Posted in Planning, Writing

Make the Words Count

I am obsessed with word counts. My current work in progress is sitting at just over 60k, and even though I have a couple more chapters to go, I’m beginning to panic that it won’t be long enough. I’ve been scouring the web trying to find out the word counts of other authors, and came across this awesome site: http://www.arbookfind.com.au (no affiliate) which gives the word counts of practically every book ever written! As handy as it is, my question still remains, what IS long enough? Having looked at some of the more recent YA fantasy series, my concern is, that if it isn’t above 100k in word count, then it’s a paltry excuse for a book… Really?

Word counts for YA novels etc, according to WritersDigest.com, are categorised as falling between 55 – 80k. But in the following paragraph it mentioned that if it’s higher than 80k, then it had better be scifi or fantasy, because there’s the element of world building etc that can extend the story. Helpful as this is, it still kind of skirts around the question a bit, but then if we’re going to have to go by any single publisher’s overall opinion then we’re all doomed, because these can differ depending on current trends, the genre, the publisher’s preference etc.

Text
Words for words’ sake is a waste of time and does nothing for your reader’s experience

Recent YA Fantasy

Just to name a few of the more popular, and recent YA fantasy word counts, here’s a handful of examples as a ‘first book’ in the series, because rarely is there ever standalone fantasy fiction anymore:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (99750)
  • Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (89778)
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (118975)
  • Eragon by Christopher Paolini (157220)

The lowest word count here is close to 90k, which certainly fits in the requirement, and Nevermoor has been making waves since it came to light at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2017. So is a writer’s perception of what is an acceptable word count all in their head?

I’m sure you’ve noticed that a rather significant YA fantasy is missing, but I’ll come to that later. What I do want to have a look at are some of the YA fantasy novels from several decades ago, when fantasy perhaps wasn’t as rampant as it is today.

Earlier YA Fantasy

Here are a few examples of YA fantasy that you may or may not have heard of:

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (49965)
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis (36363)
  • The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (41523)
  • The BFG by Roald Dahl (37568)

Some might argue that some of these examples aren’t YA fiction, but I disagree. The Magic Faraway Tree, written by the legendary Enid Blyton was a beloved author with many a young fan who gobbled up her books, even as they got older.

The BFG, written by Roald Dahl is just as loved now as it was when it was first published and has even been transformed into a movie. And in spite of CS Lewis’ most infamous classic, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, being the shortest in this list, how many times has it been reprinted and retold on screen? And of course A Wrinkle in Time has just been made into an incredible movie as well.

In trying to answer the question of ‘how long is long enough?’ it seems the answer runs along similar lines as ‘how long is a piece of string?’ What’s important is that the story is told, that the characters are well formed, that the setting is believable, and that you are able to escort your reader to a world that for the most part is a great deal different to the one they currently reside in.

If taking into account the whole checklist of planning and writing a novel, the actual word count comes in at maybe number 73 in the list of things that need doing. In fact, it shouldn’t even matter, but, I think what worries authors and writers and does have them considering the word count is the end result of, how does it look on the shelf?

Book sizes
Don’t judge a book by its cover…or its word count

Is Word Count Really Important?

Now let’s look at the missing piece… the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling, because it’s probably a good basis for comparison in that it’s fantasy, was written for the YA market, and has perhaps been the go to of ‘what to do to become a super successful author’:

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (77325)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (84799)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (106821)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (190858)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (257154)
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (169441)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (198227)

Rowling’s first book in the series is 77+k words, and most people are aware of the story of how it was rejected multiple times, and then came to perhaps be the most phenomenal series of books ever written. What I’m trying to point out here though, is that Rowling didn’t break the 100k mark until her third novel in the series, and then it was only just over. As the plots grew thicker, and more and more was discovered by Harry and co. the size of the story also grew. But what’s important is that Rowling didn’t need to carry all seven of her books over the 100k mark. She told the story, and once it was finished, that was its word count.

Writers are too caught up with word count because it seems that it’s the norm (it definitely seems like the current trend) to cross that 100k mark that no one ever set as the limit. No publisher stood up and said that all fantasy YA books, from now on, must be over 100k! Because that would lead to poorly written work and novels full of guff simply to tip it over the scale, and there’s plenty enough of that without actually asking for it.

