Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I only have so many words

I have been writing a lot in the past two weeks, which is awesome. As I write, I have two beta readers who give me feedback, and I make edits based on their suggestions. One is my best friend, a woman, whom I've known since we were little girls. The other is my lover, a man, who conceived the entire idea for this series as we sat eating pizza together in a dinky little restaurant last July.

It's always interesting to see which avenues they ask me to explore. Oftentimes it's a plot point that I hadn't even considered. For example, in Book 2, Abby (Sarah's daughter) ends up becoming close with James as she searches for her father. I knew that she was going to be seeking out her father, but the idea of telling that journey through James' eyes didn't occur to me but it did to my lover, and I thought it was brilliant since the story is not told from her point of view and I wanted it done behind her mother's back so I couldn't tell it from Sarah's vantage. I am actively developing that relationship and part of the plot.

Sometimes, though, one of them gives me an idea that I'm "eh" about. My lover read Chapters 7 and 8 over the weekend and suggested adding a couple more scenes with James reacting to the attack on his base in Afghanistan. And he wanted me to spend more time developing the character of his fiancee. My friend wanted me to further the plot involving the fiancee and a doctor who was sexually harassing her at work. I have decided not to really take either of those things quite as far as they wanted me to. And that's because this story is really about Sarah, and I think that stuff is too divergent.

Writing a book is sort of like having a budget. You have to make choices because you only have so many words to spend. My last book went just a little over budget; it was 109K words. I anticipate this one coming in right at 100K and I'm already at 47K so nearly halfway there. I have to be aware of what else is coming down the pike and which plot points to devote the most real estate to. The end of the book may not have as much action but it's going to have a ton of emotional turmoil and that's going to use up a lot of words. I don't want to shortchange that or make it feel rushed or forced at all.

So when you read a book and you think, "Oh I would have liked to see more X or more Y," remember that the author made a conscious choice. Most of us don't want to write the next million word tome. Part of being a good storyteller is using just the right number of words to get the job done.


  1. I imagine that would be one of the big difficulties of writing a book...having to choose what plot points and characters to focus on, when you'd really love to write about all of it. I think it would be cool to write a different version of the same book, but told by different characters. Same basic story, but different perspectives (plus there would be room for the diverging plot points that would have taken away focus from the first telling) I've seen this story-telling device used before, with really good results :)

    Glad to hear the sequel is coming along so well!

    1. I have seen that done before too - Jodi Piccoult uses that convention quite a bit. The sequel is told from both Sarah and James' POV and switches back and forth, although it's like 70% Sarah and 30% James, still I think it allows the reader to get inside his head for the first time as he faces a major choice.

  2. Danielle Steel probably goes through this too. I didnt know that but now having read all her books...it makes sense.