Tag Archives: Novel

Finished – for now

I wrote two very special words today:

The End

At  1:30pm BST I completed the third draft of my book and for a few moments I sat in front of the screen, those two words glowing in front of me, giggling like a child. It has taken much longer to reach this point than first thought. Writing the first draft had been a joy, the culmination of a lifetimes worth of pent up creativity. Editing it wasn’t. It was only after having read it through for the first time that I realised just how shitty* it was and how much work I had to do. During the following months I felt like one of those victorian flower collectors, hacking through a dead wood jungle before glimpsing the odd hidden gem. Darlings were slaughtered as I discarded over 18,000 words and re-wrote the majority of the rest. I played around with the structure of the story and sharpened the dialogue until I metaphorically cut my fingers as I typed.

The third draft was more fun. I was able to enjoy the book, smoothing out rough edges and adding touches as I followed each character’s individual story arc. While honing the third draft, I realised how similar my writing process was to an old art program I sometimes watched as a child in the late 1970’s. The artist was an old man with a beard, who always painted with a palette knife, which seemed rather odd to me at the time. If his style was unique, so was his colour scheme; his paintings were made up by browns of all hue with the odd touch of black or white for contrast. At first, he would slap on the background, smearing oils across canvass with broad sweeps of his blade. Then, he would block in his main subjects: the outline of a house or (as was usually painted according to my memories) a horse. Finally, he would gently touch in the detail, picking out highlights with knife’s tip; the glint of an eye or shadow under fetlock. This is how I see my writing process (though hopefully with a broader spectrum of colours and a less equine theme). Some people start small and get broader as time goes on. I’m the reverse and for the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed adding those small touches.

So the book has been (or in some cases will be shortly) sent to my test readers for first feedback. It is the first time anybody other than myself has seen what I’ve written, but should hopefully reassure my wife that I’ve not been sitting in the office typing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I’m both nervous and excited, because even though I’ve written a book, within the next few weeks I should get an indication as to whether I can actually write.

*Thank you Anne Lamott for this phrase, it helped a lot.

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How long is the average novel

This is a great article from the publishers weekly (click here for the original article). I was wondering how many words are in the average novel. This is the answer, based on Amazon’s stats.

According to Amazon’s great Text Stats feature, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words. The figure was found through looking at a number of books’ text stats, until Brave New World‘s 64,531 word count landed in the exact center of all books–50% of books have fewer words and 50% of books have more words.

PWxyz isn’t sure how useful this information is, but because we secretly like math, we’re all for injecting objective truths into subjective fields like literature. (Which is why things like this happen.) But it is nice to know, when you pick up a book and feel its weight, where it stands in relation to all others.

Anyway, here’s a sampling of classics and where their word counts land them on the spectrum.

Animal Farm

29,966 words (75% of books have more words)

Ethan Frome

30,191 words (75% of books have more words)

The Crying of Lot 49

46,573 words (64% of books have more words)

Slaughterhouse-Five

47,192 words (64% of books have more words)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

53,510 words (58% of books have more words)

Lord of the Flies

62,481 words (51% of books have more words)

Brave New World

64,531 words (50% of books have more words)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

70,570 words (45% of books have more words)

Portnoy’s Complaint

78,535 words (41% of books have more words)

Lolita

112,473 words (21% of books have more words)

Madame Bovary

117,963 words (18% of books have more words)

Mansfield Park

159, 344 words (9% of books have more words)

Moby-Dick

209,117 words (4% of books have more words)

East of Eden

226,741 words (3% of books have more words)

Ulysses

262,869 words (2% of books have more words)

Middlemarch

310,593 words (2% of books have more words)

War and Peace

544,406 words (0% of books have more words)

95 pages and counting….

It’s been a while since I last posted. I won’t apologise, however as I’ve been busy. Very busy in fact. As you may have guessed from the post heading, the book is progressing well. By the end of writing today (i.e. just before collecting the oldest from school) I was at just over 32,000 words which, according to how I’ve set up my word processor, comes to 95 pages. Seeing as one of my early concerns was whether I would have the aptitude to write a book, I’m pretty chuffed with the progress so far.

So, what new things have I learnt:

  1. I really shouldn’t read anything by a great author (Jonathan Frandsen, take a bow) while writing my own book. While it’s a great lesson in the craft, it’s also quite depressing
  2. Chapter 1 needs to be re-written (this is in no way related to point 1), I already know how but I plan to follow the advice from Will Self and just continue writing until I’ve finished the full 1st draft, as it’s more important to get it down at this point.
  3. My characters are taking the story into areas I hadn’t thought of, which is both exciting and a little disturbing (who’s in charge here for crying out loud)
  4. Even though I’m at a much faster pace than I thought I would, I’m still less than a 5th of the way through the first draft (and that’s not including any potential future plot changes). This is going to take even longer than I thought.
  5. The person I thought would be the main character of the story, isn’t
  6. This is a good thing
  7. I’m still really enjoying it

I’m also having a lot of fun playing with the future. Those rabid squirrel / octopus hybrids were a real shocker (this is a joke, before you start to get too concerned, although there could be an interesting short story in that idea for someone who wants to take it up, I won’t charge).

