1. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Orson Scott Card on wordcounts

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by CDRW, Sep 14, 2009.

    I was searching around for stuff on novel word-counts and came across this great series of letters by Orson Scott Card. It starts out with a question about word-count and then delves into some excellent advice on pacing and keeping the readers interested. The part below is from the section on word-counts, and here's the link for the rest of it. http://www.hatrack.com/writingclass/lessons/2000-08-02-1.shtml

     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    How recent was this?
     
  3. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's pretty old, from back in 2000.
     
  4. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think mammamaia & others warn that a book too long will likely not even be looked at--at 180k to 250k seem way overboard.
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Uh huh. You don't want to say anything is impossible. There are some really long books by new authors, but the longer the book, the less your chances are. Besides, considering how quickly trends can change, I wouldn't trust an article that old.
     
  6. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    The issue I'm interested in isn't the maximum publishable word count, but the process used to figure out where you stand and how to get where you want, and the reason I picked this section to post was because he made mention of that dilation effect.

    I haven't read very many articles that focused more on the process than on the limits you're likely to be able to sell.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good point. And I guess if you've got something good enough, it doesn't matter how long it is, so you might as well be optimistic.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind that Orson Scott Card is an established writer. He doesn't have to climb his way out of the slush pile.

    What he is saying is certainly true if you already have the attention of an agent or a publisher. The story should detrmine the length of the novel, within broader limits. But an unknown writer trying to get the first novel published has to play the game much more tightly. The word count alone will become the hurdle that few overworked publishers will look past. It doesn't matter how wonderful your writing is if you can't get anyone to look at it. You will have plenty of competition from the other new writers who "color within the lines."

    As for the dilation effect, it's something to look at during the revision stage, to make sure the pace of the book doesn't get too far out of balance. Think Duma Key, if you don't think it's necessary to do a revision pass to level the pace.
     
  9. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    You also have to keep in mind what reasons he did and did not give for why a publisher might pass on a long book. Maybe it would sell if they could get it on shelves. But does a bookstore want to give two copies a long book by a debut author the shelf space they could give three or four or five shorter books by established names? There's a lot of other issues to consider as well.


    The easy answer is: "Long" books can and do get published, but look at a store, and count how many more "shorter" ones do.
     
  10. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like I said.

    In the article, his advice on making the word-count you want to have boils down to "don't change the plot events, change the pacing."

    What I got out of the article is "It is very hard to predict the final word-count when you are new, so let the plot determine the word-count, then if it doesn't fit go back and play with the pacing until it does. Don't add filler or cut necessary stuff, just change the pacing."

    I'm sorry I didn't make it clear in the first post. If I could have posted the whole series of letters I would have, but that sort of thing gets threads deleted. I was impressed because he was asked a familiar question and didn't turn it into the same old conversation that has been repeated here over and over and over again every time a new member appears. Come to think of it, maybe that ability is why he's an established author and we're not.

    I was hoping that maybe I could bring up a familiar subject and cover some new ground, but apparently once a keyword latches onto somebody's brain it's impossible to have a different conversation than the one you normally associate with it.
     
  11. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've read the article before. And I read it again through the link. It's a good article.


    Your specific quote, however, talked about word count and whether to worry about it, with Card's answer being "not really". You never said what exactly you wanted us to get out of the article.

    What do you mean by "where you stand"?
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    The old fork in the road.

    A train is speeding toward a fork in the tracks. If you pull the lever to switch tracks, the train kills your mother, if you don't, the train kills 20 children. You can't save both. You're not Superman, er, or woman.

    If I become a vampire, I can be wth Edward, but I might not be myself anymore. What if he doesn't like the vampire me? I will want to hunt and even kill people in the beginning. If I don't become a vampire, Edward must watch me grow old and die.

    I didn't think this point was made well enough on that link.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Huh?
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Read the link the OP posted and you will know what part I'm talking about. :p
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I did, and I don't.
     
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Toward the end of the article the person writing the letters to Orson has a revelation about giving your character's split desires. It is the classic fork in the road. I want to save my mother, but I also want to save those 20 kids, yet I can't do both. It's a hard decision.

    I don't think the letters showed this idea clearly enough. I believe the fork in the road example does. Now, the character doesn't have to face such a harsh choice, but they should face a difficult one.

    The other example is from Twilight.

    I believe it's an important part of story writing to understand. Give our characters two desires and make it impossible for them to achieve both. That is the fork in the road. They have to choose one, or I suppose none, but that seems unlikely.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It doesn't really have any relevance to the thread, though.
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever -(BTW, did I say ever?)- allow myself to get bogged down with word count.

    Its like worrying the number of cells that comprise my hand. The cells should be enough to create four fingers, a palm, and a thumb that all work well.
     
  19. ChimmyBear
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    I don't worry about word count while I am writing a piece, only when I am editing the work. While in college, the importance of word count was bellowed out from behind the desk. My instructors did this in order to prepare us for the strict guidlines of manuscript submissions. :)
     
  20. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Best laugh I've had all day. Thanks. :D

    I think we're getting a bit off-topic again... even though I'm still not sure I know what the topic is.:D
     

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