Author Chris James
Last week author Chris James talked about achieving the proper length and momentum when writing a novel. If you missed Part One of his post, you can read it here. Now, the conclusion of “Is It Long Enough?”:
The next problem after the dead zone is story acceleration: instead of trudging endlessly to the Pole, you decide to bring the Pole to you (we’re talking about our imaginations here, after all). You tell yourself a character or plot sequence is too weak, so you cut it out: you want to get on and write the most exciting bits as soon as you can, instead of taking the reader on an intriguing journey that builds gradually to a satisfying climax (said the vicar to the nun).
The answer here is to put yourself in the position of, say, a stand-up comic: he writes a gag and it’s funny – but only once. He rehearses it, then tells the joke maybe hundreds or thousands of times in his career. For him, the joke has become a meaningless sequence of words, devoid of any humour whatsoever. But he keeps using it because he can remember the impact it had when he first thought it up, and every time he tells it, his audience laughs. It’s the same for your novel. Before you publish, if you’re anything like me you’ll read it over 200 times. The words will lose almost all meaning, and it will be the easiest thing in the world to doubt that your writing is any good at all. Here you need to be like the comic: remember what made you write that scene in the first place, and then imagine the impact it will have on someone who reads it for the first time. Trust your original instinct. Continue reading
Author Chris James
Among my family and friends in the UK, the line “said the vicar to the nun” is a staple of our slightly-naughty sense of humour. Whenever a potential double-entendre heaves into view, you can bet someone in the room will say it. At my dad’s 70th birthday party last year, as he cut his birthday cake with a big knife he exclaimed, “Goodness me, that went in deep!” Two seconds later I uttered, “said the nun to the vicar,” and the assembled crowd fell about. Yeah, you probably had to be there.
But this post isn’t about cracking saucy gags with older relatives, it’s about one writing concern many of us have: “making length”. Just how long should your novel be? Ultimately your story should be as long as it takes to tell it, but, empty-headed-and-generally-unhelpful platitudes aside, it is capable of being any length you decide. Generally the mainstreams dictate that a “full-length novel” is 80,000 to 120,000 words, but with e-publishing some are saying that a novel only needs 40,000 words. As with so many things in fiction writing, it helps to look around. My favourite novel, The Time Machine, has only 25k words, but you’ll be hard put to find that many superbly-chosen words so skilfully put together. At the other end of the scale we have the pros: door-stops of 200k+ words that are guaranteed mega-sales in numerous territories; household names whose editors aren’t about to tell them that their latest is just too damn long. My target when I start is 100k (about 330 double-spaced A4 sides). It’s a nice, round number; I like it, and now I’ve done it twice I’m addicted to the high I feel when I reach it. Continue reading