Word Count

Thursday, July 30, 2009
Ever since we’ve been able to string our first sentence together—See Jane run—and instructors have been handing out writing assignments, we’ve asked the age old question… How long? How long does the sentence have to be? The paragraph? The term paper? The thesis? The chapter? The book?

Some people want their answer to be straightforward, as my English teacher from high school would like to assign her lessons. “It needs to be 2,000 words long with ten paragraphs and a maximum of five auxiliary verbs.” Yeah, those were some tough papers to write… or as I should say without the auxiliary verb… That teacher possessed a strict guideline despite the fact I fondly remember her as one of the greatest grammarians ever. But my favorite answer to the question HOW LONG came from my middle school English teacher. “It’s like a mini skirt. Make sure it’s long enough to cover the topic, but short enough to stay interesting.” Yes, he was a male teacher, if you were curious!

I’m by no means an authority on the length question, but today I’m going to share what knowledge I do have on the subject. How long.

We’ll start with sentences. Sounds like a good place to me. I’d always heard a sentence was a subject and a verb containing a complete thought. “Jane ran.” Subject, verb, complete thought. There’s our sentence. Sounds simple enough. So, let’s make it a little more complex. “As Jane ran barefoot between the towering oaks in the woods next to the house where she grew up.” Yes, it still has the subject—Jane—and the verb—ran—but we lost our complete thought after adding “As” to the beginning. As Jane’s running wherever she’s going to run, we need to follow that thought up with what happened while she was running. Or… we could simply delete “AS” to give the sentence a complete thought and make it grammatically correct. Am I making any sense yet? A sentence needs to be long enough to contain a subject (even if it’s only implied), verb, and complete thought.

Okay, I had to go to a dictionary to get the correct definition of a paragraph. So, according to dictionary.com, a paragraph is “a basic unit of prose. It is usually composed of several sentences that together develop one central idea. The main sentence in a paragraph is called the topic sentence.” I have a bad habit of falling into a rut over paragraph length. I get to thinking,this paragraph is way too long, no reader is gonna want to read such a long paragraph.” So, I’ll press enter and indent, starting a new one… whether that’s right or wrong. But we should always remember to keep sentences with one central idea together.

Here’s one trick you could do to cut a paragraph shorter if you’re getting nervous about its length. Say you’re writing a scene where the hero just laid eyes on the woman who’ll end up being his heroine. He’s probably going to describe what she looks like. If he likes what he sees, he might have a lot of description, which would most likely make a lengthy paragraph. So, if he’s just described her hair, and eyes, and legs, and said how soft her skin looked, you could break the paragraph and make a short new one by making a side note—or rather internal monologue if you will—like, “He’d really like to find out just how soft that skin was.” That sentence doesn’t go with the central idea of the paragraph; it really needs its own paragraph all by itself. Ergo, you’d have a nice little break there before starting a new paragraph to describe more traits of your amazing heroine. Plus, it makes the story more interesting to read it in that conversational way.

I’m letting Noah Lukeman take care of my chapter length discussion. Author of The First Five Pages (which is a book EVERY writer should own), Lukeman says on Page 172 of his book:
"Each chapter must be thought of as its own complete unit, ready to excerpt should a magazine want it (indeed, this very chapter was excerpted prior to publication); the same holds true for paragraphs and sentences. Do you resolve in the end of the chapter what you establish in the beginning? Many writers don't; they just plug along, inserting chapter breaks wherever they feel their text can use one—sometimes completely arbitrarily. Writers often ask me: How long should my chapters be? Is five pages too short: Is forty too long? The fact that they're even asking this question indicates they're thinking of the chapters in the wrong way—merely as dividers for a greater whole. Of course, a chapter needs to be part of a greaterwhole, but it also needs to be its own unit. The appropriate length is whatever length is necessary to accomplish whatever that individual chapters sets out to do. "

After reading that great piece of spectacular advice, I probably don’t even need to go into book length. A story, of course, should be as long as it needs to be to set up a conflict and then unravel a resolution for that conflict. The problem with that answer occurs when we’ve finished our story and begin looking for a publisher who’ll actually buy a book within the limits of your word count. In the romance industry, you’ll probably notice if you’ve ever done any publisher research that most places want stories to be around 100,000 words long. Harlequin and Silhouette like stories between 50,000 words and 65,000 for a majority of their category lines. So, if you’ve written a 75,000 word story, you might think you’re stuck in a no-man’s land. The uprising of e-publishers saved the day there, because a good portion of them will accept a story anywhere from 15,000 words to 125,000 words. Thanks guys!

