether description or dialogue came from one person’s perspective. That’s why books which in the first person “I” have such an appeal.  It’s immediate. It’s personal. But let’s admit it. It’s also limiting.

My first series is being written in third person omniscient. It has to be this way because there are so many characters who are helping to tell the story. Now, I don’t write the narration from everyone’s perspective. In fact, there are three (maybe four) antagonists and I don’t tell it from their perspective at all. It’s just a choice I’ve made in this particular series. I wanted their motivations to be slightly obscured through the perspective of the different protagonists. Yes, this story is about many people.

There’s the rub. It can be confusing because I’m trying to balance many different strands from many different perspectives: Frick, Bee, Ash, Hatty, Ruthy, Rachany, Haddock, Adams & O’Malley – any more?

Okay, so what’s the solution? How to keep my head on straight?

First, take a deep breath and know that no one else – I mean no one – will ever see your first draft. So it’s okay if it’s terrible, and it usually is.  Just get the story down the best you can. You may not fill all holes at once and that’s okay.

Second, plan on spending the next six months doing rewrites and revisions. Just do it. Build in the time into your writing schedule. You’ll be amazed at how your mind will shift and you’ll get new ideas – better ideas – over time. Don’t be in a rush to get it done. Take your time.

Third, remember that it will work out in the end. It always does. The ‘i’s will be dotted the the ‘t’s crossed. It just takes time. It may seem chaotic right now, but after you write that next chapter, some clarity will come. More direction will be revealed and you’ll get there.

Four, remember to tie up all the ends even if it means re-writing. Don’t leave anything hanging when you come to the end of the series. Therefore, read the whole thing again. I know, I know. You told yourself that you’d rather bang your head against the wall than read your story one more time. But it will be worth it. Slow down. Read it again. Make sure it’s all tied up neatly in the end.

A good last impression is the best impression. Don’t let the end slip away from you.

Okay, now I need to start following my own advice.

Just Write. That’s the Bottom Line.

I recently wrote a post about outlining in novel writing and how I’m not a huge fan. Of course, there is always a time for outlining, and I do tend to use it sometimes.

I’ve been trying to outline book three of my trilogy since I know how I want it to end. I just figured it might be easy to plot everything out and get where I need to be. Right? Simple!

Forget all of that. I finally arrived at the point where I am doing too much thinking and not enough writing. So yesterday, I scraped the outlining idea. Be gone, bullet points!

It’s time to write. It’s time to power through on the ideas that I do have and trust in my process.

And that’s the key. If you have a writing process that has worked for you in the past, trust it. Let’s use a baseball analogy. I’m a big baseball fan, and every hitter goes through a slump. Sometimes an extended slump and it can be disconcerting. They start doubting their swing and their mechanics. Should they start tinkering with what has worked in the past? Should they try and find a new silver bullet? One of the players I follow has been horrible for the past three weeks, but I keep reading how he just remains confident, keep working hard on all aspects of the game in which he can control, do the things which have brought him success in the past, and just wait for the resurgence to come. It has, by the way.

Isn’t writing the same? It is for me. Just write. That’s always been my motto. Let the story unfold. Let the story — the written story — tell you where it should go next. Don’t force it. Let if flow.

That’s what I’m doing. I just finished chapter 1 of book three. I really like it. It is going to help set the tone for what’s to come. Now, I know what chapter 2 will do. That will lead me to chapter 3 and, hopefully, before I know it, I’ll be writing the ending that I know I want.

While outlining and pausing writing to think can be helpful, it should never replace the actual writing. I have been reminded of that this week.

Now get to it. Chapter 2, here I come.

Time + Thinking = The Solution to All Writing Problems

It’s not always easy to know which way a story should go.

Should minor characters begin to play a more major role?

Should a character be killed off?

Should I change the setting?

Story threads are fragile. Each minor decision can send a story spiraling in a direction that may or may not be good.  As a writer, it’s impossible to explore every plausible avenue or nothing would ever get done.

I have found, however, that the right amount of time and a proper amount of thinking can solve even the trickiest writer’s problem.

