For those who lurk in the forums of NaNoWriMo during the month of November, you might have noticed me there. I’m a frequent troller. I love the forums and the community. I am particularly fond of the NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul forum for novelers in distress. It is a place where I can help people.
Today I am going to address a few of the most common questions that have been popping up of late. Keep in mind, these answers are mostly my opinion based on far too much time wandering the internet, and it’s always best to do your own research to compare varying ideas.
How long should a novel be?
This is an excellent question, but very difficult to answer. In short, how long your novel should be depends on your genre and how many words your story needs to reach the magic words “the end.”
A good, quick and dirty, guide is found on The Swivet, by Colleen Lindsay. The research is done for you there and seems to be kept current based on publishing standards.
In a very general way, a novella is between forty thousand and sixty thousand words, a novel is from sixty thousand to 120 thousand, and an epic is over 120 thousand. As a novelist submitting their first novel, they should shoot for novel length within their genre. Keep in mind that your rough draft will have little to do with the final product if you’ve done a great deal of editing and rewriting.
Is there any point in doing a rewrite?
Always. Your rough draft, even if you edited as you went along, is going to have glaring omissions, inconsistencies, plot holes and sections that just plain don’t read well. They are there and your job is to make them into something better.
Every writer needs to visit Revisions Hell during their novel creation before it’s ready to be sent off on it’s journey towards publishing. If you follow your favorite authors’ blogs, Twitter, or Facebook, you will hear them talking about it. I know I do. (Yeah, I’m an online author stalker, bite me.)
My first novel will be getting a complete overhaul soon. Now that I’ve taken a step back from those sixty thousand words, I’ve found it’s not much of a novel at all. The action doesn’t start soon enough and my foreshadowing is far too subtle. It was far from a waste of time, though. I learned where I needed to go with it and now I can fix it, because I know where the problems are. That is all to the good.
What is the point of editing and publishing?
Well, that honestly depends on you. Maybe there isn’t a point. There is nothing that says you have to publish what you write. You can post it online and let your friends and family read it as is and no one can say what you’ve done is wrong.
Will editing ‘ruin’ your work? No. The reason you edit is to make it better. You will not be destroying the soul and magic of your work. If you are, you are doing it wrong and might want to consider getting some help with the process. You polish your prose, making it glimmer and shine like silver.
However, if you aren’t publishing it, you don’t need to do that. You might still want to. If you are planning to publish and unleash your brilliance on the masses, making them pay for it, then, yes, you most definitely need to edit it. You need to beast the monster of your rough draft into submission. Help your baby grow into a beautiful well rounded adult. There is no getting around that, no matter how long you spend writing it the first time. You aren’t perfect, no one is, so your creation probably isn’t either, even if you just need to change a few errors here and there.
Note: the likelihood of you only needing to change a few things is pretty low, you will probably find quite a few problems on your re-read.
What are beta readers and why do I need them?
Beta readers, sometimes also known as alpha readers, read your manuscript to help you with the editing process. They are people you trust enough to give you truth. Ideally, they are both writers and non-writers, and you have more than one of them. Beta readers read your draft, either first or a later version, and give you notes on it.
Sometimes, ok, most of the time, it is very hard to properly edit your own draft. In my experience, I will read over errors, simply because my brain knows what should be there. I also know the behind the scenes that is going on, so I have a deeper understanding of the actions that may or may not make sense to someone who isn’t as deeply involved. I also find it useful to discuss various sections with my beta readers so that I have a deeper understanding of where my prose falls flat on it’s nose or when my character just isn’t coming across as completely as I thought they would.
When picking a beta reader, you need to find people who aren’t afraid to be completely honest with you. Their commentary should not be mean, but should be honest. Writers might have a different view of the work than a non-writer, so a good cross section is recommended. I find them very helpful, even if it’s just a way for me to discuss the work to get it better in my own head.
Do you have to have beta readers? No, you don’t have to. Some people can manage the full beautiful edit without help. I’m not one of those.
I don’t know where my story is going, I have writer’s block, I’m tired of my story, this sucks and no one will ever read it.
My advice? Keep writing. You can’t fix what you haven’t written, no one can write what you haven’t written, and you can’t move on from something you haven’t written. Not to mention, taking those days off while you angst only results in it being that much harder to get back to writing. Don’t break the habit.
If you are having trouble with story or character, change tactics. Write some short stories about your characters. Play with various plot lines. Write a dirty sex scene (or whatever kind of scene is most fun for you).
Writer’s block is a self fulfilling prophecy. You get it and you stop writing, then every day just becomes a battle to sit down and put words to page. It gets progressively worse the longer you don’t write, becoming a battle. Write through it, even if you don’t really know where it’s going. You might surprise yourself.
By all means, if you need to, take a day off. Go do something mindless and physical. Clean your room, take a walk, go shopping, whatever. Write anyway, even if it’s not part of your story at all. Don’t break the habit.
Many many, if not all, authors hit the wall of “no one is going to read this crap.” It’s part of the writing experience, apparently. It is not a reason to give up, by any means. If everyone gave into their “inner critic” (Thanks Nicole Peeler!), then there would never be anything new for any of us to read. The book stores would be empty.
I can’t write sex/torture/romance/death/drug scenes! What would mom/dad/grandma/hubby/girlfriend think of me?
Write as if no one will ever read it. Write the gory details and everything that is hiding in that wonderful creative mind space you have. You can edit it for consumption after the first draft is done.
I, personally, recommend never promising that anyone can read it. It screws with my head games with myself. As long as I can convince myself no one is going to read it, I can write anything. And I do. That doesn’t mean I will leave the scenes in all their glory, but they are out of my head and on paper/computer screen where I can see them and edit them down to the needed points.
If, in the end, you are truly writing something you can’t be proud of, you might need to reconsider what you are writing. No, I’m not telling you to stifle your creativity by any means. Write what you want. However, considering your motives for writing things may help you find out why you really are writing them to begin with.
In the end, you are writing fiction. It’s a made up world in your head that you’ve put down on paper for others to visit (or maybe just for you to visit). Be proud of it, either way, but don’t be afraid to write the things you aren’t so proud of. Just like you dance like no one else is watching, make sure you write like no one else will read it.
This is just a few of the common questions and concerns I’ve seen. If you have more, feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer them, either with my own personal opinions or helping you find the research you need to answer them for yourself. There are so many resources out there for aspiring novelist. Use them wisely and pave your own way.