1. Annihilation
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    Annihilation Active Member

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    How do authors make 400 page stories..?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Annihilation, Oct 1, 2015.

    With just a simple plot or idea. With simple characters?

    I know making a novel is writing down every detail about the characters but at some point don't you think readers will get bored and look for action?

    Personally for me I hate writing action scenes because everything feels too childish and simple..

    I took three writing classes and two of the teachers said don't write out every single thing (john stood up, walked to the door, pulled the doorknob) but how else am I going to be detailed and descriptive?

    I have a certain vision for this story I'm writing and I have a lot to tell but I'll feel unfinished if my book is only 100+ pages.
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Mine is a very simple story with hardly any 'action' but it's 110k words. I don't know how many pages that would be in an average sized paperback... 300?

    What I did was create a simple spreadsheet showing my character arc. In Chapter 1, where is she? In Chapter x (the end), where is she? Then I filled it all the steps in the middle. What triggers her changing from 1 to x? What gives her a boost? Then what holds her back? Then what sets her on the path again? On and on... all the conflicts she has on the way and all the ways she overcomes them.

    Then I filled in the chapters in between, since she can't have a major arc moment in every chapter. Some scenes are setting up a later conflict. Some are developing her relationship with the other protagonist.

    At the end of this I have around 60 chapters and I know what needs to happen in each one. I never have to sit down with a blank document and 'wing it', and I have no time for pointless detail about people walking to a door, because I need all my word count to fit in the things that NEED to happen.

    "When John heard a knock at the door he was tempted to pull the covers over his head and wait for the noise to stop. But when he saw Jane on the threshold, a beautiful smile making her eyes crinkle, he forgot his tiredness."

    We want to know about John's feelings and his reactions to events, not every small action he performs to witness them.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2015
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Novels should do more than take a reader as quickly as possible from A to Z. They should provide immersion, emotion, thought-provoking events, characters that are complicated and not easy to know right off the bat. Events have unforseen consequences. Love, hate, fear, excitement, delight, apprehension ...all these emotions take time to settle and develop in your reader. If you're in too big a hurry to get the journey over with, a lot of its impact can be lost.

    I think it's a real shame that so many modern writers start out with the notion that short trumps long, quick trumps slow, dialogue trumps narrative, action trumps reflection, and overview trumps detail. Our reading will be the poorer for it. We'll whiz through a piece, and not remember much.

    I'd say your novel should be exactly the length it takes you to create the lasting effect you want. You can summarise your story's events and themes in a couple of sentences or paragraphs—as you learn to do when writing synopses and query letters. However, it's the effect you're after in the reader, and that takes time and quite a lot of pages!
     
  4. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I ask myself this question every time I decide I'm going to write a novel, and I like writing action.

    If you ever find out the answer, please let me know.
     
  5. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    To be honest, you shouldn't force pages. If you story finishes on whatever pages, then just brand it what it is: a short story, a novella, etc.

    As for getting a word count, you just need to be detailed and creative, but only with relation to your story. There is a recent thread about 'padding' somewhere, I suggest you read that. Some stories aren't really just plot, or should I say, the plot is more of a concept; for example, in Portnoy's complaint, it's a monologue of his adolescent years and early adulthood, thus one could see the story as a number of sub-plots rather than taking the monologue to his doctor as the actual plot. This method is really nice because it opens up a lot of creative potential; you can just make shit up, or take things from your own youth and apply it to your story.
     
  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    But if I applied this method I'd only ever write short stories and novellas. There's a technique to writing novel length stories, I just don't know what that technique is.
     
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  7. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    When I wrote the 1st draft of my WIP, I didn't plan anything. No outlines, no one-liners, no concept, no nothing. I simply started it as a short story, which evolved into a full blown novel.

    What made it bloat was my curiosity for my characters and wanting them to suffer, fail, squirm, but eventually win or be transformed. It is this back and forth that kept me entertained as a writer. When I finished the 1st draft, it was a mess. But I had a platform for a better story. At this point I outlined my 2nd draft, and I'm writing it with full enthusiasm because it's miles better than the 1st draft.

    Nothing wrong if your story fell short a couple of pages. For me, I write because I want to bring my characters to life and experience and explore their story. That's it. If their story require 10 pages, great! If their story require 500 pages, swell!
     
  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jannert, hate to go over this again, but this is the problem with a rigid word count that only varies by plus minus 10 k words. It's like saying I want you to fence in a pig pen, but I'm only giving you 40 feet of fence to work with. You can make a 10x10 ft square pen, but the longer you want to make the pen, the narrower it becomes. The more plot your story has, with a set word count, the less narrative, reflection, and details you're going to have. With a set word count, if story A has a longer, more complicated plot than story B, it will automatically have to have less narrative, introspection, and detail than B. How does one resolve this issue?
     
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  9. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    To be honest, I had the same problem, and what I did is went back and perused through a number of novels, reading segments from different pages, observing the 'technique' as I went along. I came to the conclusion that it's a mixture of creativity and elaboration, and it's also a major milestone in writing in my opinion: your writing comes across as much more professional.

