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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Long and Short Of It

I caught a conversation today on Twitter that I found interesting. I didn't add my two cents to the mix for two reasons. First, I was writing and second, I had more to say than 140 characters would allow. Because it would take a lot of posts, I decided it would make an excellent blog topic instead.

So the discussion was how do you write long (100,000 words) without a lot of painfully drawn out and overblown paragraphs full of description and other boring stuff?

Once upon a time, writing long was difficult for me. Then I started Ravyn's Flight and I knew I needed a "big" book for futuristic. There was no way I was going to get 100,000 words. How would I even get 90,000? I'd tried before and had given up in despair. Inspiration struck. I'd add a secondary romance between a couple of other characters. Joyfully confident I had the answer, I began writing.

A funny thing happened along the way. About the time I reached the 3/4 mark, I realized I had a lot more story to tell and I was going to run over. I tried not to worry about that. I tried to tell myself it was okay, I could cut on revision. And that is what I ended up doing to get it down to close to 100,000 words, but I was nervous about the length the entire rest of the way.

What happened to make this attempt at 100,000 words not only successful, but too successful? For one thing, I'd learned deep characterization. The farther into the characters' heads a writer goes, the more words it requires. Another thing that changed was that instead of doing suspense-lite, my usual writing style, I'd tried to develop the suspense part of the plot fully. That adds word count, too. Same thing with the action scenes.

I went even farther over on my second book, The Power of Two. And with the tight deadline I had, I couldn't afford that. It didn't matter. I think this one rolled in around 450 pages or thereabouts in Courier New. (Yes, I write in Courier. I like it because I know exactly where I'm at in the story and that helps my rhythm.) But this story, while only having one hero and heroine weaved together three separate plot threads.

By the time I wrote my third book, Through a Crimson Veil, I was coming in around 115,000 words. Yep, you read that right. This one didn't have three plot threads like TPOT, but it didn't matter.

Now I realized I had a problem with too many words. I'd see my contracts where they specified a minimum word count of 85,000 and I'd laugh to myself. Like 85,000 was going to be a problem. My only problem would be if they set an upper limit of words for me. :-)

Eternal Nights had a secondary romance again, but this time it wasn't added as a way to make word count. I knew that wasn't going to be an issue. It was added because readers had sent me email asking about Alex and Stacey and I felt I needed to wrap them up for my fans. This was another 115,000 word effort. As was In the Midnight Hour.

In this time frame, I wrote a novella. I think it was 20,000 words. I panicked about telling a story in such a short format and it read very rushed. My editor had me go back and lengthen things out a little bit. Explain some more. Make it feel less like a mad dash. :-)

My other books didn't reach the 115,000 word mark, but they were all over 100,000. Some more than others, so you can imagine my hesitation when I was asked to write a short story. 6,500 t0 10,000 words. Gah! Somehow I did it. Twice. The first time (Blood Feud in The Mammoth Book Of Vampire Romance 2) I came in around 7,000+ words. The second time (The Troll Bridge in The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance) I was pushing right at the 10,000 word mark. The truly amazing thing is that not only did I manage to tell a short story, but I had fun doing it. Wow. After this experience, I want another crack at a novella!