Tuesday, June 5, 2012

World Building, Word Count, and Other Daily Beasts

Hello Beardies :)

A couple nights ago, Elizabeth and I were having one of our infamous, late-night textathons (I am sure she regrets me discovering that she possessed an iPhone, which meant she and I could text for free via iMessage on my iPod).  During our ribbons of various topics of discussion, Elizabeth posed the following question, accompanied by the resulting comments:

Elizabeth: Why do Fantasy writers work in trilogies and series?  Standalone fantasy is a rare duck.  And sometimes I'll even wait until I know a series is complete before reading it.

Having spent about a decade (at least) crafting and perfecting the world in which my own story takes place, I immediately replied:

Joshua: I think it's because fantasy worlds take so much effort for the writer to "build" that they (I can attest) don't often want to abandon that world after just one book. 
Elizabeth: That's my feeling too.  I actually have nothing against trilogies as planned trilogies; it's when I can tell that the only reason for another story is that a series has become a cash cow that I have issues.

This conversation came after a previous discussion of the manuscript for The Son of Drynntorm, for which I have had issues finding an agent mainly due to, I think, its hefty word count.  Elizabeth--many thanks and many debts owed to her--agreed to give the manuscript a read-through a little over a month or so ago, and in doing so, has provided me with some suggestions and insight.  She also called me out (kindly and respectfully, of course) on one particular thing: missing pieces of the puzzle.

The only response I offered was that I edited for word count, taking out scenes that would not be missed as part of the whole story.  They didn't, however, go unnoticed by Elizabeth.  In reading, she could tell where I had edited and thinned for word count.  She admitted to wanting to see the manuscript before the cutting, but I sadly did not save the copy (aside from it being locked inside my head).  She was a bit shocked and saddened that she would not get to read the unedited version--apparently so much that is spawned a little soapbox action, for which I highly commend her.

Today, very much related to the aforementioned discussion, I received an email from Elizabeth--a forwarded response from her discussion about an article that circulated around her group of colleagues from various libraries in the vicinity of her own. But before I share her response to this article, let me first share with you the actual article so you can arrive at your own opinion of the matter.


You don't have to read the article.  (For someone who complains about the length of a novel, he surely spit out an awful amount of words to say the point which he made in the tagline of the piece... all without answering the very questions he posed).  But do click on the link and read the multitude of hilarious comments that are thrown the author's way.  My little treat.

So, I do have to share Elizabeth's response to this article within our own discussion (her emailed response still to follow) because I nearly peed myself.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Elizabeth: And who is this writer? His idea of pleasure reading is a 1000-page book on the oil industry? Someone at least give the poor bugger The Cat in the Hat.
Without further ado, here is the response from her discussion with her colleagues earlier today:

Elizabeth:  So today's debate was about the length of books and how maybe books are getting longer because writers are getting lazier--there was an article about it and it started getting tossed around in a discussion group. I responded thus: 
I'm actually not opposed to long books if they are well-edited and tell a good story or cover a topic that interests me. Some stories simply take longer to tell, and good stories are worth the time. This is especially true of fantasy and other speculative fiction due to world-building. It takes more words to build a world into which the reader can be pulled--words to fire the imagination. Hence, I feel that speculative fiction especially has a pass to be longer than most books, within reason. The bottom line is, a true bibliophile is going to read no matter what, and if a person is looking for short novels, there are plenty of those to be found too.

My apologies for the soapbox moment, but word and page count is really affecting my life right now, so this article and discussion has struck a nerve.

A month or so ago a friend from undergrad asked me to look at his manuscript. Not a favor I'd do for just anyone, but I've always known this man to be a gifted author, so I said yes. I'm currently working through it, and it is awesome. It's 515 pages including appendices, and we have had endless discussions of word count because he's 10000 words over the limit for most publishers. I'm reading this book and would do ANYTHING not to have to find 10000 words to cut when there aren't a dozen wasted words in the book. It's a good story, it's well-written and well-executed, and it deserves to be told and published and in the hands of much better than I. He has already edited for word count, cut entire scenes and chapters, and I can FEEL where that got done. And when I feel it, it makes me sad. I want MORE, not LESS--and definitely not less if it's only less because there will be some readers who will think it's too long and thus not give it the time of day. It insults me as a writer, editor, reviewer, and reader...and as a FRIEND of a person who so richly deserves to be published...that this book is getting ignored because of word count whilst I review books for a professional journal that aren't even half as good.
As I fear this post's own word count might be climbing, I will end it shortly.  But not without first saying this:

Are we really becoming that lazy as a society where word count is a true problem?  Granted, I will agree that some writers are getting a little slack on their lack of cutting unneeded words that do nothing to enhance the story.  I was told by my writing coach that every word must be put there for a reason... if you can't defend its purpose, then get rid of it.  I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I cut out, what I felt, were unneeded words from my own manuscript.  But seriously, folks?  In my eyes, the thicker and heavier the book, the better.  As I received each release of the new Harry Potter books, I stared in awe at each book's thickness and welcomed their heft within my grasp.  A thicker book to me only means a longer read--a longer excursion into a world created for pure entertainment where I can escape from this (apparently) lazy one.

Happy Scribing (despite what the Daily Beast says),


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