Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Year of Writing: Sixth Month

The year is almost half over. Luckily, you have some short stories and maybe even publications under your belt. Your novel is almost complete, and by the end of the year you’ll have done more than some do all their lives.

Don’t like the speed? Add a few more words to your daily count. Behind? Just focus on the daily goal of 1,750 words and don’t worry about correcting past mistakes. Keep going and you’ll be happy when you’re done.

Day 1. Write to 72,000 words.

Day 2. Write a second query letter.

Understanding that this isn’t necessarily what you’ll be sending out, feel free to experiment with this next query. Take another perspective that you didn’t with the first. Did you start chronologically? Get to the money shot in the first sentence. Did you focus on a gimmick? Try being straightforward. Did you talk about the romance? Discuss the action.

Play around and feel free to do something weird; assume no one’s ever going to see it. You might find yourself with something brilliant.

Day 3. Write to 72,750.

Day 4. Write to 73,500.

Day 5. Write to 74,250.

Day 6. Write to 75,000.

Day 7. Edit last 5,000 words.

Blah, blah, blah: “Don’t edit while you’re writing.” See my last posts if you want to discuss this.

Day 8. Write to 75,750.

Day 9. Write to 76,500.

Day 10. Write to 77,250.

Day 11. Ask yourself the big three questions:

Now that you’re thisclose to the end of the book—some of you may have already passed the climax and are onto the resolution—it’s important to start thinking about the difference between This Story and The Story.

Many authors begin their novels with the subconscious belief that this needs to be the greatest book ever, and try to make it encompass everything: all ideas, all qualities, all interests. They consider their work to be The Story and have a hard time cutting down on things that don’t relate to or affect each other.

By acknowledging that there will be many more books to come in which you can use your ideas and show your skills in various means, it becomes about solidifying this story, making sure everything has a purpose for being there, and that the rambling tangents that are indicative of inexperience are cut out.

The big three considerations to keep in mind when trying to know what This Story is really about are:

What is the problem?
What is the point?
What is the narrator’s motivation?

The problem is the plot and the conflict. It is the obstacle that keeps the characters from getting what they want. It is the through line that starts at the beginning, moves everything forward, and ends at the end. While it is more common in short stories and scripts than novels, it is fairly typical for some authors to describe characters and situations without having a clear plot to tie all the descriptions and illustrations together.

What is the problem that starts in the beginning and is being solved at the end? Answering this will give you an idea on how the book should end and help you when you need to know what the story is about.

An author tells a story for a reason. He has an intended effect of his story on the audience. A writer whose work reads as, “It’s about whatever you want it to be about,” or “You might laugh at this or wet your pants in fear, but either way it’s what I wanted,” will not impressive an audience. They perceive it as laziness, and there isn’t a clear benefit to it. Giving an indication of what the audience was expected to feel makes the reader see the work as more complete. When the point is vague, unclear, or not even there, he is left with an unsatisfied feeling of, “So what?”

Knowing the point also indicates how the book should end. The conflict suggests the options (the man gets the girl or he doesn’t) and the point tells which one the author should choose (he doesn’t get the girl because he was just as cruel as her old boyfriend, and now he realizes that). It is the theme of the story, but it doesn’t need to be intellectual. James Bond won because the point is he’s flipping amazing. End of story.

Lastly, consider the narrator’s motivation for telling the story. While you might not have an actual character describing the events, it probably isn’t you doing it either. How would J.K. Rowling, a muggle who lives in our world, know anything about Harry Potter’s doings? The narrator, whomever he is, clearly is from that same universe and is learning about the wizarding world as Harry does.

While this never needs to be discussed or even hinted at with an audience, understanding the why the narrator is telling the story clarifies why he needs to tell this part of the story. Does the description of character peeing benefit the narrator’s goal? No? Then you can probably delete it, or add something to it so that it does.

Day 12. Write to 78,000.

Day 13. Write to 78,750.

Day 14. Write to 79,500.

Day 15. Edit last 5,000 words.

Day 16. Write to 80,250.

You’ve now struck the minimum mark. For a first time writer, it is a good idea not to go below this word count.

Publishers have a certain amount of money they have to get back: a base price that doesn’t really change due to amount of books printed. (Cost of covers, cost of publicity, etc.) Not only that, but most readers are either looking for something extremely short and seek short stories, or a good sized book that will take some time read. Trying to sell a thin book at a certain price is fairly hard, plus, a book under the size of 80,000 words is often indicative of inexperience. You can get away with trying to call it a novella, but you’ll still have a harder time selling it. Most agents believe (with legitimate reason) that a book lower than 80,000 words probably has too quick of pacing.

If you are in between the range of 80,000 to 100,000 words, you are solid and don’t have to worry about getting dinged for something arbitrary (and the prime trait in which dinging occurs for is length.)

So congratulations! You very well might have finished your first book. If that is the case, feel free to skip to the editing process!

If not, don’t worry.  You’re almost there.

Day 17. Write to 81,000.

Day 18. Write to 81,750.

Day 19. Write to 82,500.

Day 20. Edit words 40,000 to 60,000.

Another long day, this might seem temping to skip. But it will remind you of what you’ve written, where you are going, and make the process less of a pain later.

Now that you have an idea on what the story is about, it becomes easy to crisp up these middle scenes which have the highest propensity to be rambly. Notice tirades, tangents, inane details, and things you’ve forgotten about.

Day 21. Write to 83,250.

Day 22. Write to 84,000.

Day 23. Write to 84,750.

Day 24. Edit last 5,000 words.

Day 25. Write to 85,500.

Day 26. Write to 86,250.

Day 27. Write to 87,000.

Day 28. Edit last 87,750.

Now that we’re in the last stretch, it will be tempting to stop, thinking that being so close it will be easy to pick up and finish whenever we chose. That being the case we won’t take breaks anymore. Work on it every day. Ignore this lure. Finish.

Day 29. Write to 88,500.

Day 30. Write to 89,250.

Day 31. Write to 90,000.

Congratulations! You have completed your first novel. Possibly. In six short months you have developed a whole novel, six short stories, learned all about the querying and editing process, and gotten a good deal of experience.

You may not be excited with what came out. You may love what you did. In either case, this is not the time to stop; this is the time to press on.

By this time, if you have not gotten responses back from your short story queries, it’s best to assume they’re not going to contact you. Unless they explicitly indicated how long they would take, six months is an acceptable amount of time to decide they’re just ignoring you. It is a fairly common way for lit journals to make rejections. Insulting and unprofessional, but common.

If you didn’t submit to more than one place, then now is the time to read it and send it out somewhere else. The proper etiquette is to tell the editors you’ve submitted to previously you are doing this, but many feel it is a consideration that isn’t necessary.

It is very common to not ever hear back from these places. Don’t get discouraged. Try again.