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Monday, January 27, 2014

Writer's Update: 'WALLS' edits, world builing, self-doubt, and word counts

I've spent the past couple of weeks starting to edit the first draft of my NaNoWriMo project 'WALLS' and it's been a bit crazy. I have had an amazing amount of support from friends on Facebook and especially people I know from uni who have been reading the first chapter or two for me and giving me some really helpful feedback. Those people know who they are, but I want them to know how appreciative I am of their help.

My goal at the moment is to make sure my opening chapter is as strong as I can make it and at the moment I need to work on my world building, not only in the first chapter, but throughout the whole story. I'm trying to pay a little more attention to the world building in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books while I read them (just under 200 pages into Clash of Kings). The world I am creating is very different to the one he has created, but the way he has created his is so phenomenal that I'm sure paying attention to the craft will be worth my while, especially since a couple of my friends who have read the first chapter or two have said they want to get a better feel of the setting.

One really good comment a friend made was that I should be able to communicate my setting through the everyday life of my characters. My main character, Mildred, is a refugee in a city surrounded by a wall that was erected to keep the citizens safe from the dangers on the outside, but the City itself is controlled by an invisible figurehead with strict laws and too many eyes and ears reporting back to him, and the self-granted right to change his mind as he pleases. Basically, Mildred is only there because she would probably be killed by the rebel army destroying homes on the outside of the Wall.

After receiving a bit of criticism on the world building issues, I read a bit more with that in mind and realised that my world building is actually really terrible. I mean, thank goodness this is a first draft or I would probably just bash my head with a brick and have it done with. I'm hoping that with the fact it needs fixing in mind while I continue to edit, I'll be able to make this story a whole lot better.

Which brings me to my next dilemma. At the moment, with the editing I have done so far to the first three or so chapters, and with a lack of world building throughout, 'WALLS' sits at 87,962 words. I wrote the initial 88-89K first draft in less than 40 days, but editing is a different story and that number is daunting. I'm trying to take things one chapter at a time for now, but even so, thinking how much work I'm about to have to do and how much longer it's going to get if I do it properly is actually really scary and I'm starting to have moments of self-doubt. Can I actually pull this off? Sure I can. At least, that's what I'm going to have to keep telling myself.

And then the word count presents a second issue: how long is too long? Because once I do this world building properly, it's only going to be longer. I don't even know what genre I'm supposed to classify it as anymore and I've stopped telling the people who are reading it for me because I want them to tell ME where they think it belongs, because I'm afraid I'll put it in the wrong category. I mean, it's for older teens and young adults, and I've been told that a good length is about 60K... but then there's The Hunger Games. And I think 'WALLS' is a little (lot) more sinister at times than The Hunger Games. I just don't know. I've always been of the mindset that length doesn't matter: a story should be as long or as short as it needs to be, to be told well.

This post has turned into a more of a venting/rambling train of thought which may or may not be coherent, so I'm going to cut myself off here and go to sleep.

How do you find world building when you're working with an alternative universe? Do you end up doubting yourself even though you've already come so far? Is a word count important to a story? How do you decide what genre or category your writing belongs in?

- Bonnee.

16 comments:

  1. Word count is my nemesis ... seriously, it is always an issue with my first drafts. I write too much and I know it. I've gotten better about it - one of my earlier books was double the suggested length when I first drafted it! - but still, there's never been a time I don't have to cut during edits. I do think it's important to the story, but I also agree with you: it should be as long or as short as the book requires in order to be told well. If I go over by a couple thousand words, I'm okay with that. Maybe it would be easier not to worry about word count while you're doing this first round of revisions? Go through, do your world building, and then have a second round where you can delete. Good luck, and don't doubt yourself -- try to have fun with it! :)

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    1. I definitely don't worry about the word count for the initial stage of writing a first draft, because I know that all that sort of stuff can wait until revisions (which is why I'm worrying now!). Perhaps you're right, and the word cutting can wait until a later round of revisions. No matter how much doubt I'm having at the moment, I'm definitely having fun! :) Thank you, Shari. :)

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  2. For YA dystopian(ish) you're looking at about 70k to 90k as a first-time writer. Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games already had a MG series under her belt when she wrote her dystopian, so she could get away with a higher word-count. You should read Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. It's a lot closer to what you're trying to write than what Martin writes. I've never really gotten enough words down to worry about the world building. And just remember, YA world building and adult world building tend to be very different.

