Monday, January 25, 2010

Contemplating the Length of Books

While working on a novel of my own it crossed my mind that I've often heard  newer writers ask about the length of books.  How long should they be, how many pages?  How many chapters?

Well, there are no hard and fast rules, but in a broadly general sense, a book over 100,000 words is reaching toward mega-opus status (you might get away with this if you're an established best-selling novelist, but doubtful for a new-comer) and one under 60,000 words is pretty skimpy.   Generally a novel runs from about 80,000 to 100,000 words.  The newer writer is well advised to try to stay within that range.

The number of pages isn't something the writer needs to worry about, that's for the editor to determine.  As for the number of chapters, that's pretty much in your lap.  A chapter is determined by the writer as being a place for a logic break in the story, the transition to the next phase. 

Keep in mind, too, with all this, that different genres and sub-genres have different word requirements.  Check them out to get an idea of how long your novel might need to be.  You can also check places like Writer's Market to get information on a  publisher like submission guidelines where you might also see a notation about the length of manuscripts they expect to see.

Oh, and one last thing, remember you're never going to have a  consistent number of words to a page.  Some pages will be dense with text, others will have short paragraphs and bits of dialog.  Your word count on your word processor will get you pretty close to how many words your manuscript has.

Generally try not to worry about it too much, that's a pretty broad rage between 80,000 and 100,000 words.  And remember, cutting is easier than adding once the work is complete.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quiet Your Inner Writing Critic

I'm sitting here, in my office, contemplating the snow falling outside.  Steady and beautiful, but it makes it a real trial to get around anywhere and the forecast is for snow through Friday. 

Oh, boy. 

Don't get me wrong, I love snow, but there can be an overdose and it looks kinda like just that is headed our way.  We could be looking at a couple of feet total.  Sheesh.

Ah, yes, and while I'm contemplating all this snow, and should be working on another writing project of mine, I got to thinking about us writers and how we censor ourselves constantly as we work.  It really can be a killer when it comes to destroying our drive, motivation and self-esteem.  Many of us are our own worst critics.  We attack our own prose even before it has time to hit the computer screen before us.

And that makes writing a much tougher job than it needs to be.  We end up fighting ourselves.  The muse wants to play and be happy, but the critic is on the attack.  How to shut the critic up until we have a chance to get thoughts organized and a new idea down on paper?

Part of the trick is to catch that snotty little voice in your head and wrestle it into silence before it can pounce on every story idea, every turn of the phrase, that you write.  You have to be able to ignore it or, like a meditative state, let it flow past as you write.

If you can't catch it, you might try to out run it.  That's my favorite tactic.  Get an idea and write it fast. Toss it onto the page like mad.  Don't worry about punctuation, proper sentence structure and spelling.  Don't even pay attention to whether your thoughts are totally clear, just get them down and sort them out later.  Hopefully if you let it flow fast you'll get it down before the critic has time to wake up and take notice.

Remember, you're a writer, and unless this is the very first time you've put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard you have no doubt created something by pulling it out of the vapors before and you can do it again.  Just take a deep breath and quiet your inner writing critic.  You'll find you have more control than you think.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Finding Your Fiction Writer's Voice

To some that sounds easy, others wonder what I'm talking about.

Well, for starters, every writer will develop his or her own voice - and it will change, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, over time. 

Finding your voice involves identifying your own natural rhythm and tone.  And that isn't something you can analyze, it just evolves.  In fact, some of the most-educated writers find themselves at a loss as to how to identify that tone and rhythm.  They've spent so much time in academic settings, mastering the 'correct' way to write papers for class, developing a passive construction and detached style that they've created a writing style that is absolutely terrible for fiction. they frequently have a way of reaching for such a perfect level of imagery that their readers are at a loss to tell what they're trying to communicate in their stories.

Interestingly, many of these same writers have an entirely different voice when they write in journals, send personal letters or other communications.  If you're one of these writers, you might go back and read some of your journal entries and think about the kinds of letters you write.  Is your writing there more entertaining there, more honest? 

Another way to help develop your voice is to simply write - and try to forget what you learned in English class.  I know, I know, there are English teachers out there railing at that last remark, but in the world of fiction it's true.  To write fiction your voice must be entertaining and enjoyable.  Of course your basic English rules remain in place most of the time, but with fiction those rules can be, even must be, broken at times to paint your word picture.

Read some of your favorite authors.  Focus on a page or a few paragraphs.  How is their writing different from yours?  You'll not develop their writing voice - you'll develop your own, but reading examples can help you to pick out where you go all academic or pedantic in your writing.

Most of all, let go and write like you're telling a story to a friend.  Writing quickly can help you develop your voice, you're less hard on yourself when getting words swiftly down on paper or briskly marching across your screen.  Give yourself some latitude and be at ease with yourself - that writing voice will begin to assert itself with strength.

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