Writing Progress: Week Ending March 17, 2012

In a fit of exuberance, I managed to put down quite a decent week in writing:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 3,108 words

Grand Total: 3,108 words

So that’s a not-too-shabby start to the novel writing for this book.  For those of you following along at home, that comes to just under 4,000 words so far.

I have a few observations, at this stage.

First, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve written in terms of scenes and chapters: I’ve been convinced by various posts on the craft and notes on how to use this or that writing software (even if I don’t use said software) that the relevant work unit, when considering a novel-length piece of fiction, is not the “chapter” but the “scene”.  The former is something of a more fluid definition; varying in length according to the dramatic needs of various storytellers.  And in the revision process, it can be useful to have the story broken up into scenes so the scenes can be reshuffled, repurposed, added, or discarded as the edit reveals the need – and all of these recombined in endless varieties to form chapters.  That said, I’m finding the “scene” to be a tad arbitrary as well.  What is the natural breaking point of a scene?  I’m no sure that’s clear to me.  Ostensibly, the breaking point is when a sequence of actions and events comes to a discrete end (a mini-climax, if you will), or to when a shift in character POV occurs. But it’s possible, by that strict definition, to have scenes go on an exceptionally long time, and themselves to vary in length dramatically.

My point?  Depending on your point-of-view, all 3,700-ish words I’ve written so far are part of a single scene.  I’ve arbitrarily broken the scene at decision point, calling everything before that decision-point Scene 1 and everything after Scene 2, but the whole piece is really one extended sequence of events that follows from an earlier decision that occurred prior to the start of the story.  There are no time-shifts, no location shifts, no POV-shifts: just one event or action or decision following naturally from another.  The whole novel isn’t this way.  Just this opening scene, or pair of scenes.  Regardless, in my mental accounting of things, both scenes together comprise the opening chapter of the book (although I haven’t finished the second of the two scenes).

My second observation regards length.  Together, these two scenes come to just under 4,000 words… and I’m not done yet with this opening pair of scenes.  This tracks closely to my experience in writing my first first novel (the shelved novel-I’ve-been-writing-since-forever “Project SOA #1”), in which a chapter trended towards a length of approximately 4,000 to 4,500 words in length.  At this point, I’m not 100% sure where that puts me on tracking the overall length of this project, yet.  I haven’t parsed through my outline notes, yet, to turn them into something functionally readable on a scene-by-scene basis or a chapter-by-chapter basis.  A rough guess puts it at something between 50 and 80 scenes, or between 30 and 50 chapters.  That puts my target wordcount for this project of 125,000 words on the low-end, length-wise, of what this might actually turn out to be… but still feasible.  In reality, I suspect this thing will trend toward 200,000 words.  But I don’t have enough information, yet, to base that information on nor to adjust my current working targets.  So for now I’m still operating under the 125,000-word target, and I’ll update that in the future when I feel I have a better grasp of where this project is going to end up.

My final observation regards quality.  I’m already going through the highs and lows of “OMG I’m totally writing this thing!” to “This sucks and I’m a terrible writer for writing it.”  Naturally, I press on despite this rather negative outlook on the quality of what I done.  At this point, I don’t know why I feel like it’s not quite good, how I might improve the quality of my prose.  Perhaps it’s lacking simply because I’m not actually a very good writer yet.  Or perhaps it’s because I hadn’t quite found my voice yet.  Perhaps a simple wordcount reduction would suffice to tighten the prose and make it more engaging to the reader – say a 25% reduction in the total wordcount of the scene.  Or perhaps a more significant structural and word-level overhaul is needed.  Right now… I don’t think I’m in a position to say.  My job, right now, is just to illuminate character and plot as best I can, and to keep doing it from the beginning to the end.  So I’ll try to ignore that little voice telling me that what I’ve written is terrible.

Well, that’s where I’m at in my writing world today.  How was your week?

13 thoughts on “Writing Progress: Week Ending March 17, 2012

  1. Finally finished my project for my friend’s birthday! *jumps in the air, fist punches skyward, freezes theatrically* It took something like a week longer than I was expecting, and I ended up significantly scaling down the scope of the project (due to time constraints), but I’m pleased with the final result. Can’t wait to get the birthday gal’s reaction! Now onto other things (*cough* once I’m through procrastinating *cough*).

