Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Insecure Writer's Support Group 3

It's time for this month's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Thanks, as ever, to Alex Cavanaugh for putting this together. Here are the participants if you'd like to read more.

So, what am I thinking about this month? If you read my last post, you already know my feelings about editing. This is kind of an extension of that.

I'm not sure I actually have a full length novel in me.

Before I started my first novel, I assumed I would write long and have to delete thousands of words. At school, my stories were always longer than everyone else's. At uni, my essays were double the length they needed to be. I used to cut and paste them. I mean, literally. I would cut paragraphs up, move them around and stick them onto paper. My dissertation, which had a 16k limit, started life at 40k words. So I resigned myself to having to kill a lot of darlings.

I wish. I've written four stories, (I can't bring myself to call them novels), ranging from 36,000 to 55,000 words. I know there is stuff that needs to be added, but there's stuff that needs to be removed too. I think my problem is that, whilst I have good ideas for main plots, I don't have sub-plots. I tell myself to concentrate on the stories and not to worry about the length, but if I do that then I feel like I'm giving up on publication. Which isn't so bad, publication still seems like pie in the sky to me right now anyway, but then I feel like a fraud, being here with all of you, having this blog.

Perhaps these are just not the right stories, but I love them. In the right hands, I think they could be really good. If only they were longer.


  1. My current novel is 45k. I think a novel is more than just length, it's structure and depth too. Yes, you've written short, but as you re-write and maybe consider the odd sub-plot, these works will grow to a length you feel is more fitting. If in doubt, make the font 14pt before you submit it!

  2. I just wanted to share something I read in the paper yesterday - Publishers are currently actively looking for shorter works as they translate onto Kindle platforms and reading habits more easily. Just saying! people's reading habits are changing. If this form works for you - go with it and explore.
    And hey, I don't care what or how much you are writing. Are you writing? Well yes you are. So you are a writer. And, an extremely cool blogger too.

  3. Ah, yes. Sub-plots are key to creating that full length novel. They provide depth and "curviness" to the story. Sub-plots take us away from the main conflict (sometimes when we don't want to) and carry us away on detours that, when correctly done, entwine themselves neatly with the climax of the main plot. And we, the readers, say ... Ahh, they fit together all along.

    Maybe you need to invest more time in your minor characters, or create more than one goal for your main character. Maybe the MC has one problem, and the love interest has a different problem, and the novel is about how these these problems intertwine.

    I don't know how easy it would be to revise an existing story into novel length by just "inserting" a sub-plot. But it is very possible to "re-envision" the original story and do a complete re-write -- keeping substantial parts of the original draft, but taking the story in a new direction.

    Does this help, or am I rambling?

  4. Whatever you do...don't insert the mid-story slump. That stuff is horrific.

  5. Keep writing. Maybe the stories you've written aren't publishable... but you are learning from them.. and if you are still having fun writing them, then KEEP GOING!!!!!!!

  6. What Dianne said. Giving some of the secondary characters more time "onstage" -- and some of their own conflicts -- can really round out a story.

  7. Plotting really helps for me when I get to this point. Also, have you tried freewriting daily (or as often as you can)? I have a prompt book that gives me a new prompt every day, and when I get slumped and don't know where my story should go next, I freewrite and usually whatever I write I find I can tie in to my WIP. It's worth a try. Keep writing, you'll get it!! :D

  8. As with everyone, keep writing. Put those away for a time. Maybe you just need space, so start another one. Then maybe in a month or two, pick one of the four and see what happens. My first one is only 19K.

  9. Some stories stand alone. I see nothing wrong with a novella length work. In fact, if I like the voice and the writing, I'll be more likely to pick up another book by the same author. With everyone's time at a shortage, putting those short stories out there may be just what it takes to get a following. And when a bigger story comes, they'll love that one, too.

  10. No worries! You got it in the bag. The only difference between a 55k novel and a 90k is a few subplots. I think you're fab.

  11. Outlining really helped me organize my story. The subplots will come, don't be too hard on yourself. Keep writing, that's most important.

  12. I thought that was an excellent point about the kindle. I often will download a shorter work on there. Also, depending on the genre your length might work. Stephen King talked about always having to cut his shorter and I know I always wish I had more so I could feel secure in the cutting. But in the end, as others have said, you are writing. You mentioned putting the stories in the right hands and I want to say no one can handle your story better than you.

  13. I realize that when an end to a story leaves a reader wanting to read more is when the book becomes loveable. My Mom used to tell us to focus on a good ending, it does not have to be happy as sometimes a tragic ending can come out as a winner too.

