1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    First-draft length

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Aug 10, 2015.

    I've always said, give me any story or plot and I could write it up in 15,000 words.

    Therefore, I've often wondered if others suffer with an inability to get real bulk down when writing.

    Take the whole 'first draft' thing. It's all well and good people telling you not to worry about it... just get it finished... get that first draft down, etc etc, but what if that first draft of your 100,000 novel comes in at 30,000 words?

    Is a first draft supposed to be of a similar length to your finished novel? Or is needing to find 50,000+ words for subsequent rewrites normal?
     
  2. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    That's a novella or a short.
     
  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not if it comes in at that length unintentionally, it isn't.
     
  4. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    If you've told the story, I'd edit it and revise it there and look to publish what you have. Adding 50k words more will just dilute it.

    Or at least, I fail to see, if you have told the story, how adding another 50k words will improve it.
     
  5. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see what you're saying, but I know for a fact I write too lightly.

    It's difficult for me to explain exactly what I mean, but I really struggle to pace a novel, and have a tendency to jump-skip from one scene to another. I also neglect my characters' inner-thoughts. There's never any transition or sense that time is passing, and it is the omission of these elements which leave my work short.
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Seems to me you've already identified the problem. I wouldn't revise what you've got. I'd use it as an outline for what you could have. Then, when writing, I'd look to draw out scenes, give the reader a better understanding of the character, what motivates him/her, or bring the conflict to a higher level.

    A common mistake is to dispel tension and resolve conflict too quickly. I recently saw an article in which a writer/editor was decrying the use of flashbacks to "explain" and therefore dispel tension, rather than letting the tension build to almost unbearable levels. Her example was a novel she'd edited about a couple getting married, and how the night before the wedding, the bridesmaids all got stewed to the mickey and were horribly hung over on the big day. Her complaint was that instead of showing those awful moments of reckoning, the author had gone to a lengthy flashback to explain the tensions between the bride and certain bridesmaids (or some such). She then said (paraphrasing, here, I don't have the actual article in front of me), "Who cares what happened way back when? I don't want to see that! I want bridesmaids barfing in the potted palms!"

    Okay, topically, probably not your thing. But it gets the point across.

    One other suggestion - go back to your favorite novels. See how the writers build scenes, develop characters, unfold conflicts. How do your methods compare. One other issue may be that the story itself is more of a short story than a novel.

    Good luck.
     
  7. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Having just this second written a brief flashback / explanation, I read your post with some despondency.

    Ultimately, though, it helped. I read it again after reading your post and could see exactly what you mean about killing the tension. It wasn't needed, and the sentence before it is not only sufficient, but actually forces the reader to wonder and speculate, hopefully creating some tension.

    Yes, it meant losing a few dozen words - seemingly counter productive to my problem - but the whole thing is better for it.

    As for the rest, recognising the problem is one thing, resolving is another.

    Anyway, thanks for the tips. I shall try to put them into practice.
     
  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think different people do it differently. I'm wordy and I have the opposite problem you do - I've blown 90,000 words on half of my planned plot and my Progress Journal is one long Hamlet act flipping out about how I think my first draft is going to be unworkably long.
     
  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've talked about this elsewhere on this forum (I think) so this may be a bit of a rehash. However, since it's on topic, here we go...

    My current WIP, Aliens Don't Bend at the Knees, started as three panels in a drawing exercise back in 1985. When I sat down to write the first draft in February this year, it ended up as ~58,000 words, a bit short to be a novel.

    Now, I'm not saying you need to do this part, but it's what got me on track to get my word count up to ~75,000 words. I put it aside and wrote the first draft of another novel just to clear my head. Then I spent nearly three months reworking the logline, looking for a strong climactic scene, building a synopsis, throwing out the climactic scene and looking for another, reworking the logline again, etc. Pretty much going in circles looking for a strong plot the characters could sink their teeth into.

    Then, for each event in the story, I asked myself, "How can this go wrong, really-really wrong, for the characters... but in a funny way (since this is speculative fiction comedy) and where does that lead them? All the time, keeping in mind that I would eventually head toward the climactic scene.

    Once that was sorted out, I rewrote and came up to 76,000 words, give or take.

    Comparing the two drafts, the first one didn't have as many events nor as many places where motivations or minor goals changed. I'm talking about, for example, those goals like: in order to unlock the door, he's gotta find the key, but to find the key, he's gotta get a flashlight, but the flashlight's out of batteries, so he's gotta go to the store, but he's got no money, so he shoplifts the batteries and gets tossed in jail leaving him contemplating how he can't unlock the original door because he's behind another locked door... that kind of thing.

    If, in a particular scene, your character just waltzes in and obtains his goal, figure out what obstacle you can throw in his way, then find another obstacle to throw in the way of that obstacle, etc. until he's totally screwed.
     
