Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Autumn Veil: What it Means to Write 200,000 Words

Current Word Count of Autumnveil: ~207,000
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It was within the first year and a half of writing that I realized telling the whole story of Autumnveil would take over 200,000 words. Even at that time I knew this would be a hurdle to publishing for an unpublished novelist. As common knowledge goes, sci-fi/fantasy works for new writers shouldn't exceed 125,000 words.

I wonder sometimes if I should try to divide the story differently in order that my first publishing attempt might go easier Act I, which concludes with a climax and rapid falling action, is about 100,000 words and could probably stand alone if it absolutely had to. But dividing the story there doesn't feel organic to me. There are so many questions left over. Maybe that's good. Maybe those questions will keep readers begging for more, but so much of my maturing as a novelist really started happening in Act II. This is when the fruit of historical and language studies, traveling during my summers, reading how-to books by Stephen King and John Gardner, and critiquing like crazy on Scribophile.com really started to blossom. I think Act I is beautiful and tense. It's not like The Name of the Wind (another first novel) that would leave everybody angry and scratching their heads if it stopped suddenly at 100,000 words. Rothfuss's first novel had to end when it ended, and not a moment sooner. Can the same be said for my first work?

It will be a hard truth to swallow, but I'm probably going to get a lot of rejection slips based solely on the fact that my novel is long and I'm not a name in literary circles. Writing is art. Publishing is business. Somewhere in the overlap of those two spheres is something that will get me paid for investing 5,000 hours into the lives of fictional people.

Cresting 200,000 words is a milestone. It means that Autumnveil is longer than The Two Towers and The Return of the King. It's longer than Moby Dick and every Harry Potter book (less Order of the Phoenix). It's longer than Jayne Eyre and Great Expectations and The Grapes of Wrath. It's twice the length of Ender's Game and nearly six times the length of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

But size isn't all that matters in the arts. I've learned to be terse and effectual, to cut excess verbiage (countless occurrences of "that") and make every word count. I've also learned where I want to be verbose. Our critiquing groups and our editors advise us to always cut our writing into bite-sized pieces. Sometimes this is the right path to tread, but not always. I've learned where to let my words draw the reader in with the force of their valency, with the poetry of language, and the arts of irony and parallelism and juxtaposition. Most of all, in spite of criticism and praise, I've learned when and where to stick to my guns.

I've learned that "always" is the most overused word in the world of writing advice. I've learned that when it comes to the arts, and the methods of creating art, I am a staunch relativist.

Creating people is not so much something I learned as it is something I learned to better channel. Creating people is what I do, as natural to me as the daydreaming out of which so many of my stories have been born.

I feel like I could write 50,000 words about what I've learned. For now, though, I'd like my next 50,000 words to bring Autumnveil to its well-deserved conclusion. It is encouraging to be so very close to completing my first novel, but much work lies ahead.

And there will be more.



D
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2 comments:

  1. Danny, this is Taylor, your old friend. I'll need to go back and read the other posts from this blog to get the full scoop, but I am very proud of you for sticking to your work. Writing, like all the arts, is a work of passion and we don't get anything accomplished unless we actually sit down and do it!

    You're right, length doesn't matter. Many classics (Frankenstein, Of Mice and Men, Dr. Jekle, Fahrenheit 451, etc) were less than 200 pages. The only thing the writer needs to worry about is telling a good story. SF/F lends itself nicely to flowery language because there are so many other-worldly things to describe.

    Congrats on this monumental milestone! Autumnveil is a great title. You'll have to drop me a line and tell me how you came up with it.

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  2. Thanks Taylor!

    The title came *very* later in the process. It refers to the valley of Autumnvale, which is a major setting in the story that functions as a physical personification of many of the story's themes.



    -D

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