Incidentally, if anyone glances at such a title and automatically their minds ventures beyond an R-rating, than you are sick puppies and you should wash your minds out with soap. Well… no, not really.. your ‘twisted’ mentality is mostly normal. This journey into a somewhat philosophical territory, however, is entirely SFW, and has nothing to do with the ‘Size’ of a certain thing that question normally evokes. Rather this is me, yet again, rambling and ranting about the abnormal things that pass through my head on a regular basis. Today these rantings will return several subjects I have touched upon at least several times in the past, most of which has to do with something most writers will struggle with at least once, word count.
Out in the real world, in all honesty, I am one of those quiet people most people wouldn’t even notice. I am rarely motivated to join in seemingly any random conversation that just so happens in my vicinity. This really has almost everything to do with the fact that I have very little in common with most people (surprise, surprise, I know :D). But when it comes to my hobby and strange form of personal entertainment, I don’t think there is a sane person on this planet who would reasonably argue that I am a person of few words. And when it comes to writing and word count, unsurprisingly if you were to ask any 1,000 writers or readers about what is the ‘magic number’, you are all too likely to get 300 or 400 different answers that vary by the digits. As the internet age has been born and grown into the kind of awkward adolescence we are all living through, I have discovered that when it comes to writing, as it is with SO MANY other things, trying to find two people who agree 100% on something is like finding an undiscovered Van Gogh painting in your family’s attic. There is so much contention out there on so many subjects that it has nearly reached a point where it is simply not worth consulting the proverbial ‘sages’ for anything like an answer.
Back when I started writing, eons ago, there was no such readily available source of information, even one as filled with so many differing opinions as the internet is today. Nor have I ever been one of those people who readily relied on the ‘experts’ who wrote the resource books of ages past. While I might have found at a glance some standard inside some book written by some failed author turned ‘expert’, back in those far off days when I was first trying to come to terms with how long any given story should be, I did the only thing I could think of at that time. I took a published novel, selected one full page of text and counted how many words was on it, then I multiplied that number by the number of pages, and rounded upward. What that experiment ultimately told me was that book was somewhere in the vicinity of a 100,000 words. And ever since that time that has in part been my ‘magic number’, one that set a kind of goal line for my first efforts. In other words anything above that goal was therefore considered ‘Safe’.
Of my now 10 books the smallest is 120,000 words and according to another of those self appointed ‘experts’ over at the writer’s digest website, that book is 5,000 words past his ‘magic number’ for sci-fi and fantasy books. So it could really only tweak my normally perverse sense of humor to want, at least a little, to point this person my way and watch as they mentally unzip into a state of homicidal rage. This is because my largest book makes that already sizable number look like I wasn’t even really trying. That book The Tangled Path of Destiny, book 5.5 of the Salak’patan series, quietly takes 115,000 words that ‘expert’ recommended and detonates and 500 megaton warhead on top of it. At 226,000 words, it could be reasonably argued I would have been better off splitting the story straight down the middle. It was an option I considered at that time, but rejected mostly because it would have messed up the balanced progression that fit seven books into five slots. The two time lines founds in the four books of 4 and 5, all but required concurrent but separate time lines, and the sheer masses of books 4.5 and 5.5 could easily have filled four or five books rather than just two. At 226,000 words I was well aware that I was in danger of creating a critical mass of text that would consume all of creation, but despite that I still feel it failed to tell ‘the whole story’. According to that same expert any writer who tries to put a book out there that exceeds those, rather arbitrary, magic numbers is a writer ‘who failed to edit properly’.
While I can not, will not, or never shall claim that my editing is spot on perfect, I do believe at the core of my being believe that not once in my life have ever used any more or any less than the exact number of words necessary to tell the story I had in my head. And quite frankly I believe that any agent or publisher who rejects a novel simply based on the arbitrary number that is word count doesn’t deserve that job. A story should by every right be just as short or long as it needs to be in order for it to be whole. For that all that I or others might argue I would have had been better off splitting my literary behemoth right down the middle, ultimately it would no longer be the whole and complete thing that it is. Granted doing this would have made me more money, but quite frankly I’d take far less satisfaction in that, than I do in having that massive tome on my ‘shelf’.
The reason I have brought up all of this is because it is all but certain that once again I will in the near future violate my own versions of those magic numbers. For me, I have few doubts, I calculate the minimums, maximums, and magic numbers different than other people, as my ‘over-sized’ collection proves beyond a shadow of doubt in the opinions of ‘experts’. For me I define things at least a little like this:
* 27,500 words and under = A short story (and something I have never successfully written in my ‘official’ writing career)
* 30,000 ~ 60,000 words = A novella
* 60,000 ~ 1,000,000 words = A novel
After about a million words I figure you might be overdoing this just a little, but hey who am I to argue against someone’s choices?
For me the magic number for a worthwhile book size sits rather vaguely between 125,000 and 155,000, beyond that point is when I personally begin to speculate if I am pushing the limits. This is true even though I have personally violated that range two and half times. So in other words I make it my personal goal to provide my readers with what are essentially are ‘double sized novels’, twice the fun same bargain price.
