Perception vs Reality

I’ve had some low moments this past week (really, couple of weeks).  The lowest came the other night as I sat in front of the computer having just finished up the eighth chapter of my current work in progress (WIP?).  I’d hit the 10k word mark, which is great on the one hand, and terrible on the other.  Eight chapters, only 10,000 words.  Short chapters are fine (it’s a suspense novel, I’ve noticed lots of authors use short chapters in those).  What isn’t good is that my outline only had 28 chapters listed out.  At my current chapter average, I was going to top out at 35k words.  That’s not a novel.

The good news was that my early chapters where things are getting set up were really short, while the later ones had been growing (averaging more 1500-1800 words each).  I guessed I’d be hitting more like 55-60k words at that rate.  Which is still too short.

So I did what any self-respecting novelist would do.  I quit and went and read a book, went for a walk, and watched some soccer replays.  In my brain I despaired.  How could I waste the last couple weeks of effort? I’d pushed through writing with a hurt shoulder, I’d forced myself to do at least some words each day.  I’d pulled 10k words out onto the page and the story was really starting to rev up.

That night was not my finest hour.  I came this –  – close to quitting the novel entirely and starting yet another something else.

Then yesterday morning I got up, watched a bunch of soccer, and in between matches I decided to look at my outline one more time.  Were there places I could add things? Were there scenes that weren’t fleshed out enough? And I looked at each transition and told myself the thing I always tell myself: “Need more peril!”.   Guess what? I found places that could use more peril.  Shocking, I know.  I found little areas between the described chapters where I’d let the pressure off the main character, I found places where I’d skipped journeys that had potential for danger, and meetings with people that could possibly go horribly wrong instead of smoothly right.

And I added ten chapters to my outline.  I don’t know if I’ll make my goal of 80k words, but I think I’ll get a within striking distance.  I’ve never had an outline be so much work before. Whew.

Which brings me to my perception vs reality.  Even up to a year or two ago, I would have told anyone who asked me about it that I want to write epic fantasies (or as E.Bear calls them- fat fantasies with maps).  I’ve always had this image of myself as a writer of giant novel books, thick tomes full of adventure and sweeping setting.

How many of these epics have I actually written? None. (No, I don’t count the 40 page ‘novel’ I penned at the age of 11.  It was only epic to the poor people slogging through it).  I don’t generally write long.  I don’t know how that happened.  My fat fantasy novel currently out on submission is a whopping 88k words.  I figure this suspense novel will be lucky to bump up against 80k words.  I have a couple short stories that go over 6k words, but just a couple (and some of my 4-6k stories are ones that I’m sure others would advise cutting a bit out of).

I don’t know why I can’t seem to write long.  I have a suspicion that it is in part a weakness in my writing.  I’m probably glossing over parts that might need more description, leaving out setting when I should build it up, skimming conversations between characters, and probably missing points where more pressure could be applied to the story.  I think the fact that I was able to go into my outline and dig another ten chapters out of it indicates that I missed a lot on the first pass through the outline, in my first concept of the story as a whole.  Come to think of it, this is the third time I’ve revised an outline for a novel to be bigger than it was initially.  This process is becoming part of my novel writing process.  Which I don’t think is a bad thing.  I’d rather revise the outline as I go and find the points of pressure or setting or whatever that I’m missing than miss it all entirely.

But I should probably stop thinking about myself as an epic fantasy writer.  That or write an epic fantasy or three.  If I can.  I don’t know if I could.  Seems like a challenge I should take up.  You know, once I’m done writing the other ten things on my plate. *grin*

13 Responses to “Perception vs Reality”

  1. Alex J. Kane

    I think it’s all a balancing act. It’s good to try to be flexible in terms of length and style, sure, but nothing is more important than substance. A good writer can fit as much, or more, substance in a 12,000-word novelette/short story than some writers can fit in a 300-word novel. I know, because I’ve experienced it.

