Friday, October 16, 2009

Just Not Enough Pages

When I first started writing, it was a struggle to fill the pages. Too much scientific academia had stripped my writing to the leanest of lean. I would look at those 65k word counts and sigh while other people complained about how they just couldn't tell a story in under 400 pages. I couldn't even begin to fathom 400 pages.

I've gotten better over the years. I can hit a solid 65k without too much trouble now (as long as I can make it through chapter 7). I've even made it as high as 90k, which is just six pages shy of 400, actually. Part of it is layering. That's an important step for me now, especially with paranormals. You have to set the stage, establish the magic, which is something I sorta glossed over before. Another part that has helped is getting in touch with my voice. My inner editor had been axing a lot of the silliness that I came up with because I didn't think it fit into what a romance novel should be. Letting my quirk into my stories has bumped up my page counts significantly and earned praise that tells me I'm on the right track.

Which leads me to my new problem. Now that I've unleashed the beast, how do I rein it back in? How do I write a 50-55k category novel when there's all this cool stuff in my head? I start off with a simple enough idea - perfect category book. Then I start plotting. Now I've got enough plot to fill a good chunk of the pages and that's without the character development, the romance, the internal conflict or my favorite part... the funny characters and situations that aren't critical to the story, but are just dying to get out. How do I cut out the quirky, old Egyptologists or the loud, Italian family that is a big part of my character's lives? I mean, I could skip all that, but I think that would mean cutting out one of my strengths.

Wise people have told me that you should never waste a single title idea on a category book. What am I supposed to do now that I struggle to come up with a category plot? Emotion is one of my weaknesses. I can't just write a story with two characters in conflict that emote for 230 pages. There has to be more going on for me to write it. Something aside from tortured pasts and inabilities to trust. A bad guy. A curse. Possession. Even sex - which is saying a lot for me and how much I dislike emoting. All this, if done well or at least, done to my own satisfaction, takes up lots of pages.

Part of me says I should just embrace this idea. Accept that I have a single title voice and go with it. So, I'll just sell single title instead, right? Nope. The single title market is a bear. Hell, the business as a whole is rough, but saying I'm going to start out as an untried author and shoot for single title is crazy talk. Can't hardly get in the door without an agent, then you start the "need an agent to get published, need to be published to get an agent" nonsense. Sigh. Everytime I start with the kernal of an idea, it just blows way out of bounds, but in a good way I don't want to fight. I guess I'll just continue to write what I write and see what happens.

Now that I've come to this realization, I'll get an offer from a category publisher and spend my time banging my head against the desk during edits. Gladly banging my head, but banging nonetheless. What about you? Come to any conclusions about your life lately?


P.S. PC is on a field trip today. Pop on over to the Bare Ass Cottage and say hi.


Christine said...

The best advice I ever heard was from a keynote speaker at a conference I attended. She said "never chase trends" and "write the stories YOU want to write."

That doesn't mean be self-indulgent and have long paragraphs of introspection. Nor does it mean not learning how to improve one's craft. But I do believe it means be true to your voice and to the people talking in our heads.

I was at the beach recently (wish I was there now), and my DD and I were riding waves. Sometimes we had to wait a while for a good wave to come along. And just to the west or east, we'd see huge ones hitting other people. It was so tempting to go run over to catch those waves. But I said, wait. The right wave will come hit us soon.

The trick is: be in the water, watch the waves, keep swimming--but as soon as you try to catch someone else's wave, you might miss the one that was meant for you all along.

On another note: I've discovered I can write short, category length stories but they have a ST feel to them. Now I know I want to hone that strength, and if necessary layer in the extra words. One good friend/CP suggested taking the scenes and layering in 100-200 words of emotional depth.

That adds a lot of words and is an excellent writing exercise.

Heidi said...

Hi Smarty Pants

Hmm, your post really got me thinking. And the thought that came up most in my mind was... Authors aren't born with a voice that either fits category or single title, they're born with a voice that they then have to hone and develop and perfect into well-crafted and page-turning stories.... That they can get published. The idea that you should have to limit your voice or your talent to write category is a myth. Just read one of Nora Roberts' great category books, or one of Linda Howard's. I defy anyone to tell me Nora's voice wasn't coming through loud and clear in the MacKade series or Linda's in the Mackenzie stories.

It's not about word count, it's about making sure that every word counts. And finding the imprint that's right for what you want to write (just as it would be for Single Title).

You like to write secondary characters. You like to be quirky, spontaneous and layer in the emotional conflict. So do I. Figuring out how to have all that in a 50K work count and not loose focus on the central romance is a total frigging nightmare frankly, but when you pull it off, it's pure bliss made all the more blissful by the fact that it was so hard to do. And your readers will thank you for it.

Good luck.

Right, now I'll pop back to my current 'total frigging nightmare!!'

Christine said...

Heidi--I love your comments about this issue. I totally agree. Get your voice down, hone your craft, and make every word count.

Category romances are very hard to write. And even if you get the word count right, it's hard to always get the right tone for the right line. Plus the lines change their directions/focus so often it is hard to keep up with the demands.

That's why I am moving forward, continuing to hone my voice, and I'm focusing on strengthening my writing voice.

I have no control over the industry. I only have control over my work and my targets.

That's why I sent out a bunch of queries yesterday. Like shooting arrows into a great abyss.

Angel said...

I agree with Heidi. I don't think this means you can't write category (um, you've written 2 that I know of, both great!), it just means THIS particular story is not meant for category. It is a bigger story that needs the fullness of single title to tell it accurately. But another category idea will come along when you need it, I'm sure.

But I think that it is good to be able to recognize when your book needs that bigger story. My first and only single title was intended to be a category, the first in a trilogy. Then I started writing it, and plotting some more, then I looked at it and said, uh oh. Definitely not category. Currently, it is sitting at 82,000 words. I never thought I'd be able to write that long (always been a short writer), but this story warranted it. And gave me a feel for a single title book.


Playground Monitor said...

I'm just not sure I can offer any insight into this, says the woman who thinks 10K words is writing long. I think Heidi has some great advice and I like Christine's wave analogy.

I just want my muse to book her return flight from Tahiti so I can write again.

Anonymous said...

Sister I can't give you any words of wisdom with this one, sorry about that. I'm trying to stay focused to get my office picked up and believe you me, it is needed!!! Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend!

Misty Wright said...

My advice, write the book, don't try to analysis it. Just write it. Just because this on isn't a category book doesn't mean the next want be. Besides, what is wrong with writing ST? Nothing in my book. It is part of your growing as a writer. It is how we learn our true voice, trail and error. Head up and get to writing!

Kathy said...

Christine, I love the bit about waiting on a wave. How cool is that? I think about this every morning on the way to work. If I stay in the lane I'm in, I will get there. But if I swerve to get in a faster lane, it will invariably be the longer wait.

Slow and steady wins the race, SP! Go with your gut every time. ;)