As I have not taken many photos myself lately, I decided to use this illustration from Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost. It is also, by no small coincidence, how I enter every bookstore.
I am almost finished with Desert Siren. I say this as I prepare to write one of the “big” chapters in the tail section of the book. I’m excited to start this chapter; a ton of Really Important Things happen in it that will lay down the groundwork for the third and final book in the Cloudkicker trilogy. There is just one issue that prevents me from getting on with the whole thing: I’m still about 17k words short of my goal.
Now, there’s still a good amount of work to go. I wanted to end up around 80k words for this second book, and I currently sit at 63k before the chapter starts. There are also a good three to four chapters to go from this point on, in addition to bits I want to add into the earlier portions of the novel.
I mention this because there is a good deal of discussion among newer authors and those entering the publishing world regarding word count. Most professional writers will tell you “just write your story for now.” And that is very good advice.
However, we also live in a world of economics and the realm of books is no exception. There are certain standards that cannot just be dismissed with a wave of a hand. Sure, you can “tell your story until it’s finished,” but it would need to be exceptionally brilliant to get an editor to glance at a 210k behemoth. You will also run into some agents that look at things like chapter length to make sure they are relatively consistent, as untested authors may wildly vary in their pacing.
For me, word counts force me to expand on things. My approach, at least for this trilogy and most YA/NA stuff I do, has a very theatrical feel. That is, it’s very barebones in terms of explaining internal thoughts and feelings in order to focus more on the dialogue and actions, very similar to watching a movie. As a result, The Sky Thief and this new book are very easy reads but tend to come up very, very short compared to other fantasy novels. While The Sky Thief hit around 73k words, other books in the Fantasy genre can regularly hit over 100k. It can be a little disheartening to see such a disparity and wonder if you are telling your story as well as those other authors.
In the end, I try to find a balance. I like my style and my voice. After all, the film industry is very dear to me and I would ultimately love to take this whole “creating” thing back to Hollywood where I belonged as soon as I finish my schoolwork. So, if I don’t spend as much time going over every detail of Alex’s thoughts and instead use dialogue to convey what’s on her mind, then so be it! However, having a word count gives me a good goal to meet, as well as ensures some sort of quality standard. If my current book is in the same range as the last one or even slightly bigger, I know that I should be growing in terms of how well I am setting my scenes. If I have a baseline of 2k words/chapter, I have a template to ensure nothing goes too crazy, with some chapters being a little less for variety, and some a little more for the Big Important Events.
This next chapter will be a big one, probably between 3-4k words if I do it right. Which is good not just in helping reach that goal, but because I’ve reached some scenes I’ve had in my head since before I even finished the first book.
I want to make sure this hits certain market standards. I also think it’s possible to do that and still tell your story the way you want to at the same time.