My current issue revolves around part III of my new trilogy. Parts I and II flowed remarkably smooth. I finished part II in August 2017 and have been revising and editing it ever since, and it’s now about 6 weeks away from being released. Part III has proven to be more elusive. I know the ending. But the problem is how to get there.

My book has a rather large cast of main characters. The supporting cast is large and has played a significant role. In book two, I added a new main character to help support the story, but that has added additional challenges to an already unwieldy cast.

And so over these past few months, I’ve been trying out many different reiterations of what should happen in part III.

What I’ve come to realize is that if you put enough time into thinking through all the ramifications for each main idea, the path forward will slowly start to emerge. Just this morning, I reordered the first couple chapters, imagined a few new ideas and with some reworking, believe I now have a solid way forward which I didn’t have last week.

That’s progress.

It came through

1. TIME

Let the manuscript sit.  Don’t be too hasty to get it to the marketplace. Read it fresh after a month of not thinking about it. It will help bring clarity.

2. THINKING.

Sometimes you don’t need to write, you need to think.  Jot down a few ideas. Think. Jot down new idea. Think some more. How does it change things? Better? Worse? What are you overlooking?

And when you put proper TIME together with the right amount of THINKING, you’ll be on the road to solving your writing problem.

Don’t be afraid to slow it down.

BUT, once you figured it out, finish it! Without exception! Go! Go! Go!

Get it done and get it out in the marketplace.

Now on to the next.

 

 

Outline the Ending! Really?

I’ve been inundated with those Master Class video ads on social media lately. I’m sure you’ve seen them, and I have to admit, some of them certainly catch my eye. I was real curious to see what Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese said about film-making, and even their introductory videos were quite engaging.

Of course, there’s a bunch of well-known writers on there as well, and I am, as a writer, interested to hear what they have to say. I like to keep my options open. I like to learn and grow in my craft, but whenever someone says how important it is to do this or that when being a creative writer, I usually balk at it and tell them to slow down the bus!

Writing is different from film-making or some of the other arts because it’s so subjective. There’s no one formula. There’s no “best practices” which will insure success. Sure, there are some writing guidelines which may help, especially for young writers, but blanket statements are not that helpful.

One well-known writer on the Master Class videos said how important it is to outline. You must outline, outline, outline like crazy. Outline until the cows come home. Outline through all your holidays. Outline until you’re blue in the face, or until the next season of your favorite show comes out. OUTLINE!!!! Okay, I might be paraphrasing here.

But the point is, this particular writer emphasized how important outlining is. And in reply to that, I say hogwash!

It might be important to you. It’s obviously important to him. It’s not important to me. Now you might think to naturally side with him because he’s famous and rich and I’m not. That’s a valid point. But if I may, I content his outlining obsession has nothing to do with his success.

Here’s the problem I have with outlining. For me, it’s basically useless, because by the time I  hit the third chapter of my outline, the rest of my outline has no validity because I’ve changed the story so much since my original ideas.

Why?

Simple! Writing leads to new ideas. New writing leads to newer ideas. To think you can sit down and know the ending of a creative story before you actually start writing is rather preposterous. That’s like chaining yourself in and not allowing your ideas to grow as your story grows.

So if you do outline, I’d offer this advice. Don’t let the outline be the ultimate driver of where your story is going. Use it as a guide, but as your ideas develop, please feel free to change your outline. Please feel free to change your ending!

Just today, I completely revamped an ending to a play which I thought I had finished yesterday. But it wasn’t sitting right for me, so I had to go back and change it.

Now, with all that said, it doesn’t mean that I never outline. I do loosely outline at times when I think I see where the story is going. For example, on my new fiction trilogy, I do know the ending of book three. But I only know the ending because I already wrote book 1 and 2. When I was writing book 1, I didn’t even know how it would end. But now that I’ve written 2/3’s of the trilogy, it has become obvious to me what the ending must be. Great! No problem!

My ultimate point here is that there is not one correct way to write. It’s so personal and subjective. Do what you are comfortable with. Follow your passion and your story. Allow it mold and form what you want to say. Never allow preset guidelines to determine where your story must go.