    Minimalism is in demand in our modern age, while Tolkien-esque epics aren’t. No need to worry. 🙂

  2. Thomas K Carpenter

    I think it all depends on the voice of the story you want. Less setting means more wham-bam action. Dialogue fills up pages, but not word count, and can drive action if done right. Don’t judge yourself just by the word count. And if its a good story, no one cares how long it is.

    • izanobu

      That’s true to a point, but I doubt that any NY publisher would really consider at 35k “novel”, no matter how good it was 🙂 At best they’d ask if I could rewrite it and bring it up to length.

  3. Ben Godby

    Revising an outline is a great thing to do. Personally, I need an outline to start and finish a story of any length; but only by being ready to accept the unexpected twists and turns that my characters and story reveal to me (instead of the other way around) does it truly become a story.

    Best of luck on your work,


  4. osomuerte

    You seem to have caught what I self-diagnosed myself with recently: short-story-itis. I’ve gotten so automatic at compressing story and character and setting and everything into as small a space as possible.

    The cure? I’ll let you know when I find one. I’ve been treating mine with large character explorations and looking at the novel to find places to put them. I had actually skipped the description of my hero arriving on the ship he was about to spend the next thirty years on. I went from arriving to him being in his quarters. Skipped it all. Why? Not that important to the plot or character so I would work it in other places where it might have scored double or triple points for usefulness.

    By exploring more about the characters I was able to plant more of their reactions to the setting, getting my double points without robbing the reader of timely description.

    Word economy is a tough skill to learn, but it’s not always the way to go. I’m working on sacrificing that economy for immersion. It ain’t easy.

    • izanobu

      I think you’ve definitely hit on one of the issues I’m having. This novel requires a breakneck pace due to the plotting, but it also means I have to be careful not to sacrifice too much in the way of character/scene development and setting on the way. I’ve been writing a chapter, then taking a break, and then going back over the chapter with my writing hat on and adding in setting and character reactions/thoughts. So far this process is getting me an additional 200-600 words a chapter, so hopefully it’ll work.

      The other issue is about half this novel is told from inside the head of a character who is evil. While in some ways this is fun/interesting to write, it also is tough for me. Moral ambiguity I can handle, amorality is harder for me to immerse myself in, but I want to write a fully developed villain, so I’m having to figure it out.

      If it ends up being nothing else, this novel will have been a great learning experience 😛

  5. Jeff Baerveldt

    Curious: Have you tried dissecting a published novel or two? I know that Orson Scott Card did this when he transitioned from short stories to novels, it’s something that Lawrence Block recommends in one of his how-to books, and Holly Lisle also recommends doing this to learn how to write a novel in a particular genre.

    • izanobu

      Yes, Jeff, actually I’ve been reading tons of thrillers and suspense novels lately. Mostly I’ve been paying attention to pacing in my head, but I did reverse outlines for a couple of my favorite books as well just to nail down the structure (doing this is what made me decide to use two main points of view in my own novel, in fact). I also have Carolyn Wheat’s “How to Write Killer Fiction”, which gives nice four act structure explanations for both mysteries and suspense novels.

      I’ve written two novels before this one, one is straight fantasy, the other sci/fi (but with some elements of a thriller in it). This is my first straight up modern crime/suspense novel, so it is definitely a learning experience. 🙂

  6. Moses Siregar III

    Ah, the greener grass.

    My WIP is clocking in around 125K words, and I find myself wishing I was writing something shorter! It just plain takes too long, and there are so many details to check over to make sure that everything is consistent, from eye color to writing style.

    However, the reason why my WIP has to be this long is that the cast of characters is fairly large, and I use multiple points of view. I’m sure if you thought up a story with many intersecting storylines, you’d find that the the length would be there.

    Btw, would you be interested in swapping blogroll links?

    • izanobu

      I had three points of view in my fantasy novel and two diverging storylines, and it still came it at barely 87,000 words 😛 We’ll see how the future books shape up. I’m fine with being an 80-90k words per book writer if that length will sell, so here’s hoping.

      I can totally add you to my links, no problem.

  7. Moses Siregar III

    Thanks! How can I label your link? Izanobu or something else? It should be short enough for one line 🙂

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