A couple vices to help you control word count are subplots, secondary characters, and added conflicts. If you need to shrink your word count to pursue a certain line, try taking out a couple minor characters. You might be amazed how much that’ll lighten the load. Or in the opposite case, you need to make the story just 10,000 words longer, add another character. Each person in a story has their own agenda and mindset, and the more people your novel contains, the more complex and longer it’ll be.

So, okay, there’s my writing advice for the day. Since I’m definitely not a professional on the topic, any additional comments and tips are always appreciated. Thanks!

Kid or snack?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I've been fairly boring lately. Only been eating, sleeping, and going to work. So I haven't had any inspirational ideas for an awesome blog in quite a while (okay, I did interview the hero of my story yesterday. It was awesome, but you'll have to wait till February or so to read that). I fear I'm going to exhaust everyone with baby talk for about, oh, seven more months.

If I'd had any good dreams while doing all that sleeping, I might be able to share, but nope. And who wants to hear about my work? "I ordered fifty books today, and three boxes came in yesterday..." Interesting? Oh, sure, of course (snort). But, let's not go there either.

And food? Well, there's been lots of that. I could probably talk on about food. It seems if I start feeling puny, I can eat to feel better. Doesn't even matter what I eat. As long as something's going in, I'm okay. I was worried when I went into my checkup that I would've gained, like, ten pounds. But, hallelujah, I'd actually lost a pound. Yay. We'll thank my mother for that. She shows up on my doorstep every few days with a load of fruits and veggies. "Healthy food for a healthy baby," she'll say. So, at least I'm not stuffing potato chips and french fries down my gullet twenty-four seven.

Wow, I guess I could talk on about food, huh? And speaking of food, I've been going onto BabyCenter.com to check how big the baby's getting. Last week, the website informed me, my child was the size of a grape. This week... the size of a kumquat (yeah, I had to look that one up. It's food too, by the way). Next week, she/he will be the size of a fig and then we're going on to medium-sized shrimp. Not only are these comparisons making me even hungrier, but I gotta wonder... am I growing a kid in there or a tasty snack?!

This n' That

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Okay, who's luckier than me and got to go see Harry Potter last night at the midnight showing? I'm taking off work tomorrow; my husband and I plan to see the movie after a doctor's appointment. Hubby's worried Hagrid won't be in movie six because he didn't see the big guy in any of the trailers. I've been trying to read The Half Blood Prince again to remember everything that happened, but I haven't gotten very far and can't recall how pivotal a role Hagrid had. He's got to be in the movie, though, his name's on the credit list at IMDb.

Our eight-year wedding anniversary was yesterday. Yay! We're dividing the celebration into two nights: tonight with supper at Red Lobster and tomorrow with the movie. I've named this year as the "easy" eight. Next year, with a baby being born and our new house being over a year old (appliances and other gadgets will start breaking by then, I'm sure), I'm already calling it "hard" nine. But, oh, well. It'll be a challenge.

I don't have any news to disclose on the book topic. My first novel is still coming out in February. And I'm still playing wait, wait, wait to hear back from editors on other submitted works. So, it's all pretty typical there.

Now, I think I'll scoot along before I bore you too much more. Have a great day. Enjoy the warm weather and try not to stampede anyone when you go see Harry Potter.

The Joy of Pregnancy

Friday, July 10, 2009
I went out to lunch with some co-workers today, and my fortune cookie read, "People in your life will be more cooperative than usual." (Did all you editors who're reading manuscripts of mine hear that? Cooperative. Please take note:)) But seriously, I've discovered my cookie is actually right.

As soon as I learned I was pregnant, everyone around me turned into pampering mother hens. There's the advice-givers, of course, which are nice and helpful, though I could probably do without the birth-giving advice just yet. Not quite ready to think about that part. But the constant concern is... well, it's flattering.

Usually, my husband will lay his head on my leg while we're watching TV together, and I'll rub his back and scratch his hair. But now, he'll let me laze against him, and I'll get my back rubbed for a while before he says, "Okay, my turn." Makes me wonder why I waited through eight years of marriage before deciding to have a baby. Then the queasiness hits and I remember, "Oh, yeah. That's why."

Even my nine-year-old niece has taken up looking after me. It's absolutely adorable. I can't twinge or touch my stomach around her without her saying, "Are you okay? Do you need to sit down? Are you tired? Do you want me to get you a blanket?"

I should probably tell everyone I'm okay because comparatively speaking, I think I'm having a very easy time of it so far, but... what the heck. In nine months, there will only be crying, and diaper changing, and midnight feedings, and "Mom, can I borrow twenty bucks," so I've decided I might as well enjoy the spoiling while it lasts, huh?

Memory Lane

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I'm taking a little stroll down memory lane. Since such a huge pop icon is being buried today (it is today, right?) and many people are feeling nostalgic, remembering Michael Jackson songs/video/scandals, I thought I'd go nostalgic as well and recall a few books from my history that made me love reading so much.