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    1. I might look in to Steelheart if you think it would be more appropriate, and maybe I'll even suck it up and take another look at The Hunger Games, because I guess that is more what I am aiming for. 70k to 90k sounds a lot more manageable, if that's the recommended word count for YA dystopian (if my book indeed falls under that category). Thanks for your advice Patrick :)

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  3. I knew the basic genre, but I didn't know my specific genre until I started querying.
    World building is challenging. I've learned to plan more ahead before I start writing. But weaving into the characters' everyday lives sounds like a good plan.
    And hope you can join us for the Challenge! It's a lot of fun and you'll make a lot of new friends.

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    1. I had planned a out my worldbuilding... I just never got around to writing it in during the first draft! I guess I will find my genre soon enough. I'd really love to join you guys for the Challenge! :) Thanks for visiting, Alex.

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  4. As 'the doubting writer', you know I always question myself! So far, I haven't dealt with alternate universes in my writing, so I'm not sure what to tell you on that front, but here's a couple of thoughts on the whole thing:

    1. Don't sweat word count too much yet. My own experience is that, yes, you add for world-building, but you'll also be taking out extraneous words ('that' and 'just' add up quite a bit), and chances are good you'll find duplicate scenes and exchanges.

    2. Martin is amazing at so many things. What I like about his world building is he doesn't necessarily explain a whole lot--he just sort of presents certain things as simple facts of life in Westeros, and you just kind of 'get it' (for my money, he spends a little too much time on clothes, but I think we can forgive him).

    3. Yes, you can pull this off.

    4. Have you read it through yet? WALLS, that is. IF you haven't, you should.

    I'll stop now, as I have something to comment on....

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    1. Thanks JeffO :) I'm hoping to get rid of quite a few words and wordy sentences as I go through and revise. Maybe I'll cut down more than I thought I would.

      Martin definitely spends too much time talking about what people are wearing... but the setting itself that he's given us definitely makes up for it.

      I haven't given WALLS a full read-through yet, I keep stopping to try and make things better and end up reading the same chapter like 12 times before I move on to the next, and then double back to do it again... I should probably give it a full read-through at some point :p

      Thanks again :)

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    2. Anytime.

      Everyone works differently, but I heartily recommend reading it through without actually altering on computer. Keep a note pad, or print it out and scribble all over the margins, but try not to get too caught up in the small stuff.

      That's my opinion, anyway; it (mostly) works for me.

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    3. It probably would be a good idea. I had a notebook nearby while I was writing, jotting down certain things that I knew I would have to come back to later, but I think it would be beneficial to go through again now that the whole thing is written. Thanks Jeff :)

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  5. Fantasy can go as high as 120k, YA is comfortable between 60-80k. You can get away with higher numbers if you are an established author.

    It's always daunting at the beginning of the editing process. I'm sure you can do it though.

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    1. If I can get away with 80K I might feel a little more comfortable cutting down. I guess every author has to start somewhere. Thanks Lynda :)

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  6. Like Patrick posted, an established author can have more (or less) words than the guideline. As a debut author aim to stay at 60-80K words. If you main heroine Mildred and her best friend are teenagers then you have a YA fiction. About world building, you can do it with more details (hard work) or less. The Hunger Games' world building is less than the novels by Martins. My novels are now and in real places so I don't have world building, but I'm not sure that you need to have extensive world building. What important is Mildred, her feelings, her thoughts, her decisions and how she react to the events around her. If you make it more about Mildred, then the world building is less relevant. For me the Hunger Games is about Katniss, not about the world building. Make it about Mildred not about the details of the world building. I like your story of capricious invisible ruler. Quite original, I think, but I didn't read many novels.

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    1. Oh I definitely knew it was YA, but within that.. I was leaning towards dystopian, but I'm not sure if it came across that way. There are a few more I'd like to establish as far as world building goes, even if I do put the focus on Mildred. The Hunger Games was mostly about Katniss, but the reader still got a feel about Panem in general, especially wherever Katniss was within it. I don't think it's particularly original, it's just another totalitarian government spin-off, but they aren't the main bad guys here. It's like a better of two evils situation. Thanks for stopping by, Giora :)

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  7. Looks like you've been getting some great advice here, Bonnee. It's worth keeping in mind that many editors scrap the first chapter, sometimes the second, and say the story actually starts at the third. Perhaps you're over-thinking your world building.

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    1. I didn't realise that was the case, Denise. I've heard similar advice about scrapping the first paragraph or two in short stories. Thanks for visiting :)

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