    Re: chapter/scene length = I tend to favor scenes on the shorter side, both as a writer and a reader. On the writer side, it forces me to get to the point of the scene faster and keep the plot moving. On reader side, my reading gets interrupted a lot, and frequent section breaks make for 1, a smoother sudden transition to the real world and 2, an easier time finding my place when I return. A chapter’s length matters less to me, since there could be any number of scenes within it.

    • And you finished it in time! Good practice working to a deadline! 😉 As for chapter/scene length… I know different folks have different preferences. I’ve read, anecdotally, that shorter chapters/scenes are “in” right now. But I typically take that kind of advice with a very large grain of salt. For myself, I have a similar outlook to you in that I prefer to end my reading at a chapter or scene break (although I often do not), because it feels like a more natural stopping point. In that sense, then, frequent scene breaks are probably better for me, too. For my current work, though… it’s too early for me to really say much else about it since I’ve only got this one scene (arbitrarily split into two) written so far.

  2. Woo-hoo! Sounds like you had a good week. 😀

    I don’t really think there’s a whole lot of reason or rhyme to scene length. I have one that is only 600 words and another that’s over 8300 words–and that’s all in the first 10K words or so of the novel. *shrugs* For the most part, though, my scenes are currently anywhere between 1K-5K words, typically.

    Like you said, it can depend on whether you’re switching POV characters, or if there’s a change in place or time, or maybe it just feels like a natural place to rest and say, “‘K, this part has a different mood/main event/whatever.”

    As for me, I finally finished rewriting/editing that funny prologue/beginning chapter section I’d mentioned last week–aka the 8300 word scene, heh. I was actually debating whether I should work in another scene break to keep the length closer to my other scenes, though for now I’m putting it aside. In any case, this was a timely post for me. 🙂

    • I did, thank you. 🙂 Although a good week like that is usually followed by a mediocre-at-best week… so we’ll see what happens next. As for scene length… one small bit of rhyme/reason, I think, is that shorter scenes make a story feel like it’s moving much faster. So a writer can try to control scene length in order to modulate the speed of the story. But I do wonder if it’s more normal to have longer opening set-up scenes. It seems to me that I’ve seen this done pretty frequently, but that could be just me projecting.

  3. I’ve never really thought about what a “scene” is. I guess for me, since I write serially, it’s a day’s post. In other words, does this chunk work by itself for the reader? Sometimes I have a really good curtain line (or at least what I think is a good curtain line 🙂 ), but I can’t end there for other reasons (it makes the segment too short, it’s too obvious). This is the area where I most go by feel, and I often change my mind at the last minute, deciding to expand or contract the segment after I read it over.

    I had a good week. I finished Part Two of Stevie One (I know that can sound weird) at 5,600 words, which is about where I wanted to be. I have some of Part Three written. I’m pretty happy with how it’s going so far.

  4. Sounds like a good week!

    For me a scene is the span of a single main ‘concept’, and between them what I think of as space for the reader to take a breath before moving on to the next thing. For example: One scene might begin with a mugging in an alleyway, and so the scene might conclude when the fight is won, or the protagonist blacks out. An abrupt change in perspective, or time, is usually a good point for a scene break (i’ll call this a hard scene break marked out in the manuscript by space), but if the protagonist stays conscious, his focus might have shifted away from the physical, to say resuming his quest to find his missing daughter (soft scene break, change in tone / mood / focus). How long and short they are really varies, thrillers are famous for short scenes and chapters. Lots of quick shifts…. Maybe I should make a blog post about it. LOL

    I’ve been super busy at work, coupled with another span of sick days, so scarce online. Writing, not so good these days. Hopefully I can ramp it up again.

    • Yeah, but I still find that a bit of a squishy defintion. (I kind of just think that, in general, “scene” is a squishy concept.) In the example of the twin scenes I’m working on… the main character has decided to break the rules to go explore a forbidden place. Scene 1 is the main character on her way to the forbidden place – and getting chased by dangerous wild animals. The scene ends when she arrives safely, and begins exploring. Scene 2 follows her exploration and what she discovers. In my original conception, this was all one scene with the central concept of “Main Character explores a forbidden place”. This ended up being too long, so I split it into the concepts of “Main Character escapes wild animals” and then “Main Character explores forbidden place”. In the earlier version, the “escapes wild animals” wasn’t a wholly independent concept – it was subordinate to the “explores forbidden place”. And even now, there’s no break in the narrative between the two. It flows seemlessly from one to the other. But anyway… yeah. I definitely agree that it’s a topic that has enough fuel for at least one blog post. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Writing Progress: Week Ending March 24, 2012 « The Undiscovered Author

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