Posted on June 23, 2015
This is actually a post about editing. It will all make sense later.
There are certain segments of the population for whom word count is not a caution but a challenge. I am one of those people.
90k is like a sneeze, man. The first time I tried NaNoWriMo, I finished in the first five days. The only year I didn’t win was when I just stopped. I used WriteOrDie to see if I could write a thousand words in fifteen minutes. The answer is yes. (Just don’t ask about the typos.)
But I’ve never written anything just to see how long I could make it; I just never thought about how long something should be. This is a problem when you are no longer thirteen and writing serial installments of X-Men movie fanfiction masquerading as a horror story and posting it on AOL’s excessively moderated Blackberry Creek.
Though I have written fiction for most of my life, the thought of mastering pacing was something that flew right over my head until embarrassingly late. Long after I’d won NaNoWriMo. Long after I’d won NaNoWriMo many more times. Long after I’d banged out project after project detailing all the maudlin backstories of all my maudlin characters. Long, long after I’d finished writing chaptered Harry Potter fanfiction.
Up until this point, my most carefully crafted fiction had an outline of events that progressed a character to a known endpoint, with known Significant Events carrying me along. This is how I could write and finish so much so quickly. And yeah, I attracted non-friend readers who (still) asked to read that stuff. But in terms of making something coherent, in terms of making something tight, in terms of ohhh querying agents (which, thank god, I knew I wasn’t ready to do)… Actually, it’s the fact that each project was not meant for publication that allowed me to appeal to my own interests and the interests of my friends and nothing else. And that set me back. Because my goal has always been to be published one day.
Which brings me to today. Not, like, literally just today, but, you know. To the present Last Five Years.
Pacing isn’t easy for most people and it’s even worse when you’ve done everything in your power to never, ever think about it. So this lack of focus collides with over a decade of world-building and what you get is a giant, five thousand layer cake with no written recipe for smaller portions. I have to do that part when I’ve never done that part.
And so I come to editing.
Actually, what I came to was reality. In 2010, I finally made the decision to knuckle down and write a novel I intended to take out into the world. The world beyond LiveJournal.
I forced myself to avoid writing until I’d researched enough (something I will probably talk about some other day), so during the year that this happened, I primarily lived in a bubble of circus history and didn’t do any How Best to Write a Thing so that It’s Good research. It was when I finally began writing and the word count began climbing that I first discovered the world of word count expectation.
Genre variations aside, your average word count for your average adult novel rarely hits 90k, especially for a debut author (and I am not even that). Here I am, a loyal fanatic of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix beyond all other Harry Potter Books, and you’re trying to tell me that 90k is enough. HA.
I took comfort in the sometimes-mentioned fact that adult fantasy gets a little more leeway. But leeway usually doesn’t mean 50k more.
In planning out the story, I was doing everything I did before. I strung together events I knew happened to my character, all towards an ending that was set in stone (as well as a future that was even more concrete.) The only thing is, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t make a novel. That makes an exhaustive character background story, but it doesn’t make an interesting read. I had to, and have to, learn how to write with this intention in mind.
Is it possible to be too close to a character? Too familiar with her world? Answer: YES. (This is pink to show the truth in it.) (I will probably talk about this some day, too.)
How can you structure something when you can’t make room for the foundation? How can you turn a series of scattered bits of development into a coherent story when you didn’t create those developments for the sake of a tight narrative in the first place?
There is no answer in this post because I in the midst of trying to figure this out.
The Morass is the seemingly bottomless, sweltering thing that is editing. Editing THE SPECTACULAR, anyway. I wouldn’t be putting myself through any of it if I didn’t think the beast secretly had a heart of gold. I am going to hope that this metaphor doesn’t turn into Artax.