    Edit: when I say creativity and elaboration, I mean you have to really get into your character or the scene and try to think about everything that's going on around you or in the characters mind, and use this as your material. Also, the use of the 'past' is always good for material. Try including a time when such and such happened; but don't overdo stuff like that.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2015
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Not sure what point you're making?

    If you're tailoring your story to a particular market and need to stay within a short word count, then alter your story accordingly. Less complicated plot, fewer characters and locations, a shortened time frame, whatever it takes. You're producing a product that has a proven market value, that demands a certain range of word count, and you need to stick to the formula. Plenty of how-to books out there to tell you how this is done.

    If you're not tailoring to a market, then you can include whatever your story needs to contain to get the effect you want. There isn't any rule or formula—or length—that ensures a story will work. You write what you think needs to be there, let it sit a while, run it past some betas, pare or add to it as needed, etc etc. I don't know what else to say.

    My point is that I feel it's a shame that word count has become such a major factor in getting a story accepted by traditonal publishers. I do feel our reading has become the poorer for it. I read all the time, attend book festivals, pick up new authors ...and I can honestly say I haven't read very many books of fiction in the past 20 years that really grabbed me, or stuck. There is something missing for me, and I'm not sure what. So many books feel rushed and superficial.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2015
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  11. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    The story dictates the length of the book, not the author.

    Many times authors break a story into parts, so you end up with 1000 pages, but it's in three books. Ilsa Bick's Ashes Trilogy is a good example. Short stories are just that, complete stories that just happens to have fewer words than others. Novels are longer simply because it takes longer to tell their stories. It's not a matter of skipping parts or writing everything out, all stories skip unnecessary information.

    Jim toasted the assembled crowd, saying, "Here's to beer!"
    Vs.
    Jim reached down and picked up the cold glass, thick condensation giving the amber liquid it contained a slightly hazy appearance. Raising the glass above his head, he looked over the crowd of OctoberFest Celebrants. In a booming voice he toasted them saying, "Here's to beer!"
     
  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is a lesson I have learned writing a romance, where 80k is usual and 100k the top end. I now understand why romance novels generally have no well-developed side characters or many sub-plots. It takes all the page space you have to write a convincing relationship development. I have had to sacrifice some sub plots and all my side characters are pretty one-dimensional, though I hope I've still managed to give them personality and enough depth to do their job.

    If I didn't care about getting published it could easily be 120-130k, even with the sacrifices.
     
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  13. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's pretty simple. I want to publish a novel. This isn't a novel in the generic sense. It has a soul, a specific plot with specific events , a tone, a style, details, narrative, etc, etc.

    Now, as far as I know, in order to get it traditionally published, it has to be around 90k give or take ten k words. This means that if all my plot plus deacriptions, narrative, etc, do not fit within that range, I need to sacrifice something, right?

    I am in fact complaining.
     
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  14. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just finished my first draft, and wish I could get it down to 400 pages! It is 830 right now. But it is a very complex story. It may wind up being two stories.

    Best advice is tell the story to your satisfaction. If it comes out long or short, worry about that in the editing phase. If you are pre-editing scenes and characters out of your first draft you run the risk of choking the life out of your story. Sometimes some of your characters will take off, all on their own, and play a major part in the story that you never expected. Let it happen. It happened to three of my characters, one of whom gave me a key solution to the development of my heroine.

    Save the cutting out or filling in part for the editing phase.... you can't afford the self-criticism of editing in the 1st draft. 1st draft should be pure creativity, although quick spell and grammar check is essential so it doesn't wind up sloppy. But Word will do that for you if you turn it on.
     
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  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't agree with this, and still maintain that writing something of novel length is down to excessive fleshing and a number of other 'writing techniques' that are used to bulk out the story.

    I say this because any novel, no matter what length, could be condensed to half the word-count and still tell the same story.
     
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  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Got enough problems for your characters - Or rather are the solutions to the problems too easy?
    Also I find good details aren't about microreports - but things that create feelings or highlight sensory details - anything that can have an impact on the character or the reader. It's not important that he's opening the door but rather why he's opening the door - to go home, take a load off, check for monsters in the closet - etc. Details aren't just to orient the reader and show them what's going on but to resonant - create a mood.

    I find I can extend a story when I play the what if game - what if I did this - what if I did that. I also like my characters and want to put them in more situations to give the reader more facets of their character. Adhering strictly to plot can sometimes limit how your reader views the character. Little asides - memories, future yearning, dreams, activities or victories can expose other facets. If I've been too hard on my character I will give them a victory moment - a birthday, something to feel good about. If he's had it to easy I'll throw a monkey wrench in the works. Or I'll have him do something that has nothing to do with the plot but fleshes him/her out personally. Sometimes really good scenes have nothing to do with the plot but they add to the novel. In Harriet the Spy I thought the Thanksgiving Day concert really didn't have anything to do with the main plot but it really helped to flesh out Harriet's character.