So as much as word count is my obsession, and probably will continue to be, as a writer and author, I can’t find it in myself to do wrong by my readers, and fill a book with inconsequential narrative or description simply to reach a word goal.

Write the story, and once it’s all said and done, if that is your word count, then you’ve done a fantastic job of getting it there.

What do you think? Are word counts more important that the actual content? Let me know if the comments below.

Posted in Writing

Write What You Know & Why You Shouldn’t

“Write what you know!” was advice that plagued me for a long time early in my writing endeavours. I may have tested the waters by using characters different from my own literal circumstances, but as far as writing about a forensic analyst solving a complex murder mystery, I put on the proverbial brakes.

I kept trying to follow this rule, but on one occasion I considered historical romance. I had characters in my head, a setting and a basic plot involving conflict, resolution and the heroine and hero living happily ever after. At the time I was reading a lot of historically set romances, and I didn’t think it was all that hard. I sketched out a basic outline and set to researching. And that’s when I learned how much I didn’t know. The project was ultimately abandoned because I somehow had to churn out 120k of compelling story that after trying to learn and understand all the restrictions that were around in the sixteenth century, left me disheartened.

And I continued to struggle. Trying to live up to this so called writing rule was demotivating, and disenchanting. I found that the one pursuit in life I loved, my passion, my obsession, had put virtual blinkers on my mind’s eye simply because of the plethora of knowledge and experience I simply didn’t have. Sure, I could write about kids in high school, but I had to use what I knew of my high school. And the situations I considered to put these high school kids in were not exactly page turning material.

Blinkered Horses
Blinkered mind’s eye, like blinkered horses

I even tried to follow this rule when writing as an adult. In the business of finance I figured why not write a scandalous inside bank robbery, or embezzlement, or fraud! But again as I looked into and researched these options, I was still bored, still disenfranchised, still frustrated. I didn’t know how someone could convincingly write about embezzling a bank, especially when I had no idea of the inner workings. I might have worked for a bank, but I certainly had no idea how it actually worked, let alone how to rort its system!

This rule was making me miserable, and more to the point I didn’t want to write about what I knew. What I ‘knew’ was boring, what I ‘knew’ did not make for a captivating story, nor did anything that I ‘knew’ intrigue me enough to want to tell a story about it.

The answer, however, had been there with me all the time…

I love fantasy, and science fiction, and all those genres steeped in the imagination. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was all those fantasy stories that kept my love of writing going, I just wasn’t aware. It didn’t conform to the rule ‘write what you know!’ because when creating a world and creatures and a story completely from scratch, I didn’t know! Writing fantasy meant I didn’t have to obey any rules about social convention, that people had jobs I didn’t have an inkling as to what the majority of them were or even did. With fantasy I could use my imagination, generate creatures of my own thinking, create new societies, and do away with the logical should be and embrace the potentially liberating could be.

Fantasy castle
Fantasy, opens new worlds full of potentially new ideas

Becoming aware of this enabled my writing to flourish. I adore writing make believe because it enables me to dive into the open, rich and unexplored places of my imagination. It’s writing about what I don’t know, but what I can think up and dream about.

So break the rule, write about what you don’t know, and see where your writing journey takes you.

Do you agree, or disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

Posted in Creatures, Method of Planning, Planning, World Building, Writing

3 Steps to Creating Your Own Unique Fantasy Creatures

My all-time favourite genre to write is fantasy, followed very closely by sci-fi. I read a lot of it too, which might seem obvious, but sometimes I find others’ perceptions of fantasy aren’t to my taste. Mind you, it’s always a good idea to read a range of genres anyway for inspiration, to help with ideas, and to hone the skill of writing – as all writers should.

Sometimes when I’m reading fantasy something I’ll find a bit disappointing is when I come across the same, almost stereo typical creatures in those stories, because even though the writing and the story might be great, the author lets it down with a cookie cutter set of creatures.