Here is my ode to some oldies but goodies:

Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin
Yes, I admit, I was a Baby-Sitters Club fan. This isn't the first book I ever read, probably not even the first Baby-Sitter Club book, but this series turned me into a readaholic. I joined the Baby-Sitters reading group, where they'd send me three Baby-Sitter books a month. So, every morning on the bus to school, I'd sit reading about Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, and the rest of them. Even mothers of fellow students would approach me. "My son thought of you in the book store the other day. He saw a Baby-Sitters Club and..." I think I made it up into the sixties before I finally grew out of them.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
This is a young adult fantasy and the first book in the Chronicles of Prydain. I think The Book of Three initiated me into the love of romance stories. But the relationship between Taran, assistant pig keeper, and Eilonwy, was so fun to read, I had to hear more about them. There was just this "magic" between them, and I wanted to see them end up happily ever after. I also loved the creation of a new world so much, I tried to make up one of my own. I called it Rym. The idea fell through, but my creative juices had definitely been stirred.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is the first school-assigned reading I actually loved. I haven't read the book since high school, so I've probably forgotten most of the plot, but I remember thinking, "This book is totally awesome." It had a very rich theme of time and place. Harper Lee is indeed a master at regionalism. To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite novels today.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This was a personal mission in high school for me to read. I'd watched the movie, of course, but I wanted to say I'd read the book. So, I opened the first page. Some places turned me a little glassy-eyed. I probably drooled some from boredom. Mitchell was a very thorough writer and described scenes in great detail. By the end, however, I was hooked on Scarlett's character. I'd been through so much with her, I broke down and bawled when Rhett left her. So, here was the first book that pulled my emotions into the story enough to make me cry.

Love Beyond Reason by Sandra Brown
My older sisters were (and still are) romance junkies. When I was in high school, I would listen to them gossip about the latest Sandra Brown or Nora Roberts and I had to "know" what all the hoopla was about. So, they lent me Love Beyond Reason because is was "tame." I read the book and...wow. That is when I became totally hooked on romance reading. There was no turning back from this point on.

After the Night by Linda Howard
I was deep into my romance reading addiction by the time I picked up a Linda Howard book, but I still wasn't prepared for the steamy scenes this author could invent. Whoa. After reading After the Night, I became a lost cause. I HAD to have more. So, yes, I read more...

Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Woodiwiss is the author that made me want to read historicals. I didn't realize how totally different they were from contemporary romance stories until I opened the cover of her one of her books. She helped me appreciate different genres of writers, so the woman is noteworthy in my eyes.

Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
I still mourn the moment I learned LaVyrle Spencer was retiring. Utter heartbreak. I don't think I read a book by her I didn't instantly label a favorite. The author could do no wrong. She's fabulous, wonderful, and lifted my love for reading to a whole new standard.

For the Roses by Julie Garwood
Since For the Roses is a Western, this probably sounds strange, but this book made me fall in love with Highlander heroes. OK, I'll explain. I wanted to explore a new author, so I did the whole close-your-eyes-and-pull-a-book-off-the-library-shelves trick. What I pulled of the shelf, was For the Roses. I read it, loved it, and had to check out the rest of Julie Garwood's collection. And now, I still wish I had my own highlander man. She rules in the highland historicals.

Flashpoint by Suzanne Brockmann
Brockmann did for me with Navy SEALs heroes what Garwood did with the the highlander heroes. She made me fall in love with those guys in the sexy white uniforms. I was working in a public library by the time I read my first Brockmann book. It was one of those stories that got checked out a lot, so I picked it up one day to see what it was about. And, wow. I became hooked on yet another romantic genre. Later, I learned Flashpoint was actually seventh in a series, so I had to start over and work my way back. But I don't think I'll ever forget this book. Instant classic.

Dark Lover by J. R. Ward
This book was my first taste of hard core paranormal romance (I read it only a year or two ago, too). And, yeah, I'm addicted to these now as well. I was iffy at first. Vampire romance sounded like an oxymoron to me. I assumed sucking all the blood out of someone would "have to" put the damper on a romance. Boy, was I wrong.

So, there are a few books (and I REALLY mean, just a few) from my memory that were great turning points in my history of reading appreciation. What are some book titles that changed your love of books?

Contest Winner

Thursday, July 2, 2009
Congratulations to Laura Gerold for winning my latest Amazon.com gift card giveaway! Yay. Winning stuff is so fun.

More fun news: I found out my book was mentioned in an interview with The Wild Rose Press's Chief Editor, Rhonda Penders, on the OPWFT (Old People Writing for Teens) Blog. How flattering.

And now... I hope everyone enjoys their 4th of July and all the fireworks. I know I'm certainly looking forward to smoked pork at my sister's house.