What to do with the giant on your laptop (or when a novel can't get shorter)

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Status
Not open for further replies.

Rhoda Nightingale

Vampire Junkie
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 25, 2009
Messages
4,470
Reaction score
658
^Yeah, I think I'm confusing it with something else. *goes to lurk the "Learning to Plot" thread*
 

Slushie

Custom User Title
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 11, 2009
Messages
1,497
Reaction score
235
...I think Rhoda was responding to Linda Adams' shoehorn.
 

Rhoda Nightingale

Vampire Junkie
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 25, 2009
Messages
4,470
Reaction score
658
Yeah I was directing that at Linda, hence the quote. Honestly I have no clue how to respond to "add more plot," except to just blink at the screen.
 

Linda Adams

Soldier, Storyteller
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 2, 2005
Messages
4,422
Reaction score
633
Location
Metropolitan District of Washington
Website
www.linda-adams.com
So, you're saying add a subplot? I know that's just one suggestion, and maybe this is me reacting to seeing lots of unnecessary subplots that made no sense, but when I hear "subplot" my instinct is to recoil slightly...

Me, too. I was a short story writer first, so it was a hard concept to get--especially seeing books where the subplot felt like it was padding the story. But a novel isn't a long short story, so subplots are part of that.

Because I am plot-driven, I also found that I had to use plot-focused subplots, rather then the more traditional character arc ones (i.e, romance, problem in the characer's life, etc.). Once I identified that, I discovered that I already had vague hints of one in place--just undeveloped. It follows along so closely to the story that I actually mistook it for being another element of the main storyline. Since then, I've added a second one, also plot-focused that added a new complication in the main story.
 

Rhoda Nightingale

Vampire Junkie
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 25, 2009
Messages
4,470
Reaction score
658
Ah--see, I'm more character-driven when I write. Maybe that's part of the problem.
 

Albannach

AW Addict
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 15, 2009
Messages
918
Reaction score
60
Out of curiosity, how can a novel be too short? We described at length in this thread how is can be too long and what the problems are with that, but what is meant by "too short?" I mean unless it's the length of a short story (in which case you might want to consider it one) or the story lacks a meaningful arc, I can't see how a publisher could have a problem with it.
Oh, I assure you that agents and publishers have problems with novels in the 75-80K range. They've told me so.
 

Rhoda Nightingale

Vampire Junkie
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 25, 2009
Messages
4,470
Reaction score
658
hahaha--Okay, just had an idea. My MC's going to hate me even more now, I've tortured him plenty already...

(Thanks! I'll be done talking about my short novel issues now, since this thread is supposed to be going in the other other direction.)
 

Albannach

AW Addict
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 15, 2009
Messages
918
Reaction score
60
Then I'd add that little back story about that supporting character everyone thought was just a face.

I just discovered I'm too fond of side stories and back stories. In fact there are chapters in my book that have nothing to do with the main arc but describe a historical event that happened a long time ago and somehow affected the universe (these of course will soon end up on the editing room's floor.) It's because I personally love books that include such details, and books that first introduce a character as a bit character, only to later bring up stories about their past that makes you see them in a whole new light.

Writing my own book, I think I got a little caught up in these penchants of mine.
That's the basic difference in people who write short and those who write long, I think. I hate all that stuff when I read and invariably skip it. Then I take Leonard Elmore's advice to "leave out the stuff that people skip" a bit too far. If there is a detail that you don't need to understand the story--chances are 99 to 1, I'll leave it out.

That is until I'm forced to go back and bring my word count up to a length that will make a publisher happy. Since I mostly write historical which do NOT tend to be short... *sigh*

Edit: My MC's main problem is killing people while managing not to get killed. Sometimes it's hard to add subplots to that. Maybe I should add more about why he and the king's brother hate each other--except that I really never was quite sure why they did. They just do. =)
 
Last edited:

Albannach

AW Addict
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 15, 2009
Messages
918
Reaction score
60
Adding more plot tends to involve re-writing the whole blinking thing in order to change the whole plot. Like I said, adding is a whole lot easier than cutting or it seems that way to me. If there's an easy way to do it, I sure haven't found it.
 

HConn

Whore for genre
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
814
Reaction score
182
Location
Inside a cursed painting
Website
www.harryjconnolly.com
Yeah I was directing that at Linda, hence the quote. Honestly I have no clue how to respond to "add more plot," except to just blink at the screen.

