Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Monday, April 30, 2007

Size Matters

For books, that is.

From what I understand, the general rule is 80-100K as the length for a novel. Of course, as with everything, it's the writing that matters most. If your novel needs to be longer, and the writing is tight, they'll probably cut you some slack. Of course, I've heard that some genres will give you wiggle room to be shorter, too - but again, it's a matter of the writing.

If you look over at my word meters, you'll notice that AWJ has a projected length of 60K. That is only for the first draft. I don't intend for it to be that short when it's all said and done. Final draft will probably be at least 75K, and more probably 80K. I'm not too worried, because it's a mystery and mystery is one of those genres where I've heard they cut you some slack on shortness.

I know, I know. Most people's first drafts end up way longer and they end up having to trim. I don't seem to work this way. I write the first draft without worrying about anything but getting the meat of the story onto the page. So, when I'm flying over a particular scene - escpecially one with a lot of tension - I tend to forget the little things like character development and setting the scene and dialogue tags (at all, of any kind). I leave whole chunks with just a note about what I want to put in there - particularly when the scene isn't coming together as well as I'd like on the first go round.

My writing is more like a sculptor who works in clay instead of marble. With marble, it's all there and you have to chip away to get the complete picture. With clay it's a process of adding and subtracting until you have the finished product.

During the next few edits... That's when my hunks of clay get molded into something cohesive. I add a lot, I trim here and there, and then the work comes together and looks like something. (And if you've been reading this blog all along, you'll know I don't do abstract - art should look like something concrete when the artist is finished.)

When I finished Spectacle, I worried like hell that it would be too short. I obsessed over it. Turns out I was so wrong. For a first novel, it was a monster. So I got out the putty knife and started removing bits of clay, shaping as I went along until I arrived once more at a smaller but recognizable whole.

When I finished the first draft of Caldera, I worried about it being too short. During the subsequent edits, I filled in the gaps and it came out at a nice 91K.

Prior to writing Blink, I never worried about a project length, I never set a goal for number of words. I just wrote the book and figured it would be what it was when it was done. That was actually a whole lot easier on me as a writer. Projecting the size of my work when it was finished actually got me stuck. Call it performance anxiety - I've never done well with those types of goals. (Which is why, even though I was one hell of a salesman, I completely sucked at commission only sales jobs.)

In the end, size does matter, though. I just needed to find a way to write to a certain length without constantly sweating whether I was going to make that length. It all boiled down to realizing whatever book I write will be sufficiently full of ideas to make it to book-length, and just go from there. I haven't let myself down yet.

So, what do you think about the whole 80-100K range? Are your books in the range? Longer? Shorter? Do you even care about the length before you get ready to finish writing it?

Inquiring minds want to know.


liz fenwick said...

Good question....the first novel was a romance so that had to be 55k. The next one became 90k. By the time I wrote this last one I knew the 80-110k theroy. I think once finalized they will be about 100k but i don't stress about it.

Have you had a chance to write novel racer profile for my blog? Two racers are up.....

B.E. Sanderson said...

Ack! I did say I was going to get that done, didn't I? Let me see what I can put together today. Understand, though, I'm horrible at this type of thing. =o\

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

My first draft was 60K (and mostly dialogue!), my second 80K, so similar to AWJ in that respect.

Oops, better go write a profile for Liz!

spyscribbler said...

I'm always thinking about length. I'm like you, though. I write short, and then fill-in.

Except, I kinda polish as I go along, so by the time I finish the "first draft," I really only have to do a proofread and a polish on the last chapter or so.

Alex Adams said...

I aim for the 80-100 range, but my first draft usually clocks in a little lean. Right now I'm writing a YA so I'm aiming for 60-75.

As a reader I'm not picky, although I no longer buy MaryJanice Davidson's books because these days they clock in at 37-55K and that's WAY too skimpy a story for full-priced adult fiction.

ERiCA said...

Oddly, my books tend to end up falling in that range, although I don't "plan" it that way more explicitly than a general gosh-I-hope-it's-ST-length feeling in my belly. My first drafts are screenplay-ish, much like yours. I think there's a lot of us like that!