Finishing Up

I’ve mentioned before that I rewrite as I go when I work on a book.  This time, for the Lux novel I’m working on, I felt as though I’d written too lean.  I have a habit of doing that.  So before I reached the last chapters, I went back and polished everything I’d already done.  I added a character because I thought the story needed it.  And as always, I added more description and details.  Then I read the first chapter to my writers’ group on Wednesday, and they wanted even MORE description.  I must have REALLY written lean this time:)

The result is, I think I’ve made this book too short, but that’s how I’d planned it when I started out.  I intended to self-publish it on Amazon.  When I write a Muddy River, I purposely aim for about 60,000 words.  I’ve said many, many times that I’m a plotter.  I’m not only a plotter, I pretty much know how many plot points I need to get the number of words I want.

For a Muddy River book, I write out 30 plot points.  30 plot points usually equate to 60,000 words for me.  IF, which I don’t, I wrote chapters that were at least 10 pages, I’d end up with 300 pages and close to 70,000 words, but many of my chapters are much shorter, sometimes only 6-8 pages, so I need the 30 points to reach the word count I want.  And 30 always have worked on Hester, Raven, and their supernatural friends.  So, when I sat down to plot Lux, I made myself come up with 30 ideas and an extra one for good measure.  But I don’t have as many descriptions and as many characters in this mystery.  Hester and Raven meet friends at Derek’s bar to discuss what’s happening, and they travel back and forth to interview people in other towns.  That doesn’t happen with Lux, so I’m coming up short on words.  I had to come up with a few extra ideas.  I could have FORCED each chapter to be longer, but then the writing would FEEL forced.  This book has a fast pace I like.  Right now, I’m at 50,000 words with three more plot points before I finish the story and I still need to polish the chapter I worked on today.  That will add words.  It always does, but I’m not sure I’m going to able to summon even 60,000 before I write The End.  No problem if I still planned to self-publish.

BUT, I like this book so much, I’d really like to find a publisher for it.  Most publishers want at least 70,000 words for a  mystery, though, and there’s NO WAY I’m going to make that.  To come up with a book that length, I plot out 40-45 plot points and end up with about 35 chapters.  I just don’t have enough to make Lux a longer book, and the thing is, I really like it the way it is.  I don’t want to tear it apart and rework it to make it longer.  So I have a dilemma.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I’ve always believed in sending in stories I believe in, with the idea that my agent or editor can always turn me down.  And if they do, then I can self-publish.  But my fearless critique partner, M.L. Rigdon, swears I write sparse enough, she can find lots of places for me to expand descriptions that will make the book better and the right length.  I’ve learned an important lesson, though.  The next time I write a Lux novel, I’ll need more plot points just because her books don’t have as many  “down” times or “soft” scenes that my other books have.  They move faster, so they need more ideas to fill them.

Toward that end, I came up with a list to fill out before I start plotting my next one.  It should give me more characters to choose from and more things to keep in mind: (and remember, this is for mysteries):

  1.  Who’s killed (the first victim), or what is the crime?
  2.   Why is the crime committed?
  3.   Who commits it?  List how and when he commits it.
  4.   Who are the suspects?  At least two.  Why are they suspects?  Any more?
  5.   Any witnesses?  Innocent bystanders?
  6.   What’s the ending?  (I always know the ending before I start a book).
  7.   Any special clues or red herrings?  Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  (I don’t always know these before I begin and have to fill them in later).
  8.   A subplot (something going on with a character besides solving the murder)
  9.   A second subplot (smaller)

I usually don’t bother with answering all of these questions, but I’m going to make myself for the next Lux,  because I know now that I’m going to need them.

Whatever you’re working on, good luck and happy writing!

Not Enough

I got notes back from one of my critique partners.  More red than usual.  I wasn’t surprised.  I was trying to change an old–and not so wonderful–writing habit.   I’m more than happy to write:  She smiled.  He frowned.  And more times than should be humanly possible: He sighed.  A friend at writers’ club called me on it.  “We can do better than this, can’t we?”

Yes, yes, I can, but only if I work at it.  The problem?  My brain only seems capable of concentrating on so much.  In this book, I wanted to step up my tags and step up my pacing.  And as usual, things I normally do fairly well sagged a bit from neglect.  Not the end of the world.  Red ink circles show me what I need to fix.   Thank you, Mary Lou!

On my next book, my learning curve should go more smoothly.  The old and new should blend better.  AND, I should have enough ideas, witnesses, victims, and suspects to reach 70,000 words without panicking.  Plotting mysteries, for me, takes more than plotting romances.  Now, I know, I’m addicted to plotting when a lot  of my friends don’t even have to bother with it.  But for my mysteries, I’m not plotting enough.

I’m not sure why, but if I came up with 40 chapter ideas for the urban fantasies I wrote a long, long time ago as Judith Post, I could pound out 80,000 words if I wanted to, no problem.  Urban fantasy craves more description, battles that escalate the longer the book goes, and strong characters.  All things that demand words, so that word count grows organically.  It just happens.  It flows.

