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Old 08-13-2011, 09:54 PM   #1
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Making a Book Long Enough

Can anyone give me some pointers for writing? For years, I've started a million stories and outlined even more, though I can't recall having finished a book since I was a teenager, and those have since been lost due to not being properly backed up on another hard drive.

But my problem is that with fiction, I never seem to have a story that is long enough. My outlines are pretty good and very, very detailed, yet when it comes down to writing the book, I always rush through it. Sometimes I have a very terse, Hemingway-style prose, which I'm fine with, but my outlines are usually better suited for a lengthy novel than a short story. I usually crap out around 20,000 words, if I get that far even.

Does anyone else suffer from having stories end up way too short?
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Old 08-14-2011, 12:33 AM   #2
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There's several things you can do:

1) Kind of let the imagery flow. Do you add descriptions of your characters? Don't go all crazy, but you have to think that someone is watching what's happening in your story, so you have to fill in enough description for them to be able to visualize what's going on.

I've read a few books where even as I finished the last page, I still didn't know what the main character looked like. Take "Touched By An Alien." It was only from looking at the cover that I knew the woman's hair was blond. Otherwise, just from the prose I would have had no idea about her.

2) You could type out your outline and the dialogue you're going to use, then fill in the detail around it. And always bear in mind that every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Everything happens in a sequence: "A meets B and they get married" becomes "B moves to the city. A sees B and falls into desperate lust and has to do something to meet B. There's some kind of conflict that they solve, then they have their relationship and get married."

3) Also, you can write out chapter details. Break your story down into however many chapters you want, do a guesstimate of how many pages/words you want in each chapter, and list out all the things you want to have happen in each chapter.

Hope that helps a little.
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Old 08-14-2011, 04:40 AM   #3
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I haven't really finished long stories myself, but just to throw an idea out there: Have you tried NOT writing an outline, or only a very rough one?

I've heard from some writers that having an outline is a problem for them because it means the story is already finished in their heads.

Maybe you "rush through" writing because with your "very, very detailed" outlines you know the story already? And don't put enough detail down in the actual story for a reader who's new to it to actually get it?
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Old 08-14-2011, 06:49 AM   #4
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Orson Scott Card has some great info on his site about this:

http://www.hatrack.com/writingclass/...-08-02-1.shtml

Its a longish but worth read.
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Old 08-14-2011, 07:17 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by MV64 View Post
Sometimes I have a very terse, Hemingway-style prose, which I'm fine with, ...
Why don't you make it your personal style? You don't have to write/describe anything, leave it to the imagination of the reader. I have noticed, that especially American authors have a preference to make too many words.
You may select some of your stories/novels with similar topic, compile them to an ebook with 200kb - 300 kb (text), offer it for free and ask and wait for feedback. You will know then, if you are wright or wrong, but you won't, if you have them on your PC only and nobody knows about them.

George
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Old 08-14-2011, 08:39 AM   #6
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Another option of course is to just write collections of short stories. If you have 7 or 8 great stories that are 10-20k in length, that is about what most would call novel length. Not everyone has to write a 250k word master epic.
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Old 08-14-2011, 10:40 AM   #7
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This is a hard question to answer without actually seeing a sample of your writing. Do you belong to an online critique group? If not, I recommend joining one.
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Old 08-15-2011, 12:43 AM   #8
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Quote:
I've started a million stories and outlined even more, though I can't recall having finished a book since I was a teenager,
Not to be snide but if you haven't actually written "The End" how do you know it's not long enough?
A story takes as long to tell as it takes to tell. How do you decide your outlines are appropriate for a novel length story if they end up at 20 000 words? Or do you just give up after 20 000 words? Quitting writing in the the first quarter of the story would negatively impact the length of the finished story.
My advice would be not to worry about how long it is, worry about how good it is. Write it from "once upon a time" all the way until "the end". Until you do that, the rest is moot.
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Old 08-15-2011, 06:56 AM   #9
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I don't see that length really matters with ebooks, as long as they are priced accordingly. I certainly wouldn't add a lot of useless padding just to make it longer. Short story collections are a hangover from the print world, where it wouldn't be feasible to publish them individually.
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Old 08-15-2011, 07:24 AM   #10
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Can anyone give me some pointers for writing? For years, I've started a million stories and outlined even more, though I can't recall having finished a book since I was a teenager, and those have since been lost due to not being properly backed up on another hard drive.

But my problem is that with fiction, I never seem to have a story that is long enough. My outlines are pretty good and very, very detailed, yet when it comes down to writing the book, I always rush through it. Sometimes I have a very terse, Hemingway-style prose, which I'm fine with, but my outlines are usually better suited for a lengthy novel than a short story. I usually crap out around 20,000 words, if I get that far even.

