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How long should your first book be?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by enoch driscoll, Apr 3, 2020.

  1. enoch driscoll

    enoch driscoll Scribe

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    I have yet to finish a novel, but i have started on several, then gotten bored or creative and moved on to another.
    Is it that i'm am starting to big?(in wanting a ready to publish, 300-500 page book)

    How much should i know about my book before i write it, should i have a fully functioning world before i start, or should i discover things along with the reader?

    I would appreciate any advice or experience you can share with me.
     
  2. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    I can't say how long your first book should be. My first was a 55,000 word YA but I followed it right away with a 206,000 word epic. I do think getting the shorter novel out of the way first taught me things and made the going much easier on the second. As far as world building goes, the YA was not fantasy but creating its setting (small coastal town) was just as much work as any fantasy world. I think any fiction writer needs to visualize the setting to some degree, whether it be street names and who owns the corner grocery, or where the dragons live.
     
  3. The answer to all of those is, unfortunately, it depends.
    If you want to publish with a traditional publisher, then it helps if your book is around the standard for your genre. For fantasy, somewhere around 90k words
    For me, I believe that a story should be as long as it needs to be. Some ideas and stories are shorter or longer then others. And trying to force a long story in few words or the other way round will not work.
    As for how to write it, that is different for everyone. If you can think of a way then some successful writer somewhere is probably using it. Some people stay with little more then an idea for a character or situation. Others have written out the plot completely. Some people write from start to finish, others write whichever order they feel like and they fit it together at the end. Do what works for you. If, as you say, you have trouble finishing, then try something else.
    As a side note, many writers have trouble writing the middle part, finding it the boring part to write. You either need to increase the conflict or just work through it.
     
    OberonLordofSylva likes this.
  4. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    This is one of those "how long is a piece of string questions". For now, just worry about getting the story competed, then worry about whether it's too long or too short.
     
  5. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    While I totally agree with this, the "need" can change. It is quite common for my stories to grow way beyond what I anticipated. But how much do you really need becomes the new question. My first accepted novel weighed in at 230k words at draft stage and the publisher said: I really like it and want to publish it...but I'm not publishing more than 160k. It's up to you to cut it down.

    That was pretty tough but it taught me a lot about cutting out the fat and staying close to the spine of the story - which is where the reader always wants to be. We eventually compromised on 190k words but if I was writing the same story today I'd probably keep it to 160k fairly easily because I know what I'm doing so much more than I did back then.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >I have yet to finish a novel, but i have started on several, then gotten bored or creative and moved on to another.
    This is more important than length. You need to finish a story, regardless of length. Whatever your next creative idea is, whatever gets you motivated to write, resolve to finish that one, no matter what. My "no matter what" took nearly five years. My second took less than one.

    Finishing is everything. Once you've done that, figuring out length will become easier.
     
  7. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

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    Who knows? My first novel was a pile of paper notebooks that reached my knees. As Skip says, finishing is everything! Just do what it takes to finish.
     
  8. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Everyone has their own process. And Skip is absolutely right. Finish first, and then worry about length and all the other things that go with editing. Great books are not written, they are rewritten.

    And, just as a note, we write urban fantasy. Our first book was 134k words, and our second was about 85k. Book 3 is going to push the 200k mark hard. It all depends on both your genre and the needs of the story.
     
  9. oenanthe

    oenanthe Minstrel

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    if you're aiming at tradpub and you're writing high fantasy, you can go to 110k pretty safely.

    my first novel was about 86k when it was typeset.
     
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  10. WickGreenwood

    WickGreenwood Dreamer

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    Just for perspective, Stephen King doesn't really plan out his novels. He gets an idea and starts writing and then sort of discovers the rest as he goes. And I think it's safe to say he's enjoyed a degree of success over the years. There's no right or wrong way. Maybe try different methods and see what fits your temperament and time restrictions and attention span.
     
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    To echo, finish first, then worry about the other things. Part of writing is learning how to finish something, regardless of how good or bad it is. There are a ton of things you need to learn how to do, and a lot of it is learned by just doing it. You have to make mistakes. You have to learn from them. You have to struggle with ideas. You have to figure out what works for you and what doesn't.