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  10. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great advice, Sack-a-Doo, and congratulations on that title alone. It's the best I've heard in quite some time :D
     
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  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Really good advice Sack-a-Doo, I found doing a logline or even going over the snowflake method ( I don't use it but it does provoke a lot of good questions ) helpful for generating some good ideas.

    Also side plots can help beef up your work. Depending on the action, characters, pov and genre you can extend your piece and increase tension with a good sideplot. In thrillers it's practically a given that the author will cut away from the main event to show the police, or friends closing in on a situation. But I've seen it done in other genres - in fantasy sometimes the writer will cut away to the villain or a friend of the mc who is about to betray him or something. It's good for the reader because he has information the mc doesn't. That really increases the tension.
     
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  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good advice, but I write in 1st person which rules this out to a large extent. I certainly don't want to go down the multiple 1st person POV route.
     
  13. John Calligan
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    John Calligan Member

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    I had a similar problem that I believe I worked out mostly. For me, it was inhibition of artistic expression. If you read Tolkien, Nevin, Brooks, or Schwab for examples, they really get into the descriptions of the places and people, using long explanations of how things look and feel to put you in the story.

    In the "Sword of Shannara," how long does the first walk in the woods take, like 75 pages or something? (its been a long time sense I read it). Someone else might have had it in mind to write that whole part, and maybe even the whole first part in a quarter as many words.

    I was nervous about doing that at first until I reread some of those authors with a critical eye. Now I'm giving it a shot. It's what I like anyway, so now that I feel better about it, it is coming quickly.

    On the other side of the spectrum, plot driven science fiction like the Foundation series really just gets on with it.
     
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  14. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I certainly suffer this. I wish I could write more from the gut and less from the brain.
     
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  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Ah. Yeah I don't think I've ever seen anyone try that in first. You could maybe incorporate another twist. If you've ever read Lolita the story looks as though it could end when Humbert finally gets Lolita after trial and error. But the story is actually just beginning as a villain enters the picture to threatens Humbert's idyll.
    The whole concept changes from will Humbert get Lo to will Humbert be able to keep Lo.
     
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  16. John Calligan
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    John Calligan Member

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    I feel you. I'm working on that to. Has anything helped you with it so far?

    Besides reading those authors I mentioned and giving myself permission to open up, there was an exercise I did a couple times that I thought helped. Basically you just pick some people in the coffee shop or library or wherever you are and write down 20 facts about how the look or how they move. Nothing subjective or about their feelings - just write simple facts. Somehow it helped me unlock that way of thinking a little.

    I should do it more.
     
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  17. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not so far, John. Sometimes that freedom will come in very short bursts and I can't type fast enough. Most of the time, though, it's all very start stop, start stop.

    What I should do when not working on my main piece, is write a throw-away scene and really let rip, knowing that nothing I write matters. A little like a bowler / pitcher limbering up his arm before throwing the ball.

    Alas, I'm the world's laziest writer.
     
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  18. John Calligan
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    John Calligan Member

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    That's a pretty good idea. I used to do play by post role playing (Pathfinder / D&D). In a way, I guess that's similar.
     
  19. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, OurJud. I've had several people compliment that title. :)
     
  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yup.

    In Aliens, I had my work cut out for me, though, because it was first-person. I did manage to cut away at one point even though it's still actually told via first-person... the same first person. A bit of a mind-bender, that was. :)
     
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  21. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    One trick you might try:
    Don't think it through as you write. Just type whatever comes to mind. I don't know if I'm explaining this properly, but it's kind of like sneaking up on your prose.
     
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  22. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I know what you mean. In fact, I managed to do this earlier when working on my novel. It wasn't intentional and unfortunately I have no idea why it happened. Although thinking about it now, I had just started a new chapter and for whatever reason I wrote far more fluidly. I don't know, maybe it was the change of scene in my story, but for a brief period (although I'm sure it will prove to be a one-off) I really felt as though it was me telling the story, rather than some generic voice.

    It was a great feeling, but I have no real confidence I'll find that groove again any time soon.
     
  23. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Likely because you were relaxed. The tension of the previous chapter was finished and you allowed your mind to let go.
    I'm not so sure. If it happened once, it'll happen again. And if you train yourself, you can get it to happen more often.

    Perhaps you might try reading The War of Art. He talks about how he gets into the frame of mind he needs for writing.
     
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  24. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, this sounds logical. Maybe from now on when I get bogged down with a chapter I'm finding hard to write, I cut it short (with a note to revise) and start a new one.
     
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  25. Drummy49
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    Drummy49 New Member

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    It's simple, add MORE characters. What separates a novella from a novel? Almost always the number of characters. Add another major player or two to the novel, go deeper not into your existing ones of course as well.

    It may not work for your story in particular, but adding more characters only increases the possible number of scenes, interaractions, and conflicts that occur in your story.

    Where's the beef!? ;)
     
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