    Contrast helps too - take Harriet - the concert would've gone rather smoothly but Harriet being Harriet refused to be an onion. Once you can get characters being uncooperative you can extend the scene and offer different viewpoints or thoughts and outcomes. Things usually go quickly when everyone does what they're told when they're told to do it.
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, you probably will need to sacrifice something, unless you're very very skilled. And while I'm all in favour of cutting out unnecessary stuff (lord knows I ditched over a third of my original draft because it was so badly overwritten) it's really hard to bring it all down to word count, when you have lots to say and want to make the reading journey meaningful and memorable. I can understand your feeling, for sure.
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I, too, refuse to be an onion! :)
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It might tell the same story, but it would not have the same effect. You can tell a story in a paragraph or two, if you need to. But the effect is much different.

    I'd suggest you read about the difference between short stories and novels. There are lots of differences that have nothing to do with length. They mostly has to do with focus and scope. Focus on a single event, character, or idea. Scope of setting, passage of time, number of characters and their interaction, evolution of ideas. All these things tend to differ between novels and short stories.

    Wikipedia has this to say about short stories:


    Characteristics
    As a concentrated form of narrative prose fiction, the short story has been theorised through the traditional elements of dramatic structure: exposition (the introduction of setting, situation and main characters), complication (the event that introduces the conflict), rising action, crisis (the decisive moment for the protagonist and his commitment to a course of action), climax (the point of highest interest in terms of the conflict and the point with the most action) and resolution (the point when the conflict is resolved). Because of their length, short stories may or may not follow this pattern. For example, modern short stories only occasionally have an exposition, more typically beginning in the middle of the action (in medias res). As with longer stories, plots of short stories also have a climax, crisis, or turning point. However, the endings of many short stories are abrupt and open and may or may not have a moral or practical lesson. As with any art form, the exact characteristics of a short story will vary by creator. Short stories tend to be less complex than novels. Usually a short story focuses on one incident; has a single plot, a single setting, and a small number of characters; and covers a short period of time. The modern short story form emerged from oral story-telling traditions, the brief moralistic narratives of parables and fables, and the prose anecdote, all of these being forms of a swiftly sketched situation that quickly comes to its point.
     
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  20. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    All very true, but the point I'm trying to make is that I think it's wrong to jump to the conclusion (when giving advice to someone who is struggling with length) that what they have is probably a short story or novella, rather than a novel.

    The reason many people struggle to write full length novels has nothing to do with them lacking the material or story. It's more about an inability to maintain their story.
     
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  21. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    Great discussion and many wonderful points have already been made. I suspect that the writing instructors described were trying to move you away from "telling" and into "showing." One great way to learn writing is to be a consumer of great writers--pay attention to how the masters have done it. Good writers tell interesting stories in a compelling manner--Great writers tell fantastic stories in a spellbinding manner, and that takes more words!
     
  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I have a suspicion you're right. I wonder if maybe these struggling authors are just focused on getting from event to event as quickly as possible. They probably need more scene setting, more inside the head stuff, more reflection from characters, more characters to enrich the story, more real-time scene development. Being spare and efficient doesn't always work when you're writing a novel, because people want a novel to last a while. They're not after a literary wham-bam-thankyou, ma'am.

    Personally, I think an upper limit of 80,000 to 100,000 words for a novel is far too restricting. I'm not saying it can't be done, but so many great novels are far longer than that. Working to that restriction just panders to publishers who want cheaper books to print. A short book takes fewer pages than a long one. Can't argue with that. But when it interferes with quality or restricts the journey the author wants to create for the reader, I think we're on the wrong road.
     
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  23. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    They write and expand the plot and content of the story. Sometimes they don't expect it to be that long, sometimes it just is. You have put in a lot of story elements to get an elongated tale like that, but if you feel like it should only be 100+ pages, make it 100+ pages. It's that simple. Longer doesn't always guarantee better quality.
     
  24. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    80,000 words is barely enough for me to introduce my characters and the setting... so going far beyond that was not only natural, but essential.
     
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  25. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know, I personally find the 80-100k range perfect for my stories. Every one of them seems to wind up just around 90k. I honestly don't know how one can go much beyond that, but I suppose it could either be a matter of style or just sheer number of events in the story.

    Introspection is the key to length for me. One of the lines I tend to throw around in critiques is not to sacrifice character development for the sake of brevity. Brevity is great, when called for. But I find there's definitely a tendency to favor shortness over length. Be quick, make your point, move on. I don't always agree. Meandering is fine, if it makes sense. The POV will determine that--does the character take the time to notice the scene around him, is the character in a hurry, is she paying attention to the person sitting in front of her or is she preoccupied, etc? These things determine the pacing of the scene.

    But introspection gives you much more to work with than action, dialog, and description. If your piece is just those three things, it's going to be emotionless and dull, not to mention brief, and that's because it's missing the most important element. It's what @jannert calls "inside the head stuff" in the above post. You can explore so many facets of the character this way, and dropping all that stuff in favor of brevity is a mistake. If your MS is coming up short, the first thing I'd check is if the scenes are full of summary, emotion getting glossed over. Take every opportunity to open up your character's head to the reader. Not only will you find your word count expanding, it'll be expanding with meat instead of fat--meat that your reader will actually want to eat.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2015
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