The short of it: When the book runs too short

Anne Allen has a post up about when your book runs too short or too long

I have a long history of books running too short.  In fact, it was very discouraging and frustrating for me.  Publishers would require something like 80K-90K, and I was hitting at 40-50K.

The craft books were no help.  They always assumed you were writing over.  I couldn’t even see how someone could write a book that ballooned up to 200K.  By the time I hit 50K, I was scratching at whatever I could to get the word count up—often at the expense of the story.

And when I asked for help, I got “Just add a subplot!” like that was a magic fix.   No one seemed to get that the story was 40K short.  You can’t add a 40K subplot without the reader rebelling.  Most of the other tips I ran across would have added maybe 10K.  Certainly not 40K.

At the time, I eked my way up to 80K, watching the word count like I was on surveillance.  It was also a frustrating experience because when I revised, some things come out and others go in.  I might take out 500 words and add 600 words, so the word count would stay the same.

And the novel was a complete mess. Between trying to get to the word count and outlining advice sneaking it, it was a plane crash that took a whole city.  Just really bad.

It was so bad and I was so frustrated that I wondered if I could ever write a novel length work.  I was ready to give up.  But I took Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel.  There was a lesson in there where you identify everything wrong in the book, and all those places where I’d added for word count jumped out at me.  I lost half the book.

Back to square one.

It does have a happy ending.  I tossed the entire book, started again without that baggage from word counts and outlines.  Rogue God was the result of that.

In hindsight, I think one of the reasons I had so much trouble with word count is that I have a natural sense of where the story should end, and it tended to fall right around the 40-50K area.  One of the reasons I went over to indie is so I don’t have to worry about word count.  I can just tell the story I want to tell.

Gratuitous Volcano Pictures

Volcanoes are one of those cool things that make for a great action story (real life, not so much).  There’s nothing like a character trying to escape as the volcano is rumbling and shaking and vents are opening up.

These are some awesome photos of the Kilauea Volcano spilling lava into the sea. 

Take a peak inside my family’s historical house

My family’s historical house, the Havilah Babcock house, has a website.  The house was built by my great-great grandfather (the aforementioned Havilah), who was one of the co-founders of the Kimberly-Clark Corporation.

Havilah designed everything in the house, picking the furnishings, the wallpaper—and after he died, the family left it all the way it was.  So you can take a peak inside at what Havilah designed.

Why outlining doesn’t work for everyone

It took me a long time to figure out that most writing craft advice that I find in books and online assumes that you’re outlining.  It’s so common that even people who don’t outline don’t realize they’re being told to use outlining techniques.

So much so that one of them periodically creeps into my writing and becomes like a big boulder that falls on the mountain pathway.  No way to get around it to the other side other than to zap it with a laser beam into bits and pieces.

My book is in three parts, with each part being a particular planet.  I started writing the part that takes place on the second planet and a big boulder dropped in.

It was a simple piece of outlining advice, which is to know what’s going to happen next. 

So I plopped in what I thought happen next and the story stalled out.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on as I tried to get around the boulder, but far less time in the past.  In fact, Scrivener helped because I could visually see scenes and chapters.  Part 1 had 13 chapters.  Part 2, where I had 3 chapters. 

This is a major section of the story, and I was zooming through it like it wasn’t important.

That’s because when I use one of these recommended outlining techniques, it kicks the natural development of the story to the curb and aims at the event, I suppose, like an infantry man charging a hill.  It’s more of “accomplish the mission and get that event in there,” not follow the natural course of the story. 

The result in the past was a very busy story that made no sense because I kept trying to use all these outline techniques that are recommended for pantsers. 

So it’s pretty important to understand what works and recognize what doesn’t.  Everyone tends to treat outlining as a once size fits all, when the writing process is completely different from person to person.

Talent writing versus No Talent

Dean Wesley Smith has a post up over on his site on the dangers of being identified as having talent versus being told you have no talent.

I’ve been writing since I was eight years old.  My best friend Rebekah was writing a play, and I wanted to do it because she was doing it.  And it was fun!

So I wrote stories, and illustrated them, every opportunity I got.  I even worked on a story before class (and sometimes during class, when I wasn’t supposed to).  So I wrote a lot of stories, and created a girl detective like Nancy Drew who had adventures.

In 7th grade, the school offered a creative writing class.  Rebekah signed up for it, and I also wanted to be in it.  I mean, really, a class where you could write stories in class because you were supposed to?

The counselor, this older Chinese woman who always look like she’d been wrung out, summoned me to her office.  She informed me that I could not take the class because I wasn’t “capable of it.”

