Thursday, November 19, 2015

Going The Distance

Most of us like books of substance.  I know I do. I want a tome that is hefty enough that I can count on it occupying a good deal of my time when I'm bored.  No, I'm not looking for the next War and Peace, but something that suggests it can go longer than a commercial break is always welcome.  Therefore this is kind of how I approach my novels when I write.  I never have all the details of what a story will say, but I have a basic idea, and I can usually project from that the approximate length I'll produce.

However, the story itself doesn't always cooperate.  On rare occasion, I'll go over what I thought I was going to do, but that is a once in five-to-eight year phenomenon rather than something I have to worry about a lot.  No, what usually happens is my story runs its course in less than what I was expecting, and almost always by about 15-20%.

Do I now have enough imagination?  Am I unable to properly structure the story?

The conclusion I've come to is that while I could possibly build it further, that "further" is usually boring stuff that isn't essential to the plot.  If I've learned anything over the years, it's to not include extraneous bullshit in a story.  I cut over 30,000 words from Salvation Day, and not all of it was the adverbs and adjectives that make you cringe.  I cut whole sections that, upon further reading, didn't do anything to make the story better.  I found I could lose them and not lose anything in pacing or plot relevance.  After that, I started approaching all my prose with a simple question - how will the book suffer if this part/idea isn't included.  If I can live without it, I do.

Yes, that sometimes means that the 90,000 word novel I had in mind comes out to only 70,000 words, but it's a faster paced work that keeps readers engaged.  Doing otherwise runs the risk of boring the audience, and a bored audience will put your book down.  If you're lucky, maybe they'll pick it up later.  If you're unlucky, you just made their blacklist.

Don't be afraid to come up short on word count.  Go back and see if anything you add will enhance or detract from what you wrote.  And if it detracts, don't even put it in.  In other words, let the story go the way the story should go.

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