  14. I think you're awesome. I wouldn't worry about length right now. If you're having fun writing, keep it up! ;) And there are such things as novellas and novelettes. They're in the 30,000-50,000 word range. :)

  15. My WIP is topping out at 60k. That's it. Would I like to round out more sub plots and "fill-in?" Sure, I guess. But that's what it would be - just fill. Nothing more. So write what needs to be written to tell your story. Stop looking at the word count or page count (easy for me to say right? No, I'm the type that reformats her page size to see how many actual "book" pages I've written...bad.) and just write. You may find that there are more to your novels when you just give in to them and let them roam free. Or maybe not, and that's okay too. Who says a novel has to be 70k words (or whatever the minimum is)? Publishers? Pssh, what do they know? :)

    Author of Concilium, available July 2012
    Concilium: The Departure, November 2012

  16. I wouldn't worry about it too much. Once you start editing you might surprise yourself when you look back and see thousands of new words. They do add up. :) If not, as long as the story is how you want to tell it, them you're good to go. Good luck, Sarah!

  17. Aloha Sarah,

    Don't let the bad days get you down - fight the good fight, and remember you have a talent that you're using (and *not* wasting.)

    Take a break, have a Kit-Kat and maybe add a character that REALLY, REALLY likes to repeat what he just said. (Or, you could add a character who just really likes to repeat what he just said.)

    Just saying.
    Just saying :)

  18. I believe you can do it! You have a full length novel in you, you just have to stick with it. Still, short stories are good, too. Perhaps you should write for a younger audience. Have you thought about MG or children's? The word count is so much lower, it may be a good fit for you.

  19. Ugh, sub-plots. The bane of my writing existence.

  20. Don't get too hung up on length, shorter novels are still as popular as the epic doorstep, it just depends on the genre and who your readers will be. No need to force the sub-plots either; you might find that characters/plot points from a story you cooked up ages ago fit in with your main WIP and boom! you've got your sub-plot.

  21. You are right: often the problem with short books is that they don't have enough subplots and ones that are too long often have too many subplots, lol.

    But I wouldn't worry too much if I were you. Novellas are becoming more and more popular these days. Especially in ebooks.

  22. The subplots can be tricky cuz they have to tie in but not overtake the plot. I typically use romantic subplots to help buffer the story. You can categorize your stories as novellas and pub them with anthologies or just as novellas... they do pretty well in eBook form. And hey, a writer's a writer, regardless of how long your stories are. Stephen King wrote many short novella style stories.

  23. I believe that at some point, you'll find the motivation to do what needs to be done to take your stories to where you think they should be. Meantime, keep working. When I'm in the middle of editing, I enjoy what I'm doing. Before I get started, it's the hardest thing to get myself moving.

  24. Maybe these stories won't end up the right length for a novel, but that doesn't automatically make them unpublishable - they might work as ebooks, or serials or pocket novels.

  25. I think everyone else has said it all! You may also try asking a critique partner to have a look...sometimes other people who love writing/reading can see elements that can be developed that the author just can't see. Sometimes, as the author, we're just too close to our own work!

  26. You're at the point, I think, where you could really use a few pairs of new eyes. Perhaps it's not more sub-plots per se but more character development?

    You're not alone, Sarah! I have the same fears.

  27. So many great classic novels have been short: The Great Gatsby can be read in a single sitting; The Stranger; Of Mice and Men; Daisy Miller; Lord of the Flies; Farenheit 451. More recently: The Road. Maybe you're just a short novelist? Maybe it means your writing is incredibly tight? Don't stress it. As long as you don't feel like you're not developing your story (that would be a flaw to work on), there's no law that says you have to write War and Peace.

  28. Maybe your length will come in revisions. When I revise, yes, I do have to take stuff out (sometimes entire scenes), but I add way more than I put in, fleshing out characters, adding setting and action, etc. By the time I finish all my drafts, I've usually added 10,000-15,000 words. So don't despair. Maybe you're the same way, a bare-bones first-drafter who needs to layer in all the fancy stuff during revisions. In the long run, it's much nicer than having to cut, cut, cut.

  29. My first MS came out at a whopping 140K. That one ended up under the bed. Now, I tend to write short from 45K - 60K and always feel I can add depth with words. Maybe have a beta look at it and see if there are scenes that can be extended or characterizations that can be enhanced. ? . Don't give up.

  30. I won't even scare you with how long my first two books were then.

  31. They don't dominate the market, but there are stories that are relatively short. And as other commenters have mentioned, books can lengthen during revisions/editing.

  32. If you love your stories, then don't throw in the towel. I have some wips that I set aside for a year and then come back to. Maybe you can do some brainstorming with some writer friends for some good subplots for your stories. I'd just work on one at a time, though. I bet you you'll not only have a wonderful time brainstorming with your friends but you'll also come up with some surprising twists and subplots for your stories.

    Another exercise you might try is to think about your story before falling asleep at night, especially the part/parts you want to solve a problem with. Give your subconscious an assignment, to work on it while you're sleeping, and also keep tossing ideas around in your head as you drift off to sleep. When you awake, don't jump out of bed. Try to be still and remember your dreams. You might just discover something really cool that your subconscious uncovered for you!