The first step is to see where the protagonist received cooperation or help, then take it away.

The second step is to look at every character, even small ones, and give them goals. If you can make their goals incompatible with the protagonist's, you have more plot. You get betrayals, or additional antagonists, or whatever.

The third step is to look at the hero's successes and turn them into failures. Indiana Jones is a guy who failed in the most amazing, spectacular, and admirable ways.

There are certain kinds of video games where you have to run around doing side errands to collect the plot coupons you need to complete the plot. Mr. Jones will give you X but only if you can find Y. Ms. Smith has Y but won't give it to you until you complete Task Z. And so on and so forth, spinning outward into the twelve hundred labors. You don't want that. The plot you add should match the plot you already have, both in pacing and in tone.

But adding plot isn't so hard, once you look at your characters, decide what they want, what they're willing to do, and what resources they have to get to their goal.
 
Last edited:

MicheleLee

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 6, 2006
Messages
208
Reaction score
20
Location
Louisville, KY
Website
www.michelelee.net
I know professional writers on both sides. Everyone works for their words. Some people overwrite and still end up 20k below on the first draft. Some people have to cut down a 150k novel to 80k because they didn't have enough plot and have to make room to make it a satisfying read.

A couple years ago I finished a fist draft UF novel that came in at 42k *eyebrow waggle* I added a whole new character as a red herring and in the process also turned the flat, cliche bad guy into something else. Second draft was still only 68k.

The point, as a writer, is to keep improving with every project. If it means hitting a certain word count, there ya go. If it means writing tighter, wha-la.
 

Medievalist

Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
25,450
Reaction score
6,341
I want to call attention to this; it's true, and practical, and real. Y'all might wanna print it out.

The first step is to see where the protagonist received cooperation or help, and then take it away.

The second step is to look at every character, even small ones, and give them goals. If you can make their goals incompatible with the protagonist's, you have more plot. You get betrayals, or additional antagonists, or whatever.

The third step is to look at the hero's successes and turn them into failures. Indiana Jones is a guy who failed in the most amazing, spectacular, and admirable ways..
 

Anahid21

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 13, 2009
Messages
129
Reaction score
9
Location
Canada
The second step is to look at every character, even small ones, and give them goals. If you can make their goals incompatible with the protagonist's, you have more plot. You get betrayals, or additional antagonists, or whatever.

Allow me to add my two cents for our fellow "short" writers by saying I agree with this absolutely. In fact this might be the trap we "long" writers sometimes fall into. There's nothing more enticing than multidimentional side characters with dubious intentions. Any author that includes a traitor in their story and does so skillfully has my respect.

Unfortunately the trap for us is taking this too far, hence ending up with a side character who gets too much spotlight. One of the characters in my monster story enters a scene as a reformed bandit who invites the protagonist and his crew to a banquet, only to reveal in the end that it was a trap to capture them. The problem with him however (and this I found out through my paid editor, way before posting this thread,) that he spends near 50 pages telling his back story until he reaches a point where the other characters, and the reader, understand why he is still a villain. I will cut all that out, yet keeping the surprise would be a challenge. I may have to get rid of him or the surprise entirely.
 

Kweei

Expert Procrastinator
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 26, 2009
Messages
1,859
Reaction score
271
Location
New England
Website
www.kltownsend.com
Oh, I assure you that agents and publishers have problems with novels in the 75-80K range. They've told me so.

Really? Because I hear from a lot of publishers and agents that shorter is better. Obviously not too short, but even 80k is considered too short?
 

Toothpaste

THE RECKLESS RESCUE is out now!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 18, 2006
Messages
8,745
Reaction score
3,096
Location
Toronto, Canada
Website
www.adriennekress.com
I must confess that surprises me too, every agent I've met, and every agent blog I've read, places the typical wordcount between 80 and 120K.
 

Kweei

Expert Procrastinator
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 26, 2009
Messages
1,859
Reaction score
271
Location
New England
Website
www.kltownsend.com
I must confess that surprises me too, every agent I've met, and every agent blog I've read, places the typical wordcount between 80 and 120K.

Yes, this is what I heard as well, dependent on the genre of course. Some genres tend to have novels which are shorter while others go for long.

