A note to a friend

29 May

Dear Mark

I am so glad to hear that you are writing. Many people talk about writing a novel “one day” when they have the time to do it properly. Nonsense. If we waited until we felt ready, we would die during the prologue. 🙂

In my (limited) experience and reading, there are two requirements for writing something. Talent, and hard work. No matter how much of the first you have, the second can always defeat you. So the key is to start writing and not to stop.

I am at Synod at the moment, so I don’t know if I am in the right frame of mind to be looking over your chapter yet.  (you know what Synod can do to a man)  But I’ll try and get a chance in the next few days. 

In the meantime, here are  some answers to the questions you have asked, and the ones you haven’t yet.

How many pages in a book? That is up to the author to say when the story is done. A novel is defined as 40,000 words upwards. (As distinct from a novella, which is about 20,000 – 40,000.) I think your average book these days, such as a mystery, or work of drama or literary fiction, is probably about 50,000 – 80,000. Thrillers and Fantasy type books usually average 100,000. I aim for 50,000 for my first draft, and then see where that goes. (+-175 pages)

 To give you an idea.

Animal Farm was about 30,000 words. (Fairy short book, feels like a short story because it all takes place on one farm)

Heart of Darkness was about 40,000 words. (Still a short book, but feels longer because of the change of scene)

The Kite Runner was about 100,000 words. (Doesn’t feel long at all, but covers a lot of ground)

Famous novels of 50,000 words include:

– The Great Gatsby
– A Brave new World
– To Kill a Mockingbird

 I say write until you’ve said enough, then stop.

Chapters are even trickier. How long should a chapter be, and when should you break it? That is really a matter of preference. Terry Pratchet, who I read often, does not use chapters. He writes his entire novel in one chapter. He says it’s because Homer never wrote in chapters, but I suspect he just finds them too difficult to deal with. I actually find it easier to write the first draft without chapters as well. When I edit, I see where the break wants to go, and put it there. Sometimes it jumps out, sometimes it hides from you. I have read books where there have been a few chapters of only a page, or even less. I once read a novel with three really short chapters of a line each in a row, but that was for effect. eg “Chapter 31- “If you think I had a good time you would be wrong. Chapter 32 – It was horrible. Chapter 33 – REALLY!!!”

It’s just something you have to try, and see how it works.

In a nutshell, start writing, and try not to stop too long to think. Some famous writers are able to craft each page until it is perfect before moving on, but most seem to agree that it’s easier to get everything out of your head first, and then come back and polish it. Otherwise you could spend the rest of your life stuck on “The night was…”

Will write again soon

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Posted by on May 29, 2009 in Novel


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