    Best of luck to you. And you are NOT a fraud. Don't even go there. You've knocked out 4 books already, and so they're not finished, but that's a pretty darn good accomplishment. So positive self-talk from now on, okay?

  33. It sounds like you are really good at writing novellas. I don't think that's a failing. I can't write a short story, but I can do a 90K novel. Everyone has different natural strengths when it comes to writing.

  34. 55K is a novel length and many places are looking for shorter works - it costs less to print and easier for e-readers. And the fact that you've done that much is already a huge achievement. You're doing really well. Plus, you can always weave a subplot or two as you revise a novel...:)

  35. Your word count is actually very appealing to agents as an unpublished author. Makes me wish I hadn't started out with door stoppers.

    You can do it. I find editing to be more enjoyable than the creative process because you get to tinker and improve on existing material rather than reaching for the next right word to use. :)

  36. Yes, with ebooks shorter works or novellas are terrific! And it's hard, learning how to stretch a story to 70K words. I suggest reading how the books you love do it. :)

  37. I agree that you could shoot for a novella. I'm OK with subplots; usually I have to cut some out once I'm done! If you have focused on the main plot thread how about take a deeper look at it and see what it could spawn off? Does a secondary character have a backstory worthy of tying into the main goal? What other complications can you create for your characters? Good luck! You'll reach full length soon enough!

  38. My first drafts are just the main plot, then when I come up with a "theme" for my novel, or a short synopsis, I often get ideas for subplots to add in.

    It's why short stories are so nice. All you have room for is the main event :D

  39. Annalisa - Your font suggestion made me giggle, thank you :-)

    Laura - That's good news about the shorter stories. Thank you, too, for those kind words.

    Dianne - You're not rambling at all Dianne, believe me. Thank you.

    Michael - Oh, Hell no!

    Cristina - Best. advice. ever.

    Linda G - I've realised that some (okay, all,) of my secondary characters are rather 1D. It's somewhere to start :-)

    Cortney - I like the idea of freewriting, thank you.

    Donna S - That's excellent advice. I picked up one I hadn't looked at for a while, and I could already see things to change.

    Julie F - Although I think three of them need to be longer (because I've left stuff out, at least one is perfect novella length :-)

    Erin - Aww, thank you, that's a lovely thing to say :-)

    Andrea - I should remember this. 'Keep writing' is my favourite piece of advice.

    Nancy - I like the way you think :-)

    Munir - I agree. 'Good' does not always equal 'happy'.

    Chantele - Thank you! I happen to think you're rather awesome too :-)

  40. Michelle - Wait - I can reformat page size? Jokes aside, you talk a lot of sense, thank you :-)

    Ruth J - I suspect, now I've had some excellent advice, that this is going to be true.

    Mark - You are brilliant. That is all :-)

    Emily - I wish I had a good idea for an MG book. I'd love to catch 'em early! Thank you for the vote of confidence :-)

    Christine - I get the impression that was said with real feeling :-)

    Jamie - I think you're right. I need to concentrate on the story itself. If I shoehorn something in, I suspect the joins will show :-)

    Lynda - I didn't think about it before, but these days I suspect there's a home for every length.

    PK - Thanks for the Stephen King reminder. I happen to love some of his shorter works.

    Joy - You're right. I spent so much time thinking 'I don't know how to do this' when all I needed to do was start :-)

    Patsy - I can't believe novellas didn't enter my head before I wrote this post. Talk about missing the wood for the trees :-)

    Elizabeth R - This was exactly what I needed to do :-)

    Liz F - Indeed I am, I see that now. It's good to know I'm not alone, thank you :-)

  41. Gail - Good points. Long books are too heavy anyway :-)

    Caryn - True. It must be awful to cut huge chunks you love out of your novel.

    Elizabeth A - 140k, wow! I'm not feeling so sorry for myself now, and definitely not giving up!

    Diane W - I'm going to take a wild guess that you don't write short :-)

    Golden Eagle - Thank you. I'm feeling much happier now. I should remember there is no 'can't be done', any more :-)

    LynnNerdKelley - Thank you for your advice but, even more, thank you for the words of encouragement :-)

    Lydia K - For someone who believes in everyone being their own self, I did a great job of comparing myself to others :-)

    Tania - Thank you for the encouragement. Never mind the word count let's just get it finished :-)

    David K - Thank you. Who knows, now I've stopped being scared, I might even enjoy editing too :-)

    Laura P - Read more books? Excellent advice :-)

    Caroline - Secondary character backstory is something that's been pinpointed for change, so you're spot on :-)

    Jolene - Well, I'm in the process of reading how you do it at the moment and, I have to say, I'm impressed :-)

  42. Oh I feel so bad that you would ever feel like a fraud! I think we're all lumped together because we love writing. That's what we all have in common - not publication goals and who makes it and who doesn't and how long our novels are. Be encouraged, my friend! We're all muddling through this together.


  43. Thank you so much for these encouraging words, Amy, it means a lot.


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