Thanks again to everyone who has been supportive through the process so far. It’s really appreciated.

 

 

Developing a plot is like hanging wallpaper

It’s been a tough day. You look at the newly papered wall with pride, noticing how perfectly aligned each panel is with its adjacencies. The disaster of the upside down sheet is swiftly forgotten as you bask in the glory of all that you have achieved. As your gaze lingers on the wall, the sunlight breaks out from behind the clouds, lighting up the room and illuminating a million dust motes dancing their brownian dance.

It’s then you notice the bubble.

Not to worry, it’s small enough that it can be easily dealt with. You pick up the brush from your workbench and smooth the offending blemish with ease. A quick step back to review and you find that it has gone, though another has risen to it’s left. Without thinking you deploy your brush quickly, extinguishing all evidence of the bubble’s existence before spotting two more, one above and one diagonally down to the right. You brush the top one only to see it pop up again, right beside where you just brushed!

It’s at that point you place your cheek to the wall, using the light that only a moment ago was your friend, to highlight the full lunar surface before you.

With every ounce of your being you master your emotions, slowly step backwards, place the brush back on your workbench

and contemplate closing the curtains.

So, yesterday I was happy with how my plot was developing. I had a good outline with enough detail to allow me to start developing the bio’s of the main characters in the novel. Part of developing a bio involves looking at each character’s goals and motivations, and at the same time plotting their individual story lines. It was during this phase I started to notice the bubbles.

Character X couldn’t possible have done Y because it’s totally out of character.  At the same time A couldn’t have happened because character B hasn’t been told about C yet as it won’t occur for another two chapters.

You start to adjust a character’s bio but then the character becomes less believable. You then adjust the plot but it raises further issues downstream. As a mental exercise it is both really exciting and really frustrating. How can this be happening? I’m the person making it all up for christ sakes!

The good news is I now have a more robust plot and haven’t had to resort to either a dream sequence or an amazing coincidence. The bad news is that I’m only half way through the character bio process and this is not including any new characters I may have to introduce to resolve as yet unforeseen issues. I’m also in the process of pulling together a timeline to double check everything is in order.

I can’t wait until I actually start writing.

How to write a novel

I’ve no idea whether I’m similar to most prospective writers but the desire to write a novel has never until this point been followed by the question; how do you go about writing one?

For me this is really two questions, “what will I write about?” and secondly, “what methodology should I use to plan and structure a novel?”

While I don’t want to go into too much detail regarding plot ideas, the “what will I write about?” part was relatively easy. I first sat down and and thought about what type of things I’m interested in. I like politics and I’m very concerned at the direction politics in Western countries seems to be heading. I’m also interested in technology and our ability to overcome illness and disease. If I set the novel in the future, this would give me plenty of opportunity to give my perspective of where we could be heading. I then thought about the type of stories I liked to read. I love thrillers, plots with a lot of energy, twists and turns so you had no idea at the beginning of the book where it would end up. This was the start point for my overarching plot.

It’s at this point though that I thought I’d do a little research on how to plan and structure a novel. I might be a little naive but whenever I envisaged myself writing a novel, I just thought I’d come up with a rough idea and off I go. Stephen King often said that when he started a book he often had no idea how it would end. A couple if minutes on Google soon persuaded me that this wasn’t necessarily a good idea with your first book.

There are a number of authors who are happy to start with a rough idea and then keep writing but this is rare. Most have some form of methodology and nearly everyone agrees that you should have a well structured methodology before starting your first novel.

The good news is, there is an awful lot of information on how to structure a novel. The bad news is that there is a lot of disagreement on how to do this effectively and a lot of contradictory information. Most of the online information is there to give you a a flavour of a methodology before you then fork out for a book or online course.

As this is my first novel I decided to use a methodology called the Snowflake method (the website looks a bit suspect but the theory is good), because it was similar to the work I had been doing. In simple terms it is basic project management (how do you eat an elephant, a small piece at a time) which is something I’m very familiar with.

In the Snowflake Method you start with a broad plot, starting with a one liner as such as “A man is denied his birthright so goes into hiding and takes his revenge by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor”. From this point you gradually go into more detail, planning out your story “How did he lose his birthright?, Where does he hide? Was he on his own?” until you identify a set of characters. With the characters you start to build up their background and their motivations (“The lead character was a nobleman’s son”, “he came back from the war and saw the land was ruled by a despot”) and plotting out the story line of each character, how it develops and how it changes them during the story. As you go on, you take your time expanding each initial line or each step so that by the time you are ready to do the actual writing, you have a detailed plan of exactly what happens and when.

So this is where I am at the moment. I’ve got an overarching plot based around 4 main characters and a host of others. I’ve developed a bio for each of the main characters and a number of the minor characters and I’m in the process of polishing off the main plot and sub plots in the story and structured it into 3 acts. I’m not happy with all details of the plot so far but plan to iron these wrinkles out over the next few days.