Then I was dismissed.

I went back and cried.

In hindsight, it was probably because I wasn’t a great student.  I’m visual spatial, so I’m pretty bad with the kind of details they focus on in school.  I’d fail a computer bubble test by not noticing that I’d skipped one.  I was also not a great speller.  I don’t spell things out one word at a time; I have to picture it.  But that’s not how they teach spelling.

Anyway, I probably could have given up, but I got mad instead.  I continued writing, and in the 9th grade entered a school essay contest.  I picked up an honorable mention.

I’m sure the counselor thought she was “helping” me or doing me a “favor.”  But how can anyone tell from an 11-year old’s current skills what they will be like in the future?  Maybe they would stop writing like Rebekah, or maybe they would a master at writing like Stephen King?  No one is very good at that age, but doing something that promotes any kind of learning should always be encouraged.

Hot Time in DC

We’ve had a bad heat wave in the Washington, DC area these last few days.  With our heat comes humidity, especially this time of the year.  The humidity is up around 71%, so our 96 degrees heads up to around 110 degrees.

So I thought I’d hit the pool instead of normal exercise—it’s hard doing anything even in air conditioning. 

The pool is outdoors, unheated.  Usually on the cold side.

It was like being in a warm bath.

No fair!

Star Trek: Discovery

It was announced over this weekend that CBS would be premiering a new Star Trek series.  I have mixed feelings about it.

I remember when Next Gen came out.  It was so exciting!  The show was back.  I eagerly awaited for each new episode.  Bit that first season was pretty disappointing because the writers hadn’t figured out what they were doing yet.  They repeated episodes from the original series, and made some major missteps.

They eventually found their footing, and the series had some stunning episodes.

My mixed feelings for the new one are because the industry is focused more on dollars than story telling.  They see Star Trek as simply special effects and action in space, and not what it really was.  Sure, the stories had action, but they were about something.  They were entertaining, sometimes funny, and always tested your mind.

A few weeks back, I heard Chris Pine say that society wasn’t ready for Star Trek as it was.  I think it’s not society—we always been ready.  It’s the industry that’s not ready.


The first woman who did military bomb disposal

This is the story of the first woman who did bomb disposal for the military:

More important, she was captivated by the job from the first moment she plugged a blasting cap into a block of TNT. We can really blow things up? she recalled thinking, as if she was getting away with something. She could put explosives on anything — a pile of old land mines, cardboard boxes, a wooden table — and it would cease to exist and “turn into air.” It was a revelation.

Fascinating to read about.  Still not something I would have volunteered for.  Much better to write about fictional characters and fictional explosives!  Much safer, too.

Monster Ships: Aircraft Carriers

When I went to Hawaii back in the 1980s, there was an aircraft carrier in the harbor. This was pre-military for me, and the first time I’d ever seen a Navy ship that wasn’t part of a museum (a World War II submarine in Wisconsin).

I think it was one of the smaller ones, but I looking up at this enormous ship standing so tall and high and going, “Holy cow!”

This is a video of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, otherwise known as the Big Stick. Watch the size of the sailboats that pass it by.

The End of the VCR

It’s been all over the news that the last manufacturer of the VCR is shutting the line down.  I remember when the VCR first came out.

At the time, Star Trek was running back to back with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as part of a Sci-Fi afternoon.  One day, the station pulled Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and in the fandom crowd, we found that it had pretty much disappeared.

We couldn’t rewatch favorite episodes or ones that we had never seen.  Many of us hadn’t seen the first season at all because it was in black and white, and some of the stations only showed the color three seasons.

Some of the fans were able to tape a handful of episodes, and these grainy, poor quality tapes made the rounds.  If we found a fan with another episode we didn’t have (there were 110, so lots of room for this), we were all eagerly for copies.

There were still some episodes I had never seen from the first season. 

Finally, after about 10 years, Columbia House came out with the series on video.  It was pretty expensive and subscription based, so you couldn’t buy anything to your budget.  Like grab a tape with episodes I hadn’t seen, and then pick up ones I had later, when I could afford it.

The show finally resurfaced on Sci-Fi, when it still focused on science fiction, and they showed all the episodes from the beginning to end.  And it was eventually released on DVD.

By then, I’d evolved so much as a writer that the flaws of the show really stood out.  I liked the actors, liked the special effects, but there were problems with the stories.  And the producer tended to do things because he though the audience would never notice, so I was rewinding to see if yes, the actor in the later scene had actually already been killed by a monster.

It’s still amazing though how much VCRs and the video tape changed how we watch TV and films.