So why is all this relevant? Because I said two and a half times, and soon enough it will be three. For most of the past few weeks since The Sixth Movement was released I have been working on Change of Seasons which will be Book One of the Relics and Remnants series and the book I plan on releasing later this year. It is not that I am rushing towards an early release date, though I have considered giving the Pre-orders Smashwords has been plugging a real, planned, chance to see if that route might be worth it in the future. Rather it is because I have been aware that first two or three chapters of that book were going to require considerably more work than I normally have to go through in order to reach the level of quality and consistency that I have worked hard to achieve with at least 9 of my books. (And again thank you to my friend Melody Hewson for trying her very best to improve and fix my ‘bad’ book).
More than once in recent years I have had people who expressed their outrage, vented their frustration, or otherwise were shocked that as a writer I could take stories I’ve written in the past and simply burn them, discard them, delete them, or otherwise destroy them. It’s something I have done many, many times, case in point is The Sixth Line of Defense which had an ‘original’ version that was destroyed and The Sixth Movement which had 4 partial beginnings I deleted for being wrong, awkward, or otherwise unworthy. I’ve destroyed perhaps 200 stories in my life with word counts ranging easily between 2,000 and 160,000 words, though of that bigger variety of discards are the exception rather than the rule. In general stories I’ve discarded in the past were ranged around 20,000 words. The reason I have most often done these wanton acts of literary destruction is because those stories were Old.
Over the years my writing style, narrative, even my way of constructing a sentence has evolved beyond any real comparison to what it is today. In truth anything older than six years old might as well have been written by someone else for all that someone might recognize those stories as being something quintessentially mine. It is for this reason that it is entirely easier for me to burn the old stuff, and start over fresh, entering that revisited story with a far better understanding of the characters and worlds. It has come to the point when I really don’t even hesitate over hitting ‘New Document’ and then typing out a file heading with a 2, 3, or 7 on the end of those temp titles, as I move down through the versions of things. When it comes to Change of Seasons specifically, that was an idea I played with a long time ago, picked up and put down several times, re-read a dozen times in between, and then in two great mad rushes of activity, finished. Because of this convoluted evolution, the original 40 or so pages were nearly 9 years old by this time, and therefore were far from being up to my current standards. And in so many ways it would have been easier for me to have deleted those forty pages and shoe-horned in new passages in their place. Proof of this assertion is found in the fact that it has taken me two weeks to fix those forty pages, a time that would have given me plenty of time to do three, perhaps even four full editing run throughs on the full length of the novel. In other words it is FAR easier for me to write something fresh and new than it is for me to fix something old and stale.
As has been consistently the case throughout my writing ‘career’, when it comes right down to the brass tax of things, my books inevitably get longer as I edit them, not shorter. The scenes, explanations, and conversations that enter my books during that first draft stage of things, are almost always needed and necessary. In the grand scheme of things, there is perhaps only 3% worth of my stories that I could delete and not feel as if those books suffered from the absence of those words. Whether a wip (work in progress) gains five words or 50,000 as I edit them hardly matters, they get longer because there are details, insights, and additions that can and will improve the over all story. As of this afternoon and that point when I can say that final ‘first draft’ of my next book has achieved a consistent intermediate stage of completion, that expansion has pressed forward well beyond the outer edge of even my vague ‘magic number’. When I started fixing those oldest sections, the book stood at a very, very respectable 165,000 words. But in some ways the proof of how much my style has changed over time, by the time I reached that border between what was old and what is still ‘new’ the newest version of the first draft is now 195,000.
The truth is I just a little surprised myself by how much that number had changed these past weeks. While I expected some reasonable amount of expansion, perhaps 10 or 15,000 to fix everything that was old, I could not have anticipated a 30,000 word bump. But those old pages needed to be fixed, obviously, seriously, so this is the result, a book that has bloated outward to a word count bordering on being ‘too big’. However, once again, I can’t force myself to seriously consider cutting the book in half. It would result in two incomplete halves of the same story. SO I have ask myself, does Size Matter? In the grand scheme of things, I am really only just another a simple story-teller, weaving a web of words to entertain myself and those twisted enough to like the results of my hobby. Is it really worth my time, effort, and sanity to worry about magic-numbers that ultimately don’t matter? Should I limit myself to saying _only_ what is necessary or should I just toss up another rude gesture towards the ‘experts’ of the internet and tell the story I want to, in as many or as few words as I deem necessary. It’s a question any writer will one day have to look squarely in the eye, and whether that question is a behemoth that threatens to swallow the world whole or one that sneaks past them as quiet as a mouse, it is a question that they will need to answer.
When it comes down to it, I can in truth breath a sigh of relief over this latest ‘crisis’ situation. Beyond this now eliminated border line between old and new the narrative and story is no more than a year old, so I can fully expect an easy editing ahead. While it is likely to grow by some small measure as I struggle somewhat to fix all the big and little mistakes ahead. And there is a 50/50 chance the book will top 200,000, especially when it still needs a rant in the form of author’s notes. However the chances it will bloat outward to become my new biggest book are all but non-existent.
However an hour of your wasted time later, I ask you, when it comes to word count, Does Size Matter? If you as a reader, believe that the writer worked hard enough to earn your entertainment dollar, does it truly matter if a book is 50,000 words, or 500,000 words? Or, alternatively, as writer, do you feel as if there is some arbitrary ‘Magic Number’ that makes word count some vital, all important, benchmark that makes you, as a writer, a success or a failure, based upon that number?