How long should a book be?

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meterZokutou word meter
152,219 / 180,000

Here’s the progress: the orangey bit is the new words, up from 148,707. Doesn’t sound very much, but I am also pruning as I go, tightening up the previously written, so I am well content.

Here’s the actual percentage of what I have gone through correcting, cutting and filling in the gaps:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
72,409 / 180,000

I haven’t actually written a book quite this way before. The normal thing for me is to write from the beginning to the end and then revise, revise, revise. Sometimes I do stop a couple of times (typically about a third and then again at two-thirds the way in) to reread from the beginning, just to make sure I am on the right track. And yes, I do tend to tidy up on those rereads.

{Word of warning to novice writers: it is easy to keep doing this, revising all the time, instead of ever getting to the end. So watch yourself – don’t go back and reread unless you have a reason, and don’t try to polish too much until you have a first draft in your hand. I suspect there are far more books begun than there are ever books finished. If you are writing your first book, your initial aim should be to reach the END. Never lose sight of that goal. You won’t have finished the book, but you will have a full draft to work with, which is more than most people ever do.}

This time though, when I was writing the first draft, I could see that the book was becoming too long, so I kept trying to keep the verbiage down.

Mistake. It ended up – as my first beta readers attested – being a story that had skimpy sections that were frustrating because the reader wanted the details. It also ended up 205,000 words long. Far too long, unless you are “a name” and can sell anything you write without publishers swallowing sickly at the length. (Just compare the length of the unknown Rowling’s first HP book to the length of the famous Rowling’s later ones.)

In other words, I had a story that was too long for the word length I had allotted.

What to do?

The answer was simple. I had to fill in the empty spaces to make it a good story. And I had to come to the end much sooner to make it a publishable story.

But the year was 2002. And other books got in the way. I had contracts for The Isles of Glory, and then more contracts for The Mirage Makers – and deadlines, one after the other. So the story of The Random Rain Cycle was abandoned while I wrote other things.

Re-reading the MS after five years away from it was great. It was clear that there was a natural ending at about 144,000 words. Just the kind of ending I like to give my readers – there is closure of the more immediate story, but lots of loose ends to entice them back to see what happens in the larger tale.

So that is what I am working on now – a complete story that has sections which need plumping out. There is one major new character too – the love interest of one of the others – who wasn’t there at all in the earlier version.

It’s fun, but tricky. Everything has to dovetail, and it is incredibly easy to muck up the continuity when you put in major insertions. Revision, once I have finished, will have to be very, very careful…


How long should a book be? — 5 Comments

  1. Interesting post. Yes, certainly I write through to the end of first draft before revising. In fact, even when I do my section read-throughs (the equivalent of your third and two-thirds re-reads) I tend to just make notes on places that need revision, unless they’re very minor tidy-ups. I need to have the whole body of the first draft completed to get a sense of perspective, so I can see how and where it needs to be knocked into shape.

  2. Hrugaar – yes, I think that’s wise. It is a trap that new authors fall into though – going back to revise and revise because they are sure it’s no good.

    Patty – I shall talk about this in my next post…

  3. Wise, moi? :oD To me it’s just kind of instinctive. As with doing a painting or sculpture, you get all the layout and big shapes done first, then you can do reshuffling and work on the finer details.

    And yes, well impressed with all the work you’re managing to get done while on holiday and grandson-sitting!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.