    For me, I read a lot of writing books and articles on story structure, and I tried applying that to the stories I wrote. I was doing it on the fly with my first novel, and it was a 275k mess. But I learned, and I tried again, and again. With each book and story, I tried to apply something I learned, and I would fail at something. Sometimes that something was big. Sometimes it was small, but that struggle was important and helped me get better.

    It's like picking up a sport. You can't just pick up a baseball and throw or hit 100mph heat on the first try. There's the technical side of things, and there's just going out and playing. IMHO, go out and just play. And then, if you want to get better, look into the technical side of things. Learn, and then try and apply it next time you go out and play. Rinse and repeat.
     
  12. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    Yeah, but ... the OP asked HOW to finish, without running out of steam. You guys are not really giving any actual advice, only telling him to "just finish".
     
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    He also so asked the following.

    If they have trouble finishing, then the simple and most straight forward advice I can give is--and I repeat again--to push forward and finish, and not worry about anything else. I heard the same advice, and I took it many-many years ago, and I learned from it. And as I said in my post, you learn so much by simply doing and failing. More than I can cover in a simple post. People have written whole books on how to write a book, which relates to another piece of advice I presented. For a second time, using myself as an example in my first post, I said I read books on story structure. Did I explicitly tell the OP to read books on writing? No. But I told them what I did in order to break through and start finishing things. Whether they think the way I did this is something they should try is up to them, but I presented as an example, as advice.

    For over 15 years, I started many projects and finished only a few short stories. I kept mulling over the same story over-and-over. I kept finding excuses to why I couldn't write. I didn't have this. I didn't know that. It wasn't until I got the advice to simply "just write" and took it to heart that I began to make progress. My first book was a slog. Like I said in my first post, it was a struggle, but I pushed through. And for the umpteenth time, I learned so much from doing so. One of the big things I learned was that I could do it. I could finish. It didn't matter that the book was crap. I now knew what it took mentally to get from beginning to end.

    Each person is unique. What one person needs in order to finish a story is different than what another person needs. And in order to find out what you personally need, you need to experiment. You need to simply write. And if you want to fill your tool box with things to try, read books on writing. Simple as that.

    Because for some people, all they need is an idea and a blank page. For others, they need to design every last inch of their world, characters, and plot before putting word one down. And then, there's everyone in between. Finding out where you fit on this spectrum is part of the journey of being a writer. I can't take the journey for someone else. I can't tell someone who they are and what they need. I can only tell them what I did. Again, if they choose to follow the same path I did, great. If not, then there are plenty of other examples to be found. I can't tell you what those examples will say exactly, but I can tell you this, there's no big secret to it all. There's no trick, that once revealed, will make finishing easy as 1-2-3.

    Learning about yourself and what you need is part of the journey. Stress the words "learning about yourself."
     
  14. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    What? Of course there's tricks. Lots! Your own suggestion, "Just finish", is a trick, of the type known as a Thought-terminating-cliché. The idea is that you use it as a roadblock to stop a specific category of unwanted thoughts.

    You're fine with only relying on that single trick. That's cool, actually! If it works, it works. But most authors rely on a multitude of tricks. After all, the power of will is a myth; there's no will-power muscle found anywhere in the brain. "will-power" is merely an abstraction for the various tricks that we use.

    The youtube clip HARSH WRITING ADVICE! (mostly for newer writers) digs into the specifics reasons people have to stop writing. By having the happy, masochistic mindset that your novel probably is going to suck, it likely won't be as much of an obstacle when you grow tired of it, and feel like OMG it's going to suck. Because, you knew that already, and have made peace with the idea. I think this is a more effective trick than "just finish" since it actually acknowledges the issue, instead of dodging it.

    I think it was Stephen King who talked about sometimes taking a break from your story. I personally can sometimes see a story with more appetite if I allow myself to completely put it away for a time. I also remember some talk about some famous author dudes who did write a lot of novels, but didn't write them sequentially. Rather, they toggled between them.

    That sounds a LOT like shorter stories are easier to finish, like the OP suggested. If you allow you story to grow into a Lords of the Rings thing, just more epic, then it will feel a bit hopeless to finish that first book, which really just functions as a prequel to real story in the second installment. I think there's a correlation between the epicness of your story and the chance of you giving up on it.
     
