Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Word Count Blues.

I was going to do this entire entry in blues verse.  I got two verses in before realizing I'm not actually a songwriter.

As of this posting, the book I've been working on for three and a half weeks is up to a little over 70,000 words.  I'm not bragging, I swear - I know I write quickly, and oftentimes that bothers me, because when I try to write fast, I write crap.  I know I've talked about this before; I think I've done entire blog entries on this.

What's bugging me is that I'm nearly done with the first draft, almost to the end, and the book just doesn't feel long enough.  Yes, I know, that's kind of ridiculous.  I know that a book should be as long as the story takes to tell, no more and no less.  And I know a lot of books aren't even that long, depending on the genre and the target audience and dozens of other factors.

But dammit, I have a ton of books on my bookshelves that are these GIANT TOMES OF AWESOME STORY and I'd really like my books to be like that.  >_<

Yes, I'm aware of how ridiculous this is.  I know all fantasy stories don't have to be massive epics that could serve double duty as doorstops.  And I know that being able to tell a story without wasting a lot of words along the way is a sign of a skilled writer.  There's something to be said for an economy of words, for being able to communicate something with a sentence that once required an entire paragraph.  I've done a lot of condensing while editing previous works, and I know the story came out stronger for it.

But at the same time, having such a low word count when the story's nearly done makes me wonder if it's going too fast.  The first page of my plot document is, largely, the first chapter of the story.  Later on, a paragraph or two of the same document forms a chapter.  I know that's not a comparison I need to make, because first chapters are not supposed to be the same thing as fourth or ninth or seventeenth chapters, but still, something about this just doesn't feel right.

And my plot is fifteen pages!  I've written books well over a hundred thousand words with much shorter plots than this.  I don't get it.  I really don't.

I know I'll be able to add what I need to once I'm editing.  (I say that assuming I'll be editing this; I don't think I'll hate this one when I'm done but I can't make any guarantees either.)  I even know some of what I'll need to add.  The city that much of the story takes place in needs more description to really get across what it's supposed to look like, being attached to a university of magical teaching.  The wasteland where the rest of the story takes place also needs more description, as it's supposed to be this wrecked and glowing surreal landscape and I don't think I've quite nailed that yet.

There's emotional content to add as well.  As I've said before, I don't always write character emotions into my plot, as I figure those will show themselves in the story itself.  And when I'm just trying to get the story out, I know how the characters feel, but I don't always show it well enough.  So there are scenes that I'll definitely need to go through and make sure I get all the characters' feelings across.  I'm thankful to beta readers on previous books who helped me realize I don't always delve into this as much as I need to.

Yet, even after all this, I still feel like a fantasy story should be a good long tale.  I still feel like what I've done so far just isn't enough, but I know I'm not going to drag out the third act to artificially pad the word count.  So here I am, knowing that what's bothering me is foolish, and yet unable to shake the feeling that I'm doing something wrong.

I'll end this with my usual request for advice.  Advice in the form of pointing out that I'm being a doofus is perfectly acceptable.


  1. Um... you're kind of a doofus. But an awesome one!! :)

    Don't worry about word count yet. I repeat, do NOT worry about word count yet! Finish the draft and then read it and see what you have. Maybe you're missing 30,000 words. Maybe you're missing 300,000. Maybe you have way too many and it's a short story. No way to know until you finish the draft, and see what you have.

    Also, "should" is a very dangerous word for writers. The only way your books SHOULD be is the way you make them. Period.

    Also also, you now really do need to write a post in verse. At least a short one. Pretty please?

    1. Yeah, I constantly have to remind myself to not get hung up on "should" - I even say that early on in this entry and fall into it again by the end. Gah. >_< But the draft's done, so I'll see how it goes in a few weeks.

      And I'm considering an entry in verse, but no promises. :P

  2. Ditto what Liz said. Do not worry about word count yet.

    The first thing I do after a first draft is outline the book. (I never outline before I write.) I make a two-column table and in the left-hand column, I recap what happens in each chapter. Then, in the right hand column, I make notes about what changes need to take place in the next draft.

    More of this. Less of that. Fix that plot hole. Divide this chapter into two -- or condense these into one. Move this information.

    If your book needs more substance in certain areas, you'll see it as you build this outline/revision plan.

    That said, Roger Zelazny has some damn awesome fantasy books that are thin. Doorways in the Sand. Roadmarks. Not every fantasy has to be a huge tome.

    1. I always plot first, but after I've read through the completed draft once, I'll make a list of what I need to change. I already know I need to move one conversation earlier in the book, but I'm sure I'll have a lot to put on that list once I start.

      Still don't know if the pseudo-prologue I wrote for it months ago will become part of the book, though.

  3. I think writing short is probably a better problem than writing long. Take it from someone who had to pare down 200K. >_<

    I say that you should have someone who is unfamiliar with your characters and world to read it to see if they experience any confusion. That would help fill out places that might need to be explained.

    1. Yeah, the very first novel I wrote was well, well over 200K, so I know what you mean. >_< I suppose it's better to go into editing knowing that I might have to add than knowing I'll have to cut.

      And I already have a volunteer to read the book when it's ready for that, someone who's never read anything of mine before, so yay.

  4. When my story left me,
    It hadn't made chapter 10,
    But when I hi-it the finale,
    it was... too big for me!

    I've got them: plo-otting blues,
    I've got them: plo-oting blues,
    But no matter how good my story is I'll,
    I'll have to edit.

    Okay, dorkiness aside, yeah, stories are long, stories are short. Most stories are overwritten, but if there's something missing, that's hard to accommodate, too. On the other hand, forget about that and just write. You know when word count counts? It counts when you're selling a book to a publisher. Until then it's less useful than Straight A's in Boot Camp (or some other colorful metaphor, don't push right now, I'm in a cussing free environment all day long).

    In short, You worry too much. No really. Write the story. Everything else is just a distraction from doing an awesome job.

    1. Love that last line, thank you. ^_^ And yeah, I think some part of me just likes seeing the number go up at the end of every writing session. I should just stop checking, and it'll be a surprise when I'm done.

  5. I'm just going to chime in with the others and say 'don't stress yet'. The first draft is just the raw beginning of the story--the first dump of words. It barely even counts (so sad but true) Do the first revisions, and see what comes out of it. And if after that, it still 'feels' short, give it to your CPs (every writer needs these). If something's amiss, they'll let you know. Oh, and I would have loved to read this in verse ;)

    1. Thanks. ^_^ As I mentioned above, I'm still considering if a short story I wrote as a prologue for this will need to be part of the story, but you're right - all that mattered was getting this story out. I understand that a little bit better now that the first draft's finished.

      And further interest in an entry in verse... hmm.

  6. Replies
    1. It came out to 76K in four weeks; the timing's a bit off because I wrote this entry a few days before posting it. Thanks, though. ^_^

  7. Every book is different, so I don't think you have anything to worry about. When the book is done (and after you've had some distance from it), you'll be able to look at it with fresh eyes and see what changes need to be made. I think that if you can get the first draft finished, that's a huge step. I totally wish I could write 70k in 3 weeks! If you could put whatever possessed you into a bottle and sell it to the rest of us, that would be awesome:)

    1. Eh heh heh... It took me a while to realize that a normal speed for me is a lot faster than a lot of people, which is why I usually don't mention it. >_< But yeah, with the first draft done, I feel like I can set it aside for a bit and see what I need to work on when I pick it up again. I know it'll need work, but I didn't hate it when I was done with it, which is a great start.