Monday, May 16, 2011

In which I admit an addiction

I have a problem. I can admit this now, and I'm working on it.

I'm addicted to word count.

Yeah, I know, a pithy addiction amongst all the other possibilities, but it's kind of wrecking my writing life right now. Because I'm addicted to massive bumps in word count. I keep thinking "oh, if I can just get to 30K words I'll be happy." But then 30K becomes 40K becomes 50K becomes 60K and suddenly I've amassed 15K words in one day because I can't stop. In fairness, I'm pulling large chunks of this WIP from the previous version I wrote, so I'm able to pull together 15K words in one day without actually writing every single one of those words, but you'd think I'd be happy. You think I'd be amazed.

But I wanted more.

I've gotten to 52K words in two weeks, which is INSANE for me. I'm a slow writer, a slow plotter, and I don't always write every day. That many words would usually take me a couple of months, and a complete manuscript usually takes me about 6 months. But because I can pull entire scenes from the previous version of the WIP, I have seen massive bumps in my word count in just a couple of days. And I'm hooked now. Previously I would have been happy with 2K words in one day, but now I'm looking at 6K-8K each time I sit down and it feels. So. Good.

It doesn't help that I can see the word count right in the bottom of the screen. It's a constant reminder, a constant check, and even if I write a great scene I sometimes get ticked that it's only 200 words. In a way it's a good impetus to keep writing and finish out the first draft faster, but it sometimes overtakes the creativity of the process. In school we learned about two types of business models - quantity and quality. As writers we walk a line between shoveling out crap and polishing up the diamonds in that crap. Different writers take different approaches to that first shoveling out of crap. Me, I like to polish as I go along, which is why my word counts tend to be lower per day than some first draft writers. Upping the volume of words I produce can have a dangerous effect on this type of writing.

What about you? Are you addicted to checking word count? Does it drive you crazy like it drives me crazy (say yes and make me feel better)?

Monday, May 9, 2011

A tale of two journeys

Ignoring the fact that I have been hiding out in a cave with Robin Hood for months now...I have an actual post today!

Sometimes I hate it when my critique partners are right. And by "hate" I mean "I can't believe I have to go back and think about this." In my pre-writerly days, storytelling just seemed so natural. Like events and characters and plots all just flowed together into one nice big river, and I was just flowing along with the current. The stories would magically unfurl in my head and flow out onto the page with the ease and grace of a ballerina. Surely if I just sat down and gave myself enough time, the story would tell itself, right?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

So when I met up with my fellow critters last week, the first thing one of them said about my latest chapter submission hit home with a dooming certainty. It was a simple question, really, but one with a great amount of import behind it. I'm finding that to be the case with most simple questions in adulthood.

What is the emotional journey of your character in this chapter?

There are two journeys that every story takes: the plot journey, and the emotional journey. These two journeys often intersect and affect each other, but they need to be considered separately to make sure you're moving both forward at all times. For me, sometimes the plot journey takes over my brain and I forget that my characters need to grow. They should be reacting to the action taking place, and making choices that define their character at every turn. Janet Fitch (who wrote the emotionally wrenching White Oleander) wrote a fantastic post about 10 rules that any writer can benefit from employing. Number nine on the list gets to the heart of the two journeys - write in scenes. As in, something needs to happen in a scene, both to advance the plot and advance the character. Each scene in your story must ratchet up the tension, or reveal a new piece of vital information. And emotionally, each scene should lead your character to a place from which they can't turn back. A tall order, for sure, but it makes for the best writing any of us can aspire to.

So for every chapter/scene you write, ask yourself these questions:
1) What new information have I learned from this scene?
2) How does this new information drive the story forward?
3) What has my character learned?
4) How does my character feel about this information?
5) How does this information change my character emotionally?

That's not to say that every scene you write needs to have some big soap opera reveal, or that your character is suddenly changed forever by each scene. That would be too unbelievable. But you should make sure that every scene you write, every piece of dialog, every description, is driving the story and the characters along the journey. It can be a little hop or a big leap, but you've got to keep the reader moving toward the (no doubt gripping) conclusion.