I was under the impression that 80k was okay. I hate it when I'm reading a story and I see obvious filler to get the wordcount up. But I can understand from a publisher's pov why they would prefer novels that weren't too short.
 

eqb

I write novels
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
4,446
Reaction score
1,224
Location
In the resistance
Website
www.claireodell.com
...The problem with him however (and this I found out through my paid editor, way before posting this thread,) that he spends near 50 pages telling his back story until he reaches a point where the other characters, and the reader, understand why he is still a villain. I will cut all that out, yet keeping the surprise would be a challenge. I may have to get rid of him or the surprise entirely.

I haven't read your ms, but I confess my first thought was, Why fifty pages of backstory for any character? That seems an obvious candidate for trimming and compressing.

One technique I like is to add a character who isn't a villain, but who still has an agenda that conflicts with the protagonist. That lets me add a subplot that intersects and intensifies the main plot.
 

job

In the end, it's just you and the manuscript
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 27, 2005
Messages
3,459
Reaction score
653
Website
www.joannabourne.com
Anahid21 **I'm too fond of side stories and back stories. In fact there are chapters in my book that have nothing to do with the main arc but describe a historical event that happened a long time ago and somehow affected the universe **

That's the basic difference in people who write short and those who write long, I think. I hate all that stuff when I read and invariably skip it.

Certainly adding sidestories and excursions into unrelated historical events can be the reason some folks write 'long'.

Many folks, though, are simply telling stories that take more words to tell. I'd say the 'shape' of the plot determines how long the story is going to be.

Fr'instance.
Let's say I'm toying with a subplot.
It'll run 10K - 12K. I know I have 110K for the whole manuscript. I'm going to look at my main story and jiggle the likely scenes back and forth and decide I can afford five scenes, (for me, 10K,) of subplot. I plan the story accordingly.

Now let's say they come back and tell me I only have 90K.
I'd leave the subplot out.
Simple.

But not so simple. Leaving the sublplot out doesn't just mean some events are gone and two minor characters are missing from the manuscript.
I'm telling a different story at 90K than at 110K.

When I reduce the work to 90K,
I have to move plot elements around to adjust for missing structure
and to make the pacing work.
I have to expand one of the minor character so now he can do three or four little plotty transitional bits that were in the subplot.
I might even have to modify the character of my protagonists.
That's because there's going to be a chain of emotional events that's partly carried by the subplot. When that subplot gets yanked out, some of the scenes carrying emotional freight have to be reassigned to the main plot and the action of the main protagonists. This changes the protagonists.

Shortening a story is like ...
let's say you have to shorten Little Red Riding Hood and leave out the four scenes with The Huntsman. Subplot is gone.
Now, Little Red has to kill the wolf.

It's not just that you've left out a subplot. You got a new and different protagonist because the story has been shortened.
You're telling a different story.

Or -- going the other way --
If you wanted to lengthen LRRH and decided to add the heroic Huntsman and now Little Red is going to marry him at the end.
You can't just open some cracks and mortar in the Huntsman and his actions. Everything changes. Little Red is now a different person.

What I'm saying is . . . if you want to lengthen or shorten a story, you now have a different story. Plot, structure, pacing, emotional development, characterization -- these are all going to be different for the same writer using different wordcounts.

It's like ... If you wanted to change the square footage of a house.
Easy to say you can leave off, (or add,) two bedrooms and chop out the foyer. But then your water pipes all run crooked and the kitchen isn't big enough, (or it's too big) and there aren't enough bathrooms for a family of five and where are you going to fit the new half-bath so it can have plumbing but the entry foyer is now turned into a mudroom off the porch?

In a well-designed book, as in a well-designed house, all the element fit together harmoniously and you can't pull something out or drop something in without changing everything.

May I add -- dipping a toe into the short-versus-long controversy -- that a small house is just as hard to design as a big one. The construction costs, however, differ.
 
Last edited:

Albannach

AW Addict
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 15, 2009
Messages
918
Reaction score
60
Really? Because I hear from a lot of publishers and agents that shorter is better. Obviously not too short, but even 80k is considered too short?
Sorry. That should have been BELOW the 75-80k range. Mine seem to invariably start around 60k at the first draft. That is "officially" novel length but not long enough.

