Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The long and the short of it

OK, so I'm somewhat more sociable now that I've finished the first draft of a previously unfinished novel. Didn't know how long it was going to be, but it ended up over 100k words, which was more than I had expected.

This story started off as a romance with no particular plot except the beginning. Reason for that was that I just wanted to write a novel that was a romance and clearly and without doubt had everything else tacked onto it as 'context', the framework within which whatever happens between two people plays out. If I had been Nora Roberts, which I'm not, I would have had this book with half again the length, with all the backstory, which was revealed during the course of the novel, actually played in real-(story)-time, as it were.

Come to think about it, I might just go back and, in a few months or so, and revisit the whole tale and do it that way, rather than starting it in what, in relationship terms, is the last quarter or so on the way to the denouement. But sometimes you have to let first drafts rest for a while, so they can mature in your head. At least you've got the story down—and at 100k words it's a solid tale—and that gets the obligation toward your characters out of the way. You haven't left them in the lurch, but you've accompanied them to a place whence they can proceed on their own and without your helping hand.

Taking backstory-exposition out of the novel would reduce it by anything up to 4k words max, but there's at least 20k words, and probably more, in the telling of the back-story itself.

As I said, thinking about it. Right now I'm content.

Back to writing romance. It's been suggested to me several times that, if I really wanted to make a living out of writing fiction, hell, why don't I write for a market with a wide guaranteed readership: romance fiction.

Reason is, I can't. M&B or anything that's soaked in syrupy stereotypical 'romance' formula just doesn't cut it with me. Can't read that stuff. Give me a bucket. I'm not knocking it, but it's for other people to tell. Besides, I hate anything that smacks of imposed formula. If I want to write stereotypes, I'd like to write them my own way.

I admit that I can consume a fair amount of Nora Roberts, but I have to choose carefully from the mass of books she's written or I get the drowning-in-girl-syrup sensation again. And the sexual 'feasting' and 'crushing lips' metaphors are getting a bit tiresome after a while. Also, I do have issues with exactly the same story told just in different settings, with displays of erudition on particular activities taken on by the female characters replacing variability in the romantic tales. Cleverly done, I admit, but I tend to skim-read over the excessive details of said activities to get to the bits that I'm interested in, which don't have to do with displays of how competent females can be in their chosen professions and how they can do anything guys can do. I know that, because, like that other great admirer of female competence, the late Robert Heinlein, I suspect that women are the stronger sex.

Right now I'm reading Chasing Fire, which ostensibly is all about smoke jumpers (though it really is all about sex and the get-to-marriage game), and it has some appreciated tweaks on the male-female relationship angle, but there's still a rhythm in the sequence of how things happen that's a repeat of quite a few other Nora Roberts novels I've read—and I'm very selective about which I spend time with and would like to think that these are the less stereotypical ones.

There's got to be a way to do this better; though obviously it satisfies the public, because NR sells a shitload of books—and good on her, by the way, because she tells good stories, and by and large they have good female role models in them. And Chasing Fire even describes sex by people over the age of 55, which is pretty daring.

So, my practice-romance, which isn't like your normal romance—if only because it's written by a straight male, who will usually try to hide in some way that he's writing a romance because that's really a girly thing, right?—may still have some time to go before it's finished. As usual, I'm doing a Terry Goodkind and packing a lot of general life-philosophy into it, without overloading it and making it tedious. It's a fine balancing act.

Oh, yes, and almost all of the last 2/3 of this novel, whose title is Your Choice (how absurdist can you get?) were written on the train to (usually) and from (occasionally) my day-job. Since I have a 50-60 minute train ride to my work, that's usually a long-enough period to get something down. I was working it out the other day: an average of 800 words per trip.

Same goes for this blog, by the way. Started at 05:35h and finished at 06:15, and it's over 800 words.

So, there's a lesson here for those who claim not to have any 'time' to write. It can be done. You can surely find the 45 minutes to hammer out those 800 words. Or maybe just 500? Who cares? 500 words every weekday, that's 2,500 words per week, 10,000 words per month and a dazzling 120,000 words a year. If you manage 1000 (at the other end of the productivity scale, and by the time this trip on the train is done I will have written closer to 1000 than 800 words) we're talking 20,000 words a month and a 100k word novel in a mere five months.

Writing novels part time is doable, and don't you forget it. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, but everything you write has the potential, upon re-visitation (and rewriting if necessary) to become salable. Better to write the not-so-great novel than not to write at all, wouldn't you say?

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