The Quirk that Won’t Die

I think it may be a sign of the Apocalypse, but (assuming I successfully complete this post), I will have written two blog posts this week. Sometimes I swear it’s easier for me to write a novel than a blog post, so I plan on rewarding my accomplishment with some chocolate. (Followed by a work-out, but I’ll try to forget about that part until I can’t avoid it anymore.) My first blog post was for Pocket After Dark, and it was about writing dark heroes. (For fans of my Nikki Glass series: I talk a lot about Jamaal, so if he’s your favorite character, you should check it out. You have to join the community to read the blog, but it’s free. And you can get free books, including, for a limited time, a free e-copy of DARK DESCENDANT.)

The hardest part for me about doing two blog posts in one week is coming up with two things to blog about. Ask me to come up with a novel idea, and I can do so with relative ease. Blog ideas . . . not so much. But then I thought about a peculiar quirk of mine that started long before I became a published author and has continued through fourteen commercially published books and a lot more finished manuscripts: I always think my manuscript is going to be too short.

I’m thinking of this now, because last Friday I finished my first draft of ROGUE DESCENDANT, and I spent the last 100 pages or so of the manuscript convinced it was going to be too short and that I was going to have to go back on my second draft and rip it apart so I could add another subplot to beef it up. And yes, I’d felt that way about all 14 of my commercially published books, and the vast majority of my unpublished, small-press, e-published, or completed-but-not-yet-published books. (In fact, the only exception I can think of was my last finished manuscript, which was for my dystopian YA, REPLICA. I knew from about halfway through that it was going to go long, and I was actually right.)

The thing is, as many times as I’ve sent myself into paroxysms of angst over my too-short novels, not once has the draft actually turned out too short. My drafts usually get longer on my subsequent passes, and even longer than that when my editors have looked at them, but still, the first drafts have always come in at appropriate novel length. But even so, when I start writing the big climactic sequence of events at the end of the book, I’m always convinced that this time, it really will be too short. No amount of reminding myself of the other 30 or so times I’ve thought that about a book and been wrong can convince me, and I have many an exasperated mental conversation with myself, all to no avail.

In this particular case, I’d set my total word count target at 85,000 words, which is a pretty standard first-draft length for me. I had the whole book plotted out in advance (at least the large brush-strokes of it), and I knew by looking over the series of events I had planned that it “felt” like it would be enough for a full-length novel. The one thing all my experience has given me is an ability to guess how long a book is going to be based on the major plot points I have in mind. (That was how I knew REPLICA was going to go long–it just felt long in my head, and it did from relatively early on.)

I wrote the first half of the draft feeling confident that I had enough material for a full book, and was happily writing away until I got to about 50,000 words or so. That’s when I first the first little hints of panic started to set in. I was closing in on what I like to call the “sprint to the finish,” the point in the book where the final climactic sequence of events has begun. I guess because I think of it as a sprint to the finish, there’s somewhere in my mind that is convinced it’s actually close to the finish. I looked at my 50K word count and thought, “I’m almost done, and I’m 35K words short of my goal. There’s no way I have 35K worth of plot left!  The sky is falling! AAAAHHHH!”

I really should know better by now. (And there’s a part of me that does, that starts rolling its eyes and trying to remind me of all the other times I’ve felt that way.) But no. I panic. Every. Freaking. Time.

The truth is that when I reach that “sprint to the finish,” I’m not really very close to being finished. I have reached the point where I no longer have to scratch my head wondering what happens next–I’ve already figured that all out. And I know the sequence of events is the beginning of the snowball rolling down the hill toward the big climax. But somehow, every time, I underestimate how many words it’s going to take me to play out that sequence of events. And never mind the settling down that has to occur after the big climax. (I try really hard not to rush that part anymore, although I always do on the first draft, and my various editors usually tell me I have done so on the draft I turn in as well. That’s one reason my drafts tend to get longer.)

Even in the midst of my panic, I know I’m most likely panicking over nothing. After all, I’ve been through this before many times. But you know, that doesn’t make the panicky sensation any more fun. I wish I could stop myself from feeling that way, but I’m learning to accept that it is just part of my process.

When I finally finished that first draft of ROGUE DESCENDANT–you know, the draft I was sure was going to fall well short of my 85K-word goal and that was going to need a major overhaul to be adequate novel length–was 89K words. *sigh* Maybe next time I’ll have learned my lesson and stop panicking. But I’m not going to hold my breath . . .

About Dame Jenna

Jenna Black got her BA in physical anthropology from Duke University. She dreamed she’d be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making discoveries about primate behavior. But then she did some research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend about 80% of their time doing exciting things like sleeping and eating. Concluding this discovery was her life’s work in the field of primatology, she moved on to such jobs as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation. She writes urban fantasy for Bantam Dell and young adult urban fantasy for St. Martin’s.

Comments

  1. I’m the exact opposite…my novels always end up too long! I wish I had the short problem rather than the long problem. :P

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