You know where it’s supposed to go. It’s in your heart. You were made for this moment. Create and discover what you never thought possible.

Thriving with multiple writing projects

One of the most useful writing methods that I use is to have many different writing projects open and moving forward at the same time.

I can see how this methodology might drive some writers mad. For me, however, I thrive in the messy realm of multiple stories and even multiple genres. What, in my estimation, are the advantages of such a messy model?

  • What’s writer’s block? When you have five ideas going all at once, it’s not hard to keep going on at least one of them.
  • Boredom, away! A writer can, at times, get bogged down in the minutia of a story and you just need a change of pace. The other day, I went from doing some hard work thinking on my new novel to writing a silly play about fruit. It was a delightful change which will bring forth a bountiful harvest of renewed vigor for my novel when I get back to it.
  • Accomplishment is something. A novel is a long process. I usually write one over a 2-3 month period if I have minimal interruptions. But it can take many, many more months to write it if it ends up being a weekend project because of other work commitments. This is where a second writing gig is helpful. I can write a first draft of a short play in two hours or so. That means during those long and unfruitful novel months when I’m waiting for a large chunk of time to write it, I can still FINISH something. And let’s now lie, here. Writers LOVE to finish things. You know the old writer’s quote – “I hate writing, but I love to have written.”
  • Press pause to refresh your ideas. Walking away from one piece of writing for a while is beneficial. Ideas need to stir. More input from the world will lead to new and better ideas. But walking away from a piece of writing doesn’t mean you need to walk away from writing altogether. No way. That’s where a secondary or tertiary project is of the utmost help.

I am a little at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to multiple writing projects. Perhaps for you only one additional project would work, but for me, there’s nothing like twelve things to think about at once. Here’s a few of the things I’m currently working on:

  • pre-writing on book three of my new trilogy
  • writing a series of 8 short plays to form my new drama show “Crazy Love”
  • 1 historical based musical is on the back-burner
  • 2 full-length plays that I have started but plan to finish in the next couple of weeks

Don’t worry. There’s more. But I’ll keep it there for now. How about you? You like having multiple projects at once?

 

What is Writing Success?

When does a writer know when he or she is successful?

Being “a writer” has certain connotations and sometimes embedded tangible requirements. Does he make a living from writing? Is her work critically acclaimed? Is he well-known? Does she garner respect from other writers? Do other people ask him to write? Is her author rank on Amazon within the top few thousand? Can a book release produce excitement? Does she have book signings? Has he won awards for his craft? Does she work tirelessly to improve?

Surely, these are all requirements of being a ‘real’ writer.

But, alas, no, that’s not it. It’s much simpler. It’s more personal. It’s more subjective.

Being a writer is about having the confidence within where one feels they know what they are doing but remain wise enough to know how foolish a thought like that is. Despite always wondering if what is written is any good, he or she keeps on writing.

For the first 30+ years of my life, I had the heart of a writer, yet I was not one. I was a person who made excuses about my writing, which mainly never occurred. I focused on my weaknesses and the strengths of the real professional writers. Strangely enough, the gap between my weaknesses as a writer and a highly respected writer’s strength was vast. That’s what I was focusing on, and it made writing seem like an impossible task. There was a gulf of separation too wide, so I  figured I might as well not try.

I’m ten years beyond that type of foolish thinking. Do I still have writing weaknesses? Oh yes. I think I’ve even discovered more that I didn’t know existed. But now, I don’t look at the big guys in awe and lament that I will never be like them. I have learned to feel comfortable in my own shoes. I have unique experiences and unique bouts of creativity which are vastly different from others.  I have something to say, and that’s enough.

Sure, I like a good review or an award or honor just like the next writer. It certainly can stroke a writer’s ego and boost one’s confidence.

But good reviews or awards or a certain threshold of downloads does not a writer make.

A writer is simply someone bold enough to admit that he or she is one.

Once you can overcome that hurdle, you can be successful, and you can write in peace.