Saturday, April 22, 2006


Mes Amis

What? I'm a writer? Really? Yes, someone has written to ask, well, "Among all your movie-going and political tirades against the state of education, have you done any writing recently?"

The answer is yes. I am fast approaching the deadline for the next draft. Which is why posts have few and far between of late, often only when something strikes me as particularly interesting or worth blogging (and the last post is, I think, endemic of a wider issue that maybe needs exploration and perhaps I shall, later). But one of the worst things I have been finding on rewriting this draft is my obssesive-compulsive need to check word counts after every scene. And such a thing is useless when redrafting. Because redrafting inevitably involves cutting words and paragraphs and (worst of all) scenes. Of course you end up adding stuff as well, but when you start checking word counts frequently you start to get worried when you see it going down (what was 80,000 before is suddenly 77,000) and then when it goes up (82,000) and you relax, suddenly its down again (79,000)* and so on until you have to start telling yourself, "its not the number of words, its what you do with them" even if you do feel inadequate next to the sheer size of some novelists**

Of course, I have always been against bloaty novels, anyway, as those of you who know me will be aware (my ideal length: 250 - 350 pages or thereabouts) so its been strange walking the line of what's too long and what's not. Of course, 80,000 is what I've always judged as an everage benchmark. Back when I used to try and write SF novels I remember most publishers asked for around 80,000 words (just not my 80,000 words!).

So its almost there, this new draft, and its bringing me concerns aplenty about bloat and repeitition and deviation (writing a novel is sometimes akin to playing a fiendishly difficult variation on Just A Minute except your editor isn't friendly old Nicholas Parsons) but there's a lot I kind of like, too, and I never know for sure whether its any good until someone else more qualified than I is able to look at it. So beware, Agent Jane and Editor Emma, there's a manuscript firing off in your direction next week...

Au revoir


* A couple of thousand doesn't seem like much, now, does it? But it does seem to make quite a bit of difference or maybe this is just more of my obssesive compulsiveness?

** Now, now, I know which of you are out there giggling like schoolgirls at that. Stop it!


Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, Russel, I was going to say we could debate the merits of size at Harrogate but maybe we shouldn't go there.

But a few thousand words in the hands of an editor makes little difference, I think. Plus, by formatting books into extra chapters you fill space so nobody notices if you're a few thousand words shy or not.

I mean, people suggest I cut my books into more chapters and I think "what the hell are you after, something the size of the Bible?" But since you lean on the short* side, you could definitely get away with that.

*I'm not inferring anything about your stature.

Stuart MacBride said...

"since you lean on the short side"

Well, Russel's short: yes, but lean...?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Dammit MacBride, I'm trying to find a nice way to say that Russel prefers short to long.

Go ahead. Do your worst with that!

that girl said...

he has been know to lean.
a 38% angle
also known as "the Jack angle" aka "the budweiser lurch"

Otis said...

You'd be so easy to break, Russel. A man of your size. After all, remember what you said about me last year. "...Otis Twelve, a mountain of a man with a dry sense of humour who could break you in two if he isn't careful..."

And BTW "that girl" should know that angles decrease with age. She'll learn.