When I switched to writing romances as Judi Lynn, I used the same format–40 plot points, but this time, I only needed 70,000 words.  For romance, characters interacting with each other made up the majority of the words I used.  And 40 plot points morphed pretty well into 70,000 words for me.  The same hasn’t held true for mysteries.  I sang a sad dirge when I reached the end of this book’s first draft and was 10,000 words short.   I struggled to hit 70,000 words for my first mystery, too.

Now, I have friends who can cough up 100,000 words with no plot points with no problem.  And yes, I’m jealous.  They’re wonderful people, or I wouldn’t like them anymore.  But every writer’s different, and for me, starting a book with no plot points is like traveling across country with no maps or GPS.  I’d be lost all the time and take a winding, unusual route.  I might never reach my destination.

When I write mysteries, I’ve found that my chapters are shorter.  And I need more subplots.  I also need more suspects.  In this book, I introduced a perfect suspect and then didn’t do anything with him.  I gave him an alibi before I found the next body.  Shame on me.  When I figured out I’d made a mistake, I had to go back and add him in more scenes, and then, I had enough pages.  But going back and threading in scenes is a pain in the derriere, so I don’t want to do that again, if I can avoid it.  So, for my next mystery, I want to have 50 plot points before I forge ahead with the book.  And I want to list the victim/s, family members affected by the murder/s, witnesses, suspects, and anyone who might interfere with finding the killer.   And who knows?  Maybe I’ll end up with more words than I expected.  But at least, I’ll have plenty of material to work with.

Whatever you’re writing, and however you write, have fun with it!  I’ll be deep into editing this week.   Happiness is making words better!

My webpage (and I put up chapter 33):

Author Facebook page:

Twitter”  @judypost     (I’d love to hear from you!)

Writing–Size DOES Matter

When I first started writing, I sat down, pounded on my keyboard, and wrote until a story was done.  I didn’t consider word count or length.  It didn’t occur to me that 3500 words might sell better than 15,000 words in some markets.  I quickly learned to pay closer attention.  If I was interested in getting a story in a certain magazine, I looked up the submission guidelines before I ever wrote the first word.

When I worked on short stories for Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, the guidelines stipulated stories not over 12,000 words.  I looked at Ellery Queen mystery magazine, and the guidelines were 2500-8,000 words.  At a mystery writers’ conference, someone said that the slots for longer stories usually went to writers with “names.”  That made sense to me.  Editors use the names of well-known writers to help sell magazines, so I tried to keep my stories in the shorter part of the word range, usually aiming for 3,000 to 3500 words, and I think that gave me an edge.

When I started concentrating on writing novels, I looked up guidelines for those, too.  At the time, mysteries often ranged from 70,000 to 90,000 words for mid-list writers.  Most still do.  Big writers don’t have to worry as much about going too long or too short.  They don’t have to follow as many rules as beginning writers do.  The first book they published is worth a look, because they weren’t famous when they sold that one, but usually, it’s safer to study books that are selling now.  I look online to get a general feel for how many words/how many pages most writers in a genre are aiming for.

Rules have changed now that authors can self-publish on amazon or other online sites, but it still helps to be aware of basic expectations.    Some publishers are specific about what they want.  Most picture books are 32 pages and total 500-600 words.  Harlequin lists its various lines and how many words it wants for each.  For example, Harlequin American Romance wants 55,000-60,000 words.  Harlequin Nocturne wants 80,000-85,000.  For most novels, 80,000 is a safe length.   Flash fiction is usually under 1,000 words, some publishers asking for only 250-750 words, so it’s safer to look up specific publications.  Short stories are defined as 1500 to 30,000 words, and novellas as 30,000 to 50,000 words.  But the rules have changed a bit for those online.  Many authors offer 60 to 100 page stories and list them as novellas.  For a while, authors even offered shorter stories (about 40 pages), like I did, and labeled them that way.  It’s always safer to study the market and see what’s out there, and the market changes, so an author needs to stay current.  My agent, Lauren Abramo, told me that she likes books on Kindle to be shorter than print books.  She suggested 70,000 words for books online.

Story length isn’t the only thing to think about when a writer starts a first draft. Chapter lengths and scene breaks are something to think about, too.  They affect the feel and flow of a story.    I’ve been told by a few writer friends that they write shorter chapters for their online novels.  Short chapters make a book feel like it’s moving faster, that the pace is quicker.  The other alternative is to write longer chapters with several scene breaks.  Long, flowing chapters slow the pace.  A writer can use short chapters to add a sense of action or movement and then slow the pace for moments when he wants the reader to “sit” for a moment.

A writer friend once told me that when he starts a story, he writes whatever length is needed to bring that story to life.  Artistically, I agree.  Realistically, I’d rather have something specific to aim for.  Rules can be broken, but why break them unless it’s for a good reason?