Edit: But it also depends on genre. I think for a fantasy, possibly a lot would consider 80k a bit too short and it might actually be a disadvantage. I think it would be for a historical which are known to run even longer than most fantasies.
 
Last edited:

Albannach

AW Addict
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 15, 2009
Messages
918
Reaction score
60
Anahid21 **I'm too fond of side stories and back stories. In fact there are chapters in my book that have nothing to do with the main arc but describe a historical event that happened a long time ago and somehow affected the universe **



Certainly adding sidestories and excursions into unrelated historical events can be the reason some folks write 'long'.

Many folks, though, are simply telling stories that take more words to tell. I'd say the 'shape' of the plot determines how long the story is going to be.

I don't necessarily agree. Sure, SOMETIMES it's because the story is long, but (I think this happens more often than not) a lot of novels that are long are that way because the author likes to describe every single blade of grass and every bit of clothing that every minor character wears and does so at every opportunity as well as all of their backstories and NOT because the story is longer.

Edit: There are exceptions and I LIKE long books IF they actually have a long storyline involved. :)
 
Last edited:

Libbie

Worst song played on ugliest guitar
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 23, 2007
Messages
5,309
Reaction score
1,088
Location
umber and black Humberland
Is Harry Potter YA? Because mine sort of follows a similar style: Young teens handling adult situations and having to grow up. Some already act beyond their age due to past experiences.
I would call it YA but then I think of the Twilight series and it makes me pause.

Harry Potter and Twilight are both marketed and shelved as YA but both sell extremely well to adults. There are books that cross over between reading groups, but this has more to do with marketing than the content of the book. Generally, YA deals with the struggles of growing up specifically -- that's a major part of the plot. But to be honest, I find the line between YA and adult books thin and superficial, and probably only placed there to encourage kids to read more. ("We have these special books that are just for you! No lame grown-up stuff in them!" When in reality, stories are stories, and are really universal among cultures, including the cultures of adults and kids.)

As for books with young protagonists that were marketed to and sold extremely well to adults, I can think of several. Lord of the Flies, A Clockwork Orange, Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Lovely Bones...somebody already mentioned Ender's Game; there's also Ender's Shadow. In fantasy, there are even more. Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, The Wheel of Time (love it or hate it -- I fall into the latter category, but it does sell well and nearly all the main characters are teens for most of the series), David Eddings' The Belgariad series...the list goes on and on. There are literally tons of fantasy books out there with teen (and younger) main characters, that have been sold and marketed as adult reading. In the romance genre, particularly in novels written in the 70s and 80s, the main female characters were often seventeen through twenty-one; these were certainly not marketed as kids' reading.

You'll find an insistence on these forums that "if it has teen characters, you must sell it as YA." I've seen nothing to support this in the reading I've done, and I've heard nothing to support this from the people I know who work in the publishing industry. Unfortunately this belief is so wide-spread that some people have even gone back and revised their books to change the age of their MC just because they wanted to write an "adult" book instead of a YA book. I think that's too bad. Whether a book ends up being YA or not depends a lot more on its publicity campaign than on the age of its characters, and this becomes more true by the year as more and more intelligent, honest, gritty YA novels are published and sold to YA readers.

On the other hand, YA is smoking hot and is a growing genre that's making a lot of money. It wouldn't be a bad idea to market your novel as a YA, if you can achieve the required word count.

Speaking of word counts, you asked about smaller word counts. In many genres there is a lower range of 50 - 60K. Below that, you end up with a novella. There is certainly nothing wrong with novellas, other than the fact that their size tends to make them sell less than novels. For whatever reason, people who buy fiction want a book of a certain length. That length satisfies the reading expectations of most book-buyers -- perhaps they want something to read over a weekend, or on a plane flight, or to last them one week's worth of bedtime reading. Whatever the reason, many, many years of bookselling has taught the industry that X length sells well, while Y and Z lengths do not. The exception seems to be romance; many well-liked romance authors sell novellas very well, and most of the big romance publishers also release entire themed series of novellas written by various authors. (Amusingly -- to me, at least -- one of the popular themes is "Secret Babies.")

So in some genres, lower word counts work out well. In others, novellas are typically sold into anthologies or short-story collections by one author.

I hope that helps! :)
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Happy Thanksgiving

Autumn image for Thanksgiving