Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Novel Thoughts

Just for a little ruler for my own use, I typed a page from one of my favorite books (War of the Twins by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman) to see how many “words” it is. Turns out, it would be over 150,000 words. That’s crazy: as I’ve posted before, the average, let me repeat this, average book is 50,000 to 75,000 words. That means it’s at least long enough to be two books, and could in theory be four. But as I think about it, there’s not really any more story in it than mine, just a lot more little things. They took two whole chapters to do little more than make a cup of tea.
Perhaps I was wrong about older books. It seems Frankenstein is about 75,000 words. Fahrenheit 451 is about 60,000.

But in all honesty, I don’t think there’s any less story in my book than in any of these. I certainly wouldn’t even dare to criticize the craft of these masters (all of them are better than me, Shelley and Bradbury probably by a long shot). So what is it that makes my book so much shorter? I anticipate that by the time I’m finished, it won’t be over 40,000 words. I think this is it: although people drink coffee in my book (rather than tea), they don’t do it a whole lot, and they definitely don’t make a big production out of it. So I trim about 60% of that kind of fat. Why different from Shelley? Have you read Frankenstein? The language in the book is incredible—certainly not the dialogue that comprises a large portion of my book. It also describes every single emotion that each character felt, (well, at least the captain, Frankenstein, and the monster) at each stimulus, in minute detail.
Why different from Bradbury? This is more difficult. In fact, my writing style is quite similar to his (although he has long been master of the near-stream-of-consciousness), I think, and he’s probably been a large influence on my writing. I think a big chunk of this difference is that I need to add some more fat.
Maybe I should be comparing myself to amateurs instead, but these are the books I have. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the curiosity and ambition to type a page from a less well-known author to see what I can see.

Actually, now that I think about it, there may be a rib or two missing from my story, and I’m thinking of ideas for new scenes right now. For one thing, nearly every scene is written from a first-person, present tense perspective. There is exactly one flashback, a few dreams (or at least dream-like sequences), and a few letters/journals. I could review a scene or two from another perspective in the past tense (I’m thinking of one in particular right now) and add a couple more flashbacks/dreams, if for nothing else but for pacing and characterization. One of the last things I want is for a reader to feel gypped or unfulfilled. That’s not as bad as someone putting it down before finishing it, but it’s probably the second worst thing.

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