July 2nd, 2007
Book Length

I went back to the post in which I begged people for blogging topics and saw that I missed this question… 

I’ve got a question (or more). When is the length of a book decided? Who decides how long a book is going to be … is it the author, the publisher … or the book itself? Has any book you have written taken on a life of it’s own in a way you didn’t expect … and if so, how did you deal with it? Is there a particular length of book you prefer to write? Is it harder to write long stories or short ones … 

To a large degree it’s the book that decides the length, since when the story is done, it’s just done. It spins out naturally and any attempt to make it longer is just padding. Padding ruins the pacing and might even ruin the book. Every scene has to have a goal, motivation and conflict. Every scene needs to advance the plot and further develop the characters, so scenes that don’t do that?…bad

But, since I’m a plotter and not a pantster, (a pantster is a writer who doesn’t really plan out the book before they write. They just do it “by the seat of their pants”), I can control how long a book is going to be before I start it. 

For example, for quickies like Edge of Sweetness, I kept the plot fairly simple and made my objectives modest going in. With short stories like that one, the characterization has to be in every single line, every piece of dialogue, every movement that the character makes because there’s so little space to develop them. But when I intend to write that short, I plan for it and don’t let the plot get out of control. 

For longer books, like Water Crystal, the plot was large to begin with and I knew it would take 120,000 words to tell it all. And it did. 

Then some books surprise me. Witch Blood came in about 10k over what I’d intended. That was a case of the book deciding how long it needed to be. Of course, my editor may not concur. *g* Maybe I’ll be cutting it down shortly.

3 comments to “Book Length”

  1. I’m a pantser, although I prefer the term “organic” because (a) it sounds more impressive and (b) the other term sounds like I always write without pants on (and that’s only some of the time!)

    Even so, I typically have a rough idea how long I want a project to be, however. I was shooting for 90K with Wanderlust, and it looks like it’ll be around 86K when I finish it, give or take. So I’d certainly consider that in the ballpark. I’d never write anything over 125K for the simple reason that it’s really hard to sell.

  2. I had a friend ask me how I knew my first draft would be 50k long.

    I told her I didn’t, and that I originally started at 100k, which looked too long, so I cut and I cut and then I ended at 50k. LOL.

  3. Um, I should clarify that statement. I’ve one of the word counter bar things that I update almost daily on my writing blog, you see. That’s why she asked about the 50k, not that I’ve actually finished it.