Dragon
Ever a favourite in fantasy – the dragon – but all too often a ‘bad guy’

I’m done with evil, aggressive dragons that are the overall threat to the heroes, beautiful mermaids who sing like angels, sweet unicorns that are shy and hard to find, and fairies that live in flowers and nurse sick animals. Of course, I’m well aware that not EVERY single fantasy book mentions these creatures, and I’m also aware there are many fantasy books that DO in fact buck the trend, which is awesome. What I’m talking about, and the point of this post is to create your OWN unique creature that doesn’t have a predetermined set of characteristics to manipulate how it looks or behaves. Your very own animal, be it humanoid, can fly, swim or run extremely fast, is from YOUR imagination and it’s completely your own creation.

There are three aspects to consider when creating your own one of a kind totally unique creature:

Step 1: What is its purpose?

This needs to be your first question when creating your own unique fantasy creature. Why? Because otherwise, why are you including it in your story? There’s little point creating something so out of this world interesting only to have it lolling away in the background. It’s going to be front and centre, so it needs purpose.

Is the hero going to ride it? Be threatened by it? Have to rescue it? In creating its purpose you’re bringing it into the plot, which means it may as well be interesting.

Step 2: Where does it live? Or more importantly, where did it originally come from?

The second factor when creating a fantasy creature is the kind of environment where it would be found naturally. This is where you need to refer to your world building.

Environment
The environment would play a big part in the overall looks of your creature

You may have all the imagination in the world, and it is very tempting to just go for broke, but it does pay to consider the environment of your creature because it helps make it even more believable. If you’ve created a creature that lives in trees, you might consider giving it claws to grip branches, or long finger like appendages to hold on, or some kind of sticky slime that enables it to cling in some way. You don’t have to railroad yourself to a strict set of rules, but do consider where the creature would naturally live in ‘the wild’ because this is the environment it’s ‘evolved’ to live in. Yes, it’s a fantasy world, but again, it makes it more believable rather than everything just runs on the magic of the place, so anything goes!

Step 3: What does it look like?

This is the really fun part because this is where you can ultimately go for broke. Once you’ve determined the creature’s purpose, and the environment it’s initially come from (remember, it doesn’t have to stay there  – consider your purpose), then you need to consider it’s features.

You don’t have to stick to convention here, if it’s a creature that lives in a tree, there’s no harm in giving it colourful scales to attract a mate, or fins to assist in flight direction. It might have fur to insulate against heat, but sheds it and absorbs the chill of winter through its skin. Whatever you decide, you can allow your mind to generate a truly unique creature of your own choosing.

Hedgehog Dog
The best part is thinking about what your creature actually looks like

Once you have your creature remember the point isn’t then to write page after page of description for it. Your reader has the ability to fill in the blanks, you just need to give the general idea and let THEIR imagination fill in the rest. Remember, further description can be added throughout the rest of the story, but what you initially want to do is implant an image of a creature unique to the story that a reader is going to suddenly feel attached to, and will be glad the hero rescued (rode, or needed) it all those chapters ago when it fulfils its purpose.

Lizard Horse
Be adventurous, just remember its purpose and environment

Be sure to consider these points during your world building, or when thinking about the type of creatures you would like to fill your fantasy novel with. Once you’ve mastered the basics of purpose, environment and features you‘re well on your way to creating a whole zoology of creatures totally unique to the world you alone have created.

Next time I’ll explain ways on how to give an unusual name these creatures so they are easy to read and pronounce!

If you have other ways of imagining fantasy creatures, please let me know in the comments below!

Posted in Digital, Method of Planning, Writing

How to Digitally Organise the Planning of Your Novel

I’ll openly admit to being the first to rush out and buy a new notebook when an idea for a novel bites, but where paper is precious it’s always good to consider the alternatives available to writers when planning that best seller.

Before you begin planning out your novel, it helps to know the system by which you can organise it. Novel planning is another skill to learn as a writer, and since I find the ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work for writing, then it helps to put out a few ideas on how you can begin to world build, wrangle your characters, and note down those scenes or snippets of dialogue.

There are no doubt more ways you can do this, but I’ve used both of the ways I’m about to describe which I hope help you to digitally organise your novel planning.

Microsoft Excel

Yes, I’m a Microsoft user (no affiliate), but if you’re a Mac type, then these ideas can be used in Numbers, or any other type of spreadsheet creating program you have.

Excel is a way of organising your novel plan into a streamlined dataset which can make it a lot easier to find and locate and refer to particular areas of your novel.