Does anyone else suffer from having stories end up way too short?
You sound just like me!

I also struggle with length and pacing at times, always ending up too short, and I have similar problems with outlines - it always seems like I've already written the story once I'm done with the outline, so I no longer have any interest in writing it a second time.

Honestly, the biggest thing that helped me with this was to toss away the outline and then give myself a deadline. I started doing National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org) in 2005, and every time I do it... well, except for the second time, in 2006... which I outlined, incidentally - I end up with a work that's over 50,000 words and usually at an 'end point'.

The best advice I could give would be to make yourself finish a piece, to see how long it really turns out to be. Doesn't matter if you write it short, or terse, just write it to see it through to the conclusion. Once you've got the entire story arc down (in prose form, not in outline) you can go back and flesh things out during the editing/revising process if you see fit.

You won't know how it's really going to turn out until you actually write the concluding paragraphs and type 'THE END'.

Now that I'm actually in the habit of finishing stuff, instead of giving up on it after 15,000-20,000 words, I'm starting to find the rhythm that allows me to flesh things out as I go along, because I'm no longer quite as interested in hammering down to the end line as fast as I can go. My current WIP is at 47,000 words, and I'm not even halfway done.

As a side note, it is true that for trade publishing, you will need your work to fall within their wordcount zones. I decided to go independent with my work precisely because I'm a terse, short writer, and my first novel is only just over 50,000 words. Wordcount matters a lot less in the indie world - all that matters is what your long-term goals are as a writer.

Good luck!
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Old 08-15-2011, 08:47 AM   #11
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I have similar problems with outlines - it always seems like I've already written the story once I'm done with the outline, so I no longer have any interest in writing it a second time.
This brings up an interesting point. My writer friends tend to fall into two categories: 'outliners' and 'pantsers' (the latter referring to the 'seat-of-your-pants' type of writing where you set up a couple of cool characters, turn 'em loose, and write down the story as it unfolds.)

Some writers are able to use both methods, but some -- and I'm talking about professional, three-book-deals-with-TOR kind of authors here -- simply cannot write to an outline. It's just not in their modus operandi.

Other authors published short stories as pantsers, then discovered that they couldn't write a novel that way because it was too hard to keep things on course.

So if for those who are having trouble writing to a longer length, I'd say mix it up a bit. If you usually outline, try pantsing it and see if that works for you. If you're a pantser, try working from an outline (with the understanding that the story will probably diverge from the outline along the way).
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Old 08-16-2011, 06:03 PM   #12
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This brings up an interesting point. My writer friends tend to fall into two categories: 'outliners' and 'pantsers' (the latter referring to the 'seat-of-your-pants' type of writing where you set up a couple of cool characters, turn 'em loose, and write down the story as it unfolds.)
Heh... I am most definitely a 'pantser'. I've tried working from outlines multiple times, and every time I do, I don't finish the work. It's like it somehow loses a spark, somehow. This, of course, usually means I have more work to do in the editing stage.

My wife, on the other hand (also a novelist), simply MUST use an outline. An extraordinarily detailed one, in fact - she can't get anything done when she's just staring at a blank page, expecting prose. It doesn't happen for her unless she's already got everything neatly put into place. She doesn't often deviate from her outline, either.

Just goes to show ya - everybody has a different way of working that works best for them! The best way to do it is to try everything until you figure out what works best for you!
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Old 08-17-2011, 01:58 AM   #13
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You might find this helpful - The Snowflake Method It breaks down the writing process into steps. Some of it, all of it, or none of it make work for you.
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Old 08-27-2011, 05:36 PM   #14
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I tend to write in a succinct, sometimes staccato style too.

Judging by your original comment though, I think you might be suffering from World Builder's Disease. You have more fun writing the outline and the background than the story itself.

Try to shift gears and write in reverse for once. Start with your ending and then work your way backwards.

I always had issues with endings, sometimes I feared they weren't good enough, sometimes I just couldn't bring myself to write them, sometimes I rewrite them twelve times.

The most important part about the story is by the end of the book, it answers the questions posed at the front of the book.

The other suggestion I'd give you is to tone down your outlines. I use index cards on Scrivener, and as big as my index card is, that's as big as my scene description is allowed to be. And all scenes must serve some purpose in furthering the plot or the character's motivations. If it doesn't it needs to go to the cutting room floor.

While it's nice to have an encyclopedia at your fingertips, sometimes knowing too much damns your story into the perpetual graveyard.

Good luck!
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