1. kenc

    kenc Member

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    Judging story length after first draft

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by kenc, Jan 17, 2017.

    I am coming close to the end of writing a first draft for my story. It is my first attempt at writing a novel. So, being inexperienced, I didn't think a great deal about what length the story should be, and instead let it come out of me naturally, it that makes sense. I have reached about 40K words. I know I need to go back and add detail at certain points, but still, it feels like it's turned out a bit on short side. So, possible explanations: I don't write in sufficient detail? My plot is not sufficiently in-depth?

    Should I accept that what I have written, is in fact, a short story? Or is it normal for a first draft to be fairly short, with detailed editing resulting in, say, doubling the length.

    I have toyed with the idea of introducing an additional plot line, running in parallel to my main plot, and having the two stories merge at the end. But as I hadn't originally planned for that, it might feel a bit forced.

    Advice / words of wisdom from veterans most appreciated!
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Yeah 40k is kind of an awkward length. You're in novella territory there, which isn't a bad thing at all, but it won't fit well into either the short story or novel market. Does it feel like a long drawn out 40k or an overly tight 40k? If so you may have a story masquerading as a novel or vice versa.

    Doubling the length is probably unusual. That's more like a total rewrite, since a lot of what comes out in the first draft is garbage and gets removed anyway. What kind of shape is your POV in? If you feel like adding a subplot is contrived, you might consider (if you haven't done so already) taking one of your secondary characters and give them some POV scenes, thereby broadening what you have already. Are there a couple of threads you can pull on? Is there an aspect of the story or a theme that might benefit the reader if we step away from the MC's head and "triangulate" the story? Character A will likely see the world quite differently than Character B. Of course, that won't work if you're in first person, which can be limiting, so you'd have to physically add some bulk. Tough to know without seeing how your book is set up.
     
  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    It seems most writers come in short and add more in subsequent drafts, so you're in good company. I'm not one of them though - I don't tend to add or remove much since my first novel - but here's my advice for what it's worth.

    If your goal is traditional publication then you do need to lengthen your story to have a good chance of selling it - depends on the genre, but 70k would be the absolute minimum for most. If you want to self-publish then you can leave it at whatever word count you like and market/price it accordingly.

    I think every story can be extended by adding layers, subplots, characterisation, etc. The main plot might only have 40k of story but the best novels don't just have a single main plot. I'd let it sit for a while, read it again, and see if I could extend it.
     
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  4. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I'd say its typical for a story to be either too long or two short. In contrast to you, my first draft was 130k words when I finally set it down. But a lot of it was fluff and unnecessary, and it needed to be trimmed. For you, perhaps there are places you can flesh out more. Maybe choose a few important parts and really go out of your way to drive a point home. Depending on your genre, books can be anywhere from 60k to 120k words (don't quote me on that). I'm sure, in actuality, 40k words isn't too short for some genres. In fact, the rule of thumb is 'your story should be exactly as long as it needs to be'.

    But where my second draft was me going back and deciding what DIDN'T belong, your second draft might be you going through and deciding what needs to belong MORE.

    40k words is fantastic to have, and a great basis to really dig into a plot. Let your mind run wild and see where things could go. Introduce CHANGE to your plot, block your protagonist from getting from point a to point b more, force him to choose between two losing scenarios. Write yourself into a corner then write yourself out of it.

    Those kinds of things can make your story longer! Hope this helps!
     
  5. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    One thing to consider is how you're writing your scenes, rather than the number of scenes. Are you summarizing in places where you could get deep into your character's head? Showing the characters thoughts and reactions to the events going on around her or him can provide a lot more content. Rather than saying" He felt sad," give us a paragraph describing the thoughts he's having, the way his sadness is coloring the world around him, the way his hands shake, etc etc.

    Obviously there's a balance to be struck (ie don't overdo it), but I've found places in my own writing where I was just glossing over good potential character development either for the sake of brevity or because I didn't realize that's what I was doing.
     
  6. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Yeah, excellent point there. The opposite can happen too, where you are deep in the character's head or giving the reader a blow by blow of a scene where narrative summary might be more appropriate. Beware of that too since all first drafts are bound to have a bit of each problem.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    If you started out to write a short story and it got to be 40,000 words long, I'd say you probably need to condense a bit. However, if it's a novel, I suspect you're going too quickly through the story. This happened, then that happened, and then this, then that ...the end.

    Rather than sticking in subplots, you might want to look at extending the nature of the journey instead, as @xanadu and @Infel (and others) suggested. It's difficult to tell, because you haven't been able to post any of your work in the workshop yet (I see you just joined a few days ago.) Once you have been on long enough to meet the requirements, you might want to post a bit, just to let some other people give their insight. If other folk think the pace is too quick, then you probably should add in more detail to make the journey richer. It's not padding. It would be immersion you're going for. Make the reader stay longer in one place, either thinking about what the character is thinking about, or getting more emotionally involved with the character's dilemma, or becoming more familiar with the character's surroundings. Or all of the above.