For example, rows can easily be divided up into separate chapters, and columns can be divvied up into scenes, events, plot lines and even timelines of when what has to happen.

Novel structure in Excel
Use Excel to organise your novel by chapter

Excel is also a great way to revise your novel. You can highlight cells to refer to different aspects, for example, when your protagonist is at a turning point, about to make a decision, or meets up with another significant character. Or, you can use this method to track your Hero’s Journey, allocating a different colour for each of the characters they will meet and when.

Novel structure highlighted in Excel
Highlight cells to show events or character arcs

Then there’s the ability to use separate worksheets. I like the idea of whittling down my novel to each chapter. So using a separate worksheet for each chapter, then setting up each scene in the columns and rows so I have a much closer view, and greater detail of what is happening.

Again, highlighting is helpful and keeping a Key at the start to keep track of everything helps too.

Key in Excel
Use a key to define the highlight colours

You can make this as simple or elaborate as you like, it’s entirely up to you.

Microsoft Visio

Not everyone has access to Visio since it’s a Microsoft platform for flowcharts and process maps etc. And I believe Edraw Max is the Visio equivalent for Mac users (happy to be corrected here). I like to use it as another digital means of planning a novel because I can move squares of information around the page.

I set up my file into separate chapters – similar to Excel, then I use a series of rectangles to note down each point that has to happen (or in the early stages of planning, what might happen) within that chapter.

Novel Structure in Visio
Use Visio to plan out your novel

Visio is also great because I can then move the rectangles around if a scene’s structure changes, and I can add further shapes to write notes.

Notes in Novel Visio
Add notes to the Visio plan for any revising

I also add images to my file, because sometimes it helps when writing the description of a setting, or a character if I have a visual representation of what it looks like.

Pictures for Novel Visio
Add pictures for reference to help with descriptions and setting

You can add pictures for reference in Excel too.

That’s just 2 ways you can organise the planning of your novel. I’m aware they’re both Microsoft platforms, but they’re what I have and what I know. Either of these methods can be adapted to any other platform. Don’t forget there are online options for these two types of platforms which will do the same job for organising the planning of your novel.

Next time I’ll be looking at more analog methods, ways you can organise your novel planning without the need of a digital device.

I hope this in some way helps you with your novel planning. Please let me know in the comments below!

Posted in Planning, Writing

Plans for Dining, I mean, Writing…

Planning out a story is a lot like cooking dinner. And I don’t mean a massive dinner party with twelve guests and a four course meal (although, that does still count). What I mean is, you have to decide what you’re going to serve; be that for the week, that night, or a special occasion. Obviously you determine what you need; do you already have it, have you run out of anything, and what do you need that you don’t have yet. Then when the time comes, you prepare the food; chop the vegetables, marinade the meat (or not), turn on the oven or stove and actually cook everything. There’s even the necessity of getting everything ready for the actual meal itself; setting the table, dishing it all up, and finally calling everyone to come and eat. There’s a lot to it, and the same can be said of the planning that is essential when going about writing a novel, short story, or even a blog post. Otherwise it comes down to little more than beans on toast every night.

Writing needs planning

Chances are, like me, you’ve had a brilliant idea for a story, banged out a couple of scenes, or a good chunk of it, only to fizzle out when the inspiration dries up, and you’ve reached a point where you simply don’t know how to get the characters from A to B, or even Q.

When I started out turning my writing into a serious hobby, planning for a novel was a hindrance, I found it boring and stifling when I’d rather be writing. Eating the meal is far more satisfying than all the preparation beforehand. But you wouldn’t be eating without it. Same again for writing. Though it’s not my absolute favourite part of the job, I know it’s absolutely vital to ensure the story is written well, and any hiccups along the way can usually be answered.

If you’re new to cooking, you’ll usually turn to a cookbook, or look online for people who are a lot more knowledgeable about the subject. That’s what I did for my writing. I did a bit of research on how others did it, and as I learned I began to explore different ways because not everyone has the same tastes.

Planning for more than just dinner

I’ll explain and explore several ways in which to plan, plot and eventually pen out that story. Though I won’t necessarily include the recipes for that dinner party, I do hope my ways of writing help you on your own writing journey.

 

Planning your writing is as essential as planning dinner