  15. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Like I said earlier, everyone has their own process. There are entire books dedicated to "tips and tricks" but the simple fact of the matter is that there is only one true rule to writing - writers write. It isn't sexy and it isn't terribly inspirational or catchy, but it's the truth. Everyone does this their own way, and part of the writer's journey is to find that way for yourself. For example, I can't write short. The last short story I wrote for publication was 10k words long, a novelette. Other people can't write long. Some write in spurts and do well in sprints. Sprints make me freeze.

    Everyone has their own process. My advice, if anyone is interested, is to find books on writing that spur your imagination and read them. I like reading books on writing as I work. It's part of my process. As is coffee. So much coffee. Find your process and you'll improve your writing.
     
  16. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    It's impossible for us as individuals to tell a complete stranger on the other end of a keyboard HOW to finish. The whole idea of "tricks" seems artificial to me - I doubt whether any great literature has been produced using tricks. And sometimes a story idea simply isn't worth finishing - if the OP is struggling to continue it's entirely possible the idea wasn't quite there. One idea is never enough to finish a novel, you need heaps of ideas and ideas that were good in the first place tend to inspire other good ideas.

    All I can do is reiterate what I've said on similar threads. Plan each idea through to its logical plot conclusion and see where that takes you before wasting too much time trying to write your way through a brick wall.
     
  17. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Really? Is finishing the only piece of advice you got out of my posts? And you think that's a "trick"? That's a trick like breathing is a "trick" to living. And you think, that's all I do, and that's all I'm recommending? Didn't notice that the part about reading writing books? Learning from them. Filling up the tool box with things to try. Ok. LOL.

    Some have an easier time of it. For others, it's really hard. So, it's neither. It's just different.
     
  18. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    Yeah, you're right. I made the mistake of only responding to what I disagreed with, without acknowledging any of the rest, which was pretty sound.
    And it's not that I disagree even. It's a nice trick, or whatever we should call it. Only, OP asked for a cupcake recipe, and you all go "Just make cupcake"
    You introducing the word "trick", so I ran with that, using it as a generic term. Sorry if this wasn't clear. We can use another term, if you like.
    Loads of famous novels had this sort of mid-life crisis. In my experience, with any prolonged, lonesome creative project, there comes a time where you simply hate it. This is pretty well known. IMHO, it's a bit far-fetched to suggest from this very common obstacle that the story idea simply isn't worth finishing.
     
  19. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    Far fetched? I'd be prepared to bet there are more non-finished books than finished across the history of literature (and attempted literature). And the reason? They ran out of interest or ran out of ideas...

    I didn't say that was the OP's problem, I said it was possible.
     
  20. It's hard to offer concrete advise without knowing more about the OP and his process. However, I'll give it a try by assuming he's a bit like me and describe what worked for me with my first longer piece of work. It's a 3 step process.

    1. Make a public commitment that you're going to write a book, including a time limit. Note: not a novel, a book. The difference is that a novel is above 50k or 60k words, and not all ideas or stories are big enough to fill that. A book can be pretty much any size. So if you're at 30k words and you're done then that's a success. And, when you're starting out you will have little idea how long your idea will be. When you're not aiming for a novel, then that doesn't matter. By making a public commitment, you create external motivation to finish, as well as internal motivation. Which is a powerful thing (and one of the reasons NaNoWriMo works for a lot of people). I did this by telling my wife and people here I was doing this.

    2. Take the idea (or preferably ideas) that feels biggest. One you're exited about and you think will be big enough to fill a whole book. Now, plan your book. Nothing too detailed, just write 1 or 2 sentences per chapter (or scene, whatever you want to call it) on what will happen. I found that I ran out of steam after writing the first couple of chapters I had in my head. I had no idea where to go next. Having an outline fixed that. I knew what went in to the next scene and could write that.

    3. Put ass in chair and type. This is the only way you will get it done. The book is not going to write itself. It's a slog and it takes time. At 600 words per hour (which is about my speed), it takes me 100 hours to write a 60k first draft (and that's not counting time spend plotting, worldbuilding, thinking of character names and so on). If you don't want to spend 100 hours looking at a screen, typing away, then don't write a book.

    While it's not a perfect method (and I certainly changed parts for book 2), I think this is a good starting point when trying to write your first book, especially if you find yourself always running out of steam after a couple of chapters.
     
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