Good tips for basing novels on strong ideas

Most of us continually ask ourselves “how can I improve my writing?” Here’s one of the best posts I’ve read on this topic lately – hope you find it interesting.

http://janefriedman.com/2015/03/09/compelling-novel-concept/

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My favourite trick for maintaining a flow of writing

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There are lots of ways we can (sometimes inadvertently) ‘hijack’ our writing, and one is by insisting on only writing the perfect word or the perfect sentence before we allow ourselves to move on. ARGH!

If you are trying to write a story, then surely you need to let the story move. And if you get bogged down by every sentence, then you might never finish. Or worse, you might end up with something that is stilted and doesn’t flow. I strongly believe that first you need a story, and then you can spend time perfecting your words. So write down all your ideas as quickly as you can, and then polish in the revision stage.

I’ll let you into a little secret. If I am seeing a scene flashing through my head and am desperately trying to capture it on paper, then the last thing I want to let myself do is become stalled. So if I have trouble thinking of the perfect word (and that happens often), I substitute it with ‘xx’, and then come back to it later. That way I don’t interrupt the flow.

Using ‘xx’ is also useful if I can’t remember something to do with continuity – such as a minor character’s name or place name that I know I’ve referred to before. My trick for that is to keep a separate document where I list all of the characters and places for that book/series, but again, don’t even look at the list when you’re in a flow – use xx for now! It is easier and better for time management to search for ‘xx’es and sort them out all at once at a later date.

I hope you find this useful! Just remember to do a search for ‘xx’ before you finalise your manuscript 🙂

How many words should my book be? (The brass tacks of word counts)

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There are so many different blogs and opinions about the ‘best’ word-counts for various genres, that I won’t even try to share a definitive answer here. Different publishing companies and agents and editors all have their own ideas on this topic.

But for self-publishing authors like myself, here are some rules of thumb that I usually to try to think about when I am creating my stories.

  • Novels (general) – anything over about 40-45,000 might be classed as a novel. Some publishing companies expect something longer (around 80-120k seems to be a popular rule of thumb). Then of course there are many highly successful novels that are 120k+ Check out the Harry Potter infographic below.
  • Romantic novels – For contemporary romance, I usually try to aim for something between 45k and 75k, with 45k being fine for a shorter racy romance, and 70-80k or thereabouts being a good length for a more in-depth ‘slow-burn’ or complex story. My first book Lover by moonlight is a slower story of emotional exploration and was about 70k. My second book Lie to me was faster and spicier – around 47k. My third contemporary romance in the Deception series (The Gemini Effect) was more of a slow burn – again nearly 70k. In the end, I find each book tends to dictate its own length.
  • Historical romance – I have generally been aiming for around 70k for my historical romances. It usually seems about right. Certainly that is what I have ended up with for the first two books in my French Connection series. (‘Isabel’s Choice’ and ‘Temptation’). The third book in the French Connection series is a bit racier (I am working on it now), and that one may end up being a bit shorter. It will all depend on just what the heroine gets up to in ‘The Secret Life of Eloise’!
  • Novellas – my first novella The Priest’s Seduction was around 20k. I think anything between about 17k and 35k can be classed as a novella. Again, some companies may have strict ideas, but if you are going out on your own, then it is your readers who can provide input on this.
  • Short stories – generally less than about 7k or 8k – again, short story publishers and competitions will have their own ideas about this.

That’s my own personal guide (approximate) to word counts. Yet having said that, one of the best bits about being an Independent author is that I don’t have to conform to restrictions set by publishing companies that work by formula. Which means I have the ultimate pleasure of letting the story dictate how long the book will be. I often have some idea at the beginning of where it is heading, but it is only as the story develops that it reveals where it wants to go, and that is when being flexible about word counts can be a real advantage. In the end, it makes for a better story, although it is always worth remembering that editing will still be just as important as ever.

It is only when readers start commenting that sections of text are unnecessary or don’t really help to further the story-line that a book might be considered “too long”. And similarly, when a reader is left feeling cheated, or as though the story was never properly aired, that it was “too short”. The rest is perhaps just semantics.

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To count or not to count? How do you measure a successful day of writing? (Or the good, the bad and the ugly of word counts…)

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Do you keep track of how many words you write each day?

Does it matter to you how many words you write?

And if it does, how many words constitute a good day of writing?

The answer to these questions depends a lot on what sort of writer you are, but I think for most of us, a sort of Nirvana would be to be ‘in the zone’ or having a flow of ideas that transforms seamlessly into clear, creative and well-conceived prose. If that is true for you, then managing to write several pages a day would feel as though you were making real progress, and being able to measure that progress with a word-count may prove even more addictive.

Personally, I love keeping track of my word-counts. Of course I am aware that it is not just about the quantity of words, but also about the quality, but if at the end of a full day of writing I can see 4, 5 or even 8,000 words added to my story, then it gives me a buzz. I know I have achieved something that is rare but always exhilarating – a really ‘good day’ of writing. I plan to think a bit more about some of the tricks I use to achieve a ‘good day’ of writing and share that with you soon, but in the meantime here are some of the brass tacks of word-counts from the perspective of a romance novelist.

For me, my stories are character-driven and sometimes rollick along as the characters move from one scene and experience to another. Sometimes the flow of scenes and ideas flow far faster than I can ever write. And so I try to capture it all as quickly as I can, avoiding interruptions and typing (or dictating into my voice-recognition software) until I finally need a break. When things are really flowing, 1,000 words an hour is easy – sometimes more. The best I have ever achieved is 12,000 words in one day – that involved a marathon overnight effort. And almost unbelievably, I hardly had to change a word of it before it was ready for professional editing and publishing.

But that was the exception, not the rule. If you are writing in shorter bursts, having to pick up where you are up to, get back into the characters, etc, then it might only be around 400 or 800 words an hour that is written. It depends on so many things!

I often prefer to count averages over a week, working on the assumption that I might have some good days, and some days full of interruptions, other activities, working on promotion, family stuff, everything else… And so in a week, I might set a goal of 15 or 16,000 words – whatever I think is realistic. And this is another reason why I like to keep count of my words. I can see what I am capable of and set realistic goals. Sometimes, it is the only way I know I am getting closer to the final goal – to finish the book!

As for knowing how many words your book may need to have – that is another question entirely (something I will research and think about for a future blogpost).

Getting back to this topic of tracking word-counts, once you have ‘finished’ the story, that’s when the bits that I find much more difficult begin…The editing and re-writing and re-working. There might be agonising, frustrating days when the word-count goes backwards. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. When you are writing, you are using the eye of the author, but when you edit you need to consider the needs of the reader. So much to think about!

All I can say is, I much prefer the days when the word-count goes up instead of down, as they are the days I am creating and weaving the stories that so often dominate my mind.

I would love to know how often you count your words, and the sorts of writing achievements that give you a buzz. Feel free to leave a comment!

If you want to read some more about word counts, check out this blogpost: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2015/01/the-prolific-author-how-many-words-per-hour-can-you-write/