Wednesday, January 14, 2009

First Novel - Are You Saying Too Much?

Did you know this? I was advised by someone I trust in the business that a first novel should never have more than 90,000 words.

This was a terrible blow to me, having just completed, triumphantly, 126,000 words. It seems that agents and publishers have enough trouble assessing new writers, without the added problem of too fat a book; such wordiness no doubt would cause increased costs, with the possibility of insignificant revenues, should the book do poorly. I am unable to find the words to say how much this upset me. Perhaps my book will do well, but it certainly won't be doing it with the original 500 pages.

I've already begun the task of whittling away words, paragraphs - even pages, to get my MS down to the prerequisite number, and it seemed impossible, at the beginning. Now I find it's not quite as bad as I thought. There is a sense of serious spring cleaning, not just the weekly chores. I was saddened to cut sections that I saw as imperative to the story, but, in fact, they weren't. For instance, my heroine travels a lot, but I chopped out all reference to one particular country, because it had no bearing on the forward movement of the book, even though it was a nice read. I save these abandoned chunks to another document file as I go, where I can probably use them in another book, with revisions, in the future.

So, if you are in the middle of a 500-page saga, hang on a bit. Are all those words really necessary?

Thanks, Christopher, my writing buddy, for pointing this out to me. I'm not happy, and the writing ego is somewhat crushed, but I get it.

I have a cunning plan up my sleeve, however. I'm keeping the original 126,000-word MS in its original state. If some agent gets really excited over my work, and is full of huge optimism and grand plans for me, I can always whip it out and say, "I just happen to have a larger version. Want to check it out?"

We moan and whine at writers' block; we blog excitedly about our daily word count; we agonize over revisions; we use a lot of expletives during proofing; we expect to squirm at the query stage. And all the while, we are blissfully unaware that we're writing too much. Who would have thought it?



Christopher Y. C. Loke said...

Good for you. But please, do not whip out the larger version, it is not necessary unless asked. But seriously, if an editor falls in love with your 90,000 word MS, what would he want with a 120,000 word version? Hang in there, you ego will eventually slide and sizzle down. E.B. White once said he did not have time to be brief. That means something. To write a stellar novel in fewer words requires more skill than to just write without limit. Because with a slimmer MS, every word matters, every word counts, and every sentence packs a punch. That's a stellar novel. Now, kill your ego and get back to work, love.

Fran said...

Easy for you to say - I haven't seen any of your stuff, yet.

But it does make more and more sense, after all. You are my mentor, my guide.

In that picture, are you working at McDonalds?

Marsha said...

I didn't know the length of the story was an issue. I just assumed the story isn't over until the last word is written.

Fran said...

I didn't know either, Marsha, not until last Monday.

If you look at my page tomorrow, I'll suggest a couple of links to read up on it. Apparently Fantasy can be any length. How unfair is that?