In Michael Chabon’s essay “On Daemons & Dust”, he mentions that plot and theme are the enemies of character. It’s an interesting statement that a little fiction writing can force someone to appreciate. Almost every paragraph involves an authorial decision, “Do I let this character be real” = deep and uncontrollable or “Do I take control of the character and make him or her dance to the plot or themes that I wish to lay down as author and story architect?” Different authors, even different works by the same authors fiddle around with the xs and ys of this x + y = z = story equation, but it’s always a dilemma. It’s sometimes possible to accomplish both, but not often because it’s typically a binary proposition: control a character or do not control a character. Too many competing desires, too little authorial control and the story melts into meandering chaos (recognize chaos? it’s also known as real life). Too shallow the desires, too heavy the author’s hand and the story turns into a lecturing parable complete with axe to grind. The most enjoyable stories do the best they can at both, while recognizing that they can never and should never imitate life too closely and recognizing that no one wants a lecture.
The Japanese publishing industry’s book fair was an interesting experience. Seeing thousands and thousands of new books with nothing but an outward-facing spine to show for the months or years their authors and editors put into them, languishing on the shelves of countless publishers had me thinking about the struggle publishers (not just in books, but movies, music, and games) are facing in a world drowning in ideas. The entertainment markets are quickly shifting from a “thing”-based approach to a “person”-based (or “story”-based) approach, and, because corporations prefer to deal in “things” (IP, products, mascots, etc.) because they don’t talk back, they don’t ask for raises, and they don’t mind being used and abused, they are losing a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, for consumers who have come to appreciate the “person” or the “story”, “things” have come to feel more like what they really are – dead.
I’ve finally finished the fourth draft of my latest novel-length story, which I started on November 1st of last year, as I’ve done in years past. Considering I finished the fourth draft of my previous novel-length story in October of last year, I’ve gotten a lot faster. Some of that is due to more experience with planning, some of it is better initial writing = less editing, and some of it is moving into a better writing routine. This time around, I took detailed notes on how long I spent on the different parts, so I’m posting those statistics in case you find them interesting or instructive. One thing of note is that editing takes a whole lot longer than writing (which it should).
1st Draft (writing to get it done!)
Started Nov 1st, 2012 and Finished Dec 13th, 2012
Total Word Count: 75,741 words
Words by NaNoWriMo Nov 30th Deadline: 66,770 words
Total Hours Spent: 53.8 hours (3,228 minutes)
Average Pace: 23.5 words / minute
Best Pace: 37.9 words / minute on my old 10 minute train ride to work
* other train days were similarly high pace, but likely lower quality because of the rushed nature
Worst Pace: 11.6 words / minute working from home
* other “working from home” days were similarly bad
Second Draft (edit to fill in scenes, address “notes for later”, and redo the outline):
Started December 18th, 2012 and Finished March 18th, 2013
New Total Word Count: 86,456 words
* more due to fleshing out certain events & characters which I had left rough
Total Hours Spent: 49.8 hours (2,985 minutes)
Average Pace: 28.9 words / minute
Third Draft (edit for content and flow):
Started March 19th, 2013 and Finished June 7th, 2013
New Total Word Count: ? words
* I didn’t keep a copy of the third draft because it tied so closely into the fourth,
but assuming it’s halfway in length between the 2nd and 4th, I’ll put it at 91,776 words
Total Hours Spent: 56.8 hours (3,409 minutes)
Average Pace: 26.9 words / minute
Fourth Draft (edit for consistency and wording):
Started June 10th, 2013 and Finished July 1st, 2013
New Total Word Count: 97,095
* Most of these words were required to improve the flow of certain sections or to address consistency issues
Total Hours Spent: 23.3 (1,400 mins)
Average Pace: 69.4 words / minute
Started on November 1st, 2012 and Finished on July 1st, 2013
Total Hours Spent: 183.7 hours (11022 minutes)
Total Words: 97,095 (roughly 389 pages at the industry standard 250 words / page)
Total Avg Words / Minute: 8.8 words / minute
Of course this still leaves a good old fashioned copy edit to ferret out mistakes, which will likely take about two weeks.
Previous Book Word Count: 99,348 words
One is a story about a girl forced to deal with an abusive parent who uses her imagination and a special set of paintings to escape her torment. The other is a story about a cafe, the only place where the last of humanity can come together for a cup of joe. Which one will consume my 2013 NaNoWriMo?
Probably one of the most common questions asked of someone who takes hundreds of hours (hours they could have used to do something else) to perform an act that will likely never bear any fruit, and, even if it were to, would result in a very sad fruit. Why write? “Because I can’t not write” is the only answer that makes any sense.
Today I crossed the halfway mark on the second editing pass of the horror novel I started last November. What is it about that magical 50%? Whether it’s a bicycle race, reading a novel or writing one, somehow hitting that 50% mark makes it feel like the task is doable. I’ve got the hard part done, right? Well, no, but it’s nice to pretend.
I’ve wondered why I dig down so deep into the heads of the characters I write that I have trouble climbing out of the holes, when at the same time, I’ve always had trouble understanding what others in real life think or feel. Then it came to me: constantly having to imagine what others think or feel just to get by is perfect training for diving into imaginary characters.
We never truly know what others are thinking, we only think we know. So in the end, the imaginary characters in the stories I write exercise the same creative muscles as the imaginary personas I cast onto the real life “characters” that surround me. Maybe I should feel lucky dealing with people doesn’t come naturally. If it did, I wouldn’t be able to dig into the people and worlds I create.
Starting this week, I’ve finally dug my heels into the third draft on the third novel-length story. It’s interesting how the evolution of emotion always goes the same way:
1st draft – why am I writing this?
2nd draft – wow, this is going to be a lot of work…
3rd draft – hey, this isn’t bad
4th draft – okay, this is good
5th draft – I know there’s a spelling mistake in here somewhere, come out come out wherever you are, all work and no play, all work and no play
1st draft – why am I writing this instead of doing a 6th draft?
Unlike the other two novels, where I just tracked the writing pace for NanoWriMo, this time I’ve been taking detailed stats (simple memo like 9:00 – 9:45 600 words, on train) and it sheds a light not only on my writing pace, but on where and when I do my best writing. Highly recommend trying it! In the third draft, I seem to be moving at about 4 pages an hour, which is a turtle’s pace, but considering I’m guaranteed an hour and a half a day between the morning train where I get to sit and lunch in the cafeteria, it’s enough to get the work done by the time the next novel rolls around. This one has gone lightning fast compared to the first two, which makes me quite happy.