Saturday, July 17, 2010

Steven King, 180 thou is just too much.

A couple weeks ago, while reading Nathan Brandsford's fantastic blog, I read a poster's comment that almost made me barf:
In the otherwise miraculous book "On Writing", Stephen King gives two pieces of advice that seem to be on a lot of agents' no-no lists: (1) he suggests querying with a few chapters written, and (2) he suggests writing 2,000 words a day for three months, giving you a nice 180k word novel. Whenever I see someone mention a supersized novel, I wonder if that advice is behind it.
I almost died. I felt like a big fat idiot.

I read On writing last summer and said to myself, "well I'm writing a young adult novel, so I'll make mine 160,000 words." And I did. It is 160,000 words. Come to find out after discovering Nathan Brandsford and the world of blogging authors/agents/editors/publishers, that 150,000 is the cutoff for first-time adult fiction novelists. Oh crap.

And what was the debut young adult restriction? 100,000 words. I shot myself in the foot.

Why couldn't I have read all this a year ago? That poster's comment shocked me into a regret that lasted two days and spanned every aspect of my life.

Before I wrote my first book, I didn't seek out anything other than King's word-count advice. I didn't even really research the market. I was naive, or lazy maybe. Or maybe I just needed to prove to myself that I could do it.

But it's okay, because I'm here now. And I love where I'm at. In response to yesterday's post, I've found a tool that not only exists outside my brain, but limits it! How delicious.

Word Count makes it so easy for me to feel either accomplished, wordy, or brief. Word Count labels my life. Okay, that was extreme.

I have a way to make my ideas tangible and small. Life is big but my books are small. Duh, right? But listen. If a book were as big as life...umm no...(don't listen). I can't even finish that sentence. All that comes to mind is apocalypse, explosion, and a twenty-year-old man who looks 102 and then dies. Sounds like I've got the premise for my third novel.

So basically, a word count goal limits a writer. Like a canvas would to a painter.

But WAIT! THERE'S MORE! I have another tool.

On Voice. (Darn you Steven King!)

I couldn't even read my first book out loud. It felt awful. All wrong. But I love reading other people's books out loud. I do an excellent Hermione, and a darn good everybody else. Really I do. Except that I'm shy and can only do it for Gabe and Deven.

I couldn't even read my own book out loud to Gabe. What the hell?

I didn't think I was a capable of mastering the complexity of my characters. They were too real to me. I dreamed of someday doing the audio for the book, but I couldn't even read it aloud to myself.

Voice is ESSENTIAL to writing. And it's auditory. It's kinda/sorta outside the brain. It limits me (thank the Lord). It makes my book tangible. I have just had a revelation! Writers must focus on how their audience will absorb the product. This is hard for writers to do. Dancers and performers can look in the mirror. Actresses can do screen tests. Painters can take two steps back. And so on.

Writing is very personal. You can't just sneak a peak. You can't see it from the bleachers or eye it from across the museum room. You have to get up close, and let it fill your head. The writer's tools are all about how your head gets full.

If you hold a book, you probably don't want it to break your hand. Enter:

If it's read out loud to you, you want your mommy or teacher or wife to do fun, entertaining voices. (I love you, J.K. Rowling.)

So yeah, Steven King gets to write books that can send you to the hospital, because obviously he writes some good shit. (Though I doubt he could get me to growl like Hagrid.)

Uh, oh. There's a conundrum. That conundrum being e-books. They aren't heavy. My laptop weighs a hell of a lot less than the university library (fake tans and mow-hawk dreads are heavier than you'd think).

Kindles and iPads enable people to load tons of books on a device they can balance on one finger. How do they choose these books? How do they know if the writer is worth his weight if the item weighs nothing? They get a sample!

It's not just about weight. It's about layout. LAYOUT! I have another tool :)

Long books can't hide. They have .25 inch margins and not enough paragraphs on the page. Well, so do these e-books. If they start making separate, sparser layouts for these e-books, Jacqueline Carrey's books will be as long as the Bible (I'm talkin' to you, Steven King).

WORD COUNT, VOICE, and LAYOUT. Readers are going to use these things to help them choose what to buy and decide what they like.

So writers should use them too.

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