    I don't know if you use lots of dialogue, but if you rely on dialogue to convey basic information as well as show personal interaction, that can also make the story move too quickly. If that's the case, you might want to cut back on dialogue and use more narrative storytelling instead. Instead of having Character A tell Character B what he's just been doing, show him doing it instead.

    However, this is all just speculation. Hard to tell without seeing the actual writing.

    I agree with @Tenderiser that it will be difficult to sell a story that's 40,000 words long. It's too long for a short story, way too short for a novel, and novellas are strange beasts, as @Homer Potvin pointed out. So maybe get a couple of second opinions. Either from us, when you are able to post in the workshop, or maybe from some of your friends.
     
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  8. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    In my own musings and works, I find that the first draft is longer than the final.
    Between editing, and cutting out chunks, and adding/changing chunks, it will
    get shorter.

    If you feel something is too short to be done, then continue the story and get it
    beta read. Or get it beta read first before adding on to it, to find out if it needs
    or can accommodate extra narrative and plot. It complicates adding things
    into a story that were not previously there in the original.

    Though if it is well enough as it is, it will not need too much out side of a good
    long editing. It may be at an odd length between short/novella, it might be
    alright to be stand alone. Considering I have seen and read a book that was
    exactly 11k, and had to accept it as such in a trilogy.

    Best of luck to you, and hope you get it sorted. :supersmile:
     
  9. kenc

    kenc Member

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    Wow, some great points being made, thanks for all the replies!

    My story/novel features seven main characters. One of these is what you'd call the main character: whenever I want to describe something in detail, I usually use this character's POV. One of the things I had already planned to do, was developing some of the minor characters more, especially in the early part of the story where they are not currently involved so much. I think I may have fallen into a trap of being overly eager to get into the meat of the story, and not paying enough attention to establishing my characters sufficiently. @Homer Agreed, introducing POV for the other characters would be a good way to achieve this.

    @jannert Dialogue: You may have hit the nail on the head. The thing is, I rather enjoy writing dialogue, so perhaps I have overdone it. I can see how it may prevent scenes from being described in greater detail. It would be nice to have a measurement of what percentage of my text is dialogue, so I could assess whether that is outside the bounds of reasonableness. I don't know if there is a simple way to do that. Mind you, I am also a programmer, so I could just write a quick tool to do this - might be a useful exercise.

    My feeling is that it is a novel that am rushing through too quickly, rather than a long-drawn short story. So I will add a lot more detail, especially at the beginning, and I also like the idea of inserting additional tricky situations for my characters to overcome.

    Yeah, I haven't posted anything in the workshop yet - I am still at the stage of feeling self-conscious about my writing. I'll have to bite the bullet and let others read it some point though!
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I would say be cautious about adding more detail or more tricky situations. Not that you can't, but if your problem is pacing (which I suspect it might be, from what you said about dialogue) that's just going to make the problem worse. You'll have MORE information going past too quickly. The reader is likely to become exhausted.

    Rushing a story means it won't stick. Glossing over everything in order to get to the point, or the end as quickly and efficiently as possible, results in a story that reads like a textbook. You get all the information 'in' but it's not much fun to read and it doesn't stick or create emotion in the reader.

    Unless the new bits really add something important to the story—rather than just padding out your word count—I'd fall back and simply use your story as an outline. Don't be afraid to take your time. Make important events unfold more slowly, and take more time setting them up.

    If you've got a point-of-view character, use that character to open up their world to the reader. Let events develop more naturally. Let the character react to what's happening, think about what's happening, feel something about what's happening. Give us hints about what other characters are also thinking and feeling. Don't tell us what these feelings are. Show what they do, and let us draw our own conclusions.
     
  11. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    As indicated above, it's difficult to tell if the final product, through revision, will have more cuts to it, or more words/content added. A lot depends on how you wrote the novel.

    One thing to consider is to simply edit and revise the story to the best of your ability and let the length be determined by the story as it's told to the reader. Yes, you could go back in and add plot lines and such, but when you begin doing that, you have a ripple effect, meaning that there will be a lot of time spent in revision, making sure everything flows and nothing is left hanging or without previous reference where needed, etc. It can get quite complicated and may not be worth the hours and hours spent.

    That time spent in rewriting and revising may be better applied on a new project. Take what you learned about plotting and storytelling and length and apply it to your next project, so that that one may turn out closer to the length you'd hoped for or intended.

    Thus, in the end, with possibly a similar amount of time and effort spent, you could have two written projects (or the first and a large chunk of the second) completed.
     
  12. kenc

    kenc Member

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    Yes, I definitely want to avoid the situation where I am just adding content for the sake of it. But I think there are certain things that happen too quickly and these could expanded/replaced - in other words, a section would be rewritten, this time covering more detail. Also, since as I mentioned, some of my characters are currently minor, I think adding parts involving them would add value in character development. Obviously I'd need to take care that these additions contributed to the overall story, or reveal things about the characters which will be relevant later.

    Having got this far, I really want to persevere to some kind of project completion, even if it only is learning experience. I still need to write the actual end yet, and so with some rewriting and character expansion, maybe something around 70K is not out of reach, and I will be satisfied with that.
     
  13. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Which genre are you writing in? Acceptable word counts vary quite a bit among genres.

    Has anybody else read the story? The danger in expanding the beginning is that you might throw off the pacing. The beginning is where you most need to maintain interest - once a reader is invested in the characters they are less likely to put the book down, but until you have them invested you need to keep their interest. It might be that the beginning is rushed and could do with more details, but if it's okay as it is then you could weaken your story considerably by expanding it.

    If I were in your shoes I would get a couple of beta readers and see what they suggest.
     
  14. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    The only thing I can offer at this point in my career (if, indeed, it can be called a career at this point) is the following:
    • keep learning as much as you can about writing (read books rather than online articles since the books are vetted by at least two other people and therefore have a better chance of being useful to people other than the person who wrote them) and because all those rules in all those systems of writing won't break themselves,
    • don't assume that any piece of writing will be saleable in any state you leave it in (if you're primarily in it for sales or exposure [Hey! Look what I did!] you may need to dig down to a deeper motivation and that is highly likely to change your perspective),
    • keep in mind that some readers read for the emotional experience while others read to have their brains teased... and there may be others who read for both, and (with that said),
    • write for yourself first (meaning: the first draft is just for you, a way to get those things out of your head and heart.)
    And I guess that all boils down to one thing: We write and read as a way to connect with ourselves and others. I read recently about a study that said people who read at a young age are more likely to be well-balanced adults... which may explain why, at this stage of my life, I've come back to writing.

    But...

    There are always exceptions and it could be that none of this will work for you (or anyone else reading this).
     
  15. kenc

    kenc Member

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    @Tenderiser My genre is science fiction. I know there is a tendency for such books to sometimes be very long. Mine definitely won't be in that category. No one else had read a single word of it yet! Yes, I will definitely need some beta-readers at some point, probably I'll also get involved with the Workshop. Not quite ready for that yet though.

    @Sack-a-Doo! Readers looking for an ‘emotional experience’ would be disappointed with anything I write. Like you said, you should write for yourself first, and I'm more interested in combining abstract ideas, humour, and narrative adventure. So wouldn't be to everyone's taste I'm sure.

    By the way, I did get around to doing what I was threatening to above, and created a program to determine what proportion of my story is dialogue. Here is the result:

    Total words : 43804
    Speech Words : 14355 = 32.0%
    Non-speech Words : 29449 = 67.0%

    I don't know how reasonable 32% sounds to you guys?
     
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  16. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    I have no idea if that's good, bad, normal or... whatever else it might be.

    This program you created, is it a Python script or did you go whole hog and write it in C or C#?

    I'm assuming it's pretty straightforward: find a quote mark, find its mate, count the spaces in between, move on to the next.
     
  17. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

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    1/3 of 40K words being dialogue sounds like a bit much to me - you could most likely benefit from fleshing out descriptions and narration a bit. Also, with seven characters, you're definitely not giving all of them enough screen time. Develop them, their subplots, and their relationships somewhat, and you could easily gain another 20-30K (and maybe even some new ideas).
     
  18. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Gimme your programme and I can give you at least one other data point. :) I'm dialogue-heavy too, because that's what I like as I reader, but my stories never come in short and nobody has ever complained about lack of detail or too much dialogue. No idea how to calculate the percentage though...
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2017
  19. kenc

    kenc Member

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    @Sack-a-Doo! The program is in Java since that's what I know. I have downloaded some out-of-copyright texts from the Guttenburg Project, and run it on those. I have also added a feature to count unique words, to see what my vocabulary size is.

    I appreciate this is getting a bit nerdy now, but for those interested, here is what I found:

    Proportion of speech:
    Picture of Dorian Grey 47%
    Dracula 34%
    Pride & Prejudice 46%
    Sense & Sensibility 43%
    Tom Sawyer 30%

    I was rather surprised at this - I had expected much smaller proportion in these other books! It makes me feel like my 32% is reasonable after all.

    Next I looked at total number of unique words:

    Picture of Dorian Grey : 7109
    Dracula : 9597
    Pride & Prejudice : 6621
    Sense & Sensibility : 6571
    Tom Sawyer : 7614

    My own incomplete story : 4456

    I would expect mine to have fewer unique words than those others, being currently much shorter in length. But still, the difference does suggest I might want to work on increasing my vocabulary at least.

    It's quite interesting what you can find out with statistical analysis. I will add more stuff like average word length, and perhaps finding overused words, or for fun, count how many hapax legomina I have! Probably I should also get back to doing the actual writing though as well!
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2017
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  20. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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  21. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    Seems somehow very whack (and maybe a tad goth or steampunk or something) that a horror